George Eliot epigrams: Middlemarch

Leigh Turner
Leigh Turner

George Eliot epigrams are worth careful study.  Elegant, wise and funny, they burst from the text of her epic novel “Middlemarch”.  Here are 25 beauties.

George Eliot epigrams can help with Coronavirus

What to do, when you are stuck at home because of the #coronavirus outbreak?

Read Middlemarch, by George Eliot.

George Eliot

George Eliot’s real name was Mary Ann Evans, 1819-1880

I read Middlemarch recently and posted on its wisdom about sex and relationships.  Links in bold italics are to other posts on this site.

Middlemarch: a feast of epigrams

Middlemarch is also full of splendid epigrams.  Here are 25 beauties which caught my eye, by category.

Eliot epigrams: marriage and relationships

  • a man naturally remembers a charming girl with pleasure, and is willing to dine where he may see her again
  • The remote worship of a woman throned out of their reach plays a great part in men’s lives
  • There is hardly any contact more depressing to a young ardent creature than that of a mind in which years full of knowledge seem to have issued in a blank absence of interest or sympathy
  • a first farewell has pathos in it, but to come back for a second lends an opening to comedy
  • In marriage, the certainty, “She will never love me much,” is easier to bear than the fear, “I shall love her no more”
  • Marriage is a taming thing
  • Men and women make sad mistakes about their own symptoms, taking their vague uneasy longings, sometimes for genius, sometimes for religion, and oftener still for a mighty love. (Comment: discuss.  Can “Vague, uneasy longings” be mistaken for love?) 
  • Marriage is so unlike everything else. There is something even awful in the nearness it brings
  • Where women love each other, men learn to smother their mutual dislike (comment: ouch, on behalf of all men!)

You can see more quotations in my post Middlemarch by George Eliot: 26 quotes on gender and relationships.

Eliot epigrams: philosophy

  • A sense of contributing to form the world’s opinion makes conversation particularly cheerful (Comment: who has never experienced this after a drink or two?)
  • when gratitude has become a matter of reasoning there are many ways of escaping from its bonds
  • It is wonderful how much uglier things will look when we only suspect that we are blamed for them.  Even our own persons in the glass are apt to change their aspect for us after we have heard some frank remark on their less admirable points

Eliot epigrams: hope and ambition

  • Unwonted circumstances may make us all rather unlike ourselves: there are conditions under which the most majestic person is obliged to sneeze.
  • that creeping self-despair which comes in the train of petty anxieties.
  • in the midst of his fears, like many a man who is in danger of shipwreck or of being dashed from his carriage by runaway horses, he had a clinging impression that something would happen to hinder the worst
  • What we call the ‘just possible’ is sometimes true and the thing we find it easier to believe is grossly false.
  • what we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope.
  • indefinite visions of ambition are weak against the ease of doing what is habitual or beguilingly agreeable
  • It always remains true that if we had been greater, circumstance would have been less strong against us.

Eliot epigrams: religion

  • Does any one suppose that private prayer is necessarily candid – necessarily goes to the roots of action?

Eliot epigrams: day-to-day life

  • What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?
  • Only those who know the supremacy of the intellectual life – the life which has a seed of ennobling thought and purpose within it – can understand the grief of one who falls from that serene activity into the absorbing soul-wasting struggle with worldly annoyances.
  • They are just the suspicions that cling the most obstinately, because they lie in people’s inclination and can never be disproved.
  • there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it.
  • the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. [Comment: the famous closing lines of the novel.]

I would welcome thoughts on George Eliot epigrams in Middlemarch!

Other Middlemarch quotations

This is one of four posts of quotations from the marvellous Middlemarch. The complete list is:

Do have a browse.

Other recommendations

If you would prefer something shorter than Middlemarch, you might like to try my Seven Hotel Stories:

Leigh Turner Seven Hotel Stories

Alternatively, take a look at all my books, here – from thrillers to manuals on diplomacy.

P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, feel free to sign up for my newsletter (you can unsubscribe anytime you wish).


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