Tag Archives: self

Small, hungry and shivering.

Continuing with my mini-miniseries on the men of Middlemarch, I give you an exemplary passage in which the author explains Casaubon to us. The metaphors she uses to convey the intricacies of his stunted self are many but not too many for me. Even with their being descriptive of a truly pitiable man, my own soul can’t help but “thrill into passionate delight” over George Eliot’s imagination and skill.

He had not had much foretaste of happiness in his previous life. To know intense joy without a strong bodily frame, one must have an enthusiastic soul. Mr. Casaubon had never had a strong bodily frame, and his soul was sensitive without being enthusiastic; it was too languid to thrill out of self-consciousness into passionate delight; it went on fluttering in the swampy ground where it was hatched, thinking of its wings and never flying. His experience was of that pitiable kind which shrinks from pity, and fears most of all that it should be known: it was that proud narrow sensitiveness which has not mass enough to spare for transformation into sympathy, and quivers thread-like in small currents of self-preoccupation or at best of an egoistic scrupulosity.

…even his religious faith wavered with his wavering trust in his own authorship, and the consolations of the Christian hope in immortality seemed to lean on the immortality of the still unwritten Key to Mythologies. For my part I am very sorry for him. It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self – never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardour of passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.

From the movie I’ve not seen.

If Dorothea could only have seen into Casusbon’s mind and heart the way his creator does, then she would have realized that he is not a man prepared to be a husband — maybe. But more on Dorothea later.

My tendency to be flippant or dismissive of Casaubon flows from his being fictional. (In the earlier version of this post I wrote fictitious, but then I realized that fictitious connotes false to me, which is reason enough not to use that word for a book character who is drawn so clearly in the shape of reality.) We can examine him closely and analyze each of his parts and guess at his destiny without being gossips. He is an archetype of one form of Lost Soul, and thinking about him and his engagement with other characters can enrich our understanding of humanity, and perhaps even instruct us in love.

Celia hasn’t the ability to debate the “notions” and idealism that are leading her sister toward marriage to Casaubon, but her instincts tell her that something is not right about this “death’s head warmed over.” That her beloved sister is planning to join her life with his disturbs her greatly.

“O Mrs. Cadwallader, I don’t think it can be nice to marry a man with a great soul.”

“Well, my dear, take warning. You know the look of one now: when the next comes and wants to marry you, don’t you accept him.”

Can consumers be saved?

In trying to understand ourselves, people have worked out different ways to analyze aspects of the human person. Are we spirit-soul-body or mind-emotions? Is it body-and-intellect, or heart vs. head? It’s too bad we have to be always chopped up into warring interests. God intended for us to be unified creatures, as the Holy Trinity is a Unity, but only by God’s grace can we begin to know some of that intended wholeness.

What is the heart? Surely it’s not just the emotions, as many moderns seem to think. The Orthodox Church understands the heart very differently and more deeply than this. The Greek word nous, the fathers tell us, is not easily translated into English. But some current writers have been able to get through my dullness and give a little more clarity.

One of these is Fr. Stephen Freeman, and his recent blog post “Shopping for God” contains a lot of nourishment that will take me some time to soak up thoroughly. My title is a question posed at the end of his article written on Black Friday Eve.

I haven’t finished my Christmas shopping, but even when I come to the end of that I know there will be other anxiety-producing prompts to and from my false self, so I appreciate Fr. Stephen’s reminder of my inheritance in Christ, and His Kingdom within.

Here are some excerpts:

Shoppers desire beauty, acceptance, self-confidence, power, intelligence, pleasure, excitement, a host of intangible needs. They are not natural needs, but the passions of the spiritually disordered. Our unnatural existence is centered in the false self — the sense of identity generated within our memory, thoughts and emotions. It is burdened with uncertainty. Comparing, judging, measuring, revising are constant activities of the mind in its role of the false self.
 ………

Christ at the well

The human life was created to be centered in the heart, the spiritual seat of our existence. The heart is not subject to the passions, not driven by desire and necessity. It is not the same thing as the mind. It does not compare or judge, measure or spin tales of its own existence. It simply is. It is in the heart that we know God (truly know). Its aesthetic is true beauty, found within the most ordinary of objects as well as in the greatest efforts of man. The heart is content.