Saturday, May 13, 2017

The vast intelligence of Mary Ann Evans

Allegedly it has been said that if there is no God, George Eliot will do... I'm even more than usually inclined to be sympathetic to this view reading the extraordinary biographical study of her by Philip Davis. The sentiment of the anecdote is obviously ironic but not only ironic. She was much involved with the absence of God (as an empirical reality contained in the universe) and brought a scary, scary intelligence and wisdom to the task of constructing a viable alternative world view to (protestant) Christianity.

I have several times remarked earlier on this blog that one of the reasons I find George Eliot to be such a profound writer and influence is that in some way I mirror her background - coming from nonconformist protestant background (though one already turned to liberalism and pluralism unlike her far more rigid context). I find her concerns fundamental, but certainly not only because they are shared concerns but because they really are fundamental to our civilization that has lost so much of it's heart during the awful 20th century. We are hollow now, hedonistic, materialistic, and, yes, immoral.

The scale of her thought and human sympathy and unsentimental clearsightedness is terrifying. If one compares her analysis of religion with, say, Richard Dawkins, it is to compare a clever 13 year old schoolboy who has freshly discovered logic and empirism to a several lifetimes worth of knowlegde and merciless, hard reflection. The brittle quality of thinkers like Dawkins or Lord Russell is put to cruelly sharp focus against such vast reach and depth - and human feeling. Though at least Bertrand Russell did largely know what he was talking about.