by George Eliot
Middlemarch Compassion and Forgiveness Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Book.Chapter.Paragraph)
We do not expect people to be deeply moved by what is not unusual. (2.20.6)
Here, the narrator says that it takes something out of the ordinary to inspire compassion or sympathy in most people. But shouldn't we feel just as much sympathy for someone who's suffering from something more common, like unhappiness in marriage, in Dorothea's case?
That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity. (2.20.6)
The narrator explains why it is that most people don't feel sympathy for common, everyday suffering: there's so much quiet, common angst going on around us, all the time, that really seeing and sympathizing with it all would be "like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat." We wouldn't be able to stand it for very long. Which is why, she says, that even the "quickest" (i.e., most compassionate) of us "walk about" with our ears and hearts "well wadded with stupidity." It's a defense mechanism.
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 a blank absence of interest or sympathy. (2.20.14)
Dorothea, who is young, passionate, and full of compassion for her fellow humans, finds Casaubon's lack of sympathy to be completely depressing. In her view, people should get more sympathetic as they get older, not less. So Casaubon's "blank absence of interest or sympathy" really goes against what she thought she understood about the way sympathy works.