We frequently fail to recognise the power in their works, and the lessons we can learn from their characters. George Eliot is one of those writers, and her female protagonist in Middlemarch, Dorothea, has remained with me since I first immersed myself in her world. Through Eliot, we have access to Dorothea’s deepest thoughts and greatest dreams as she undergoes a journey of self-discovery upon which I hope to mould my own.
The novel documents Dorothea’s discovery in wanting to do good alongside her spiritual exploration, as she states she has been “finding out my religion since I was a little girl.” She learns that moral favour is about altruism rather than egoism; in achieving something tangible for the other, rather than basking in the pride of the act. It does not involve denying your passions, and it does not involve grand actions, but good intentions. And, in this way, she is able to affect change in her surroundings – helping her second husband through his political reformation.
Dorothea’s journey to moral wisdom is concluded in her observation: “What do we live for … if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?” It is this that motivates me when considering the power of writing, and other forms of creativity: an individual piece of writing might not enter the history books of grandiose do-going, but we can seek to use our voice and our passion to do good with a sincere and humble heart. On an individual level, these may be minute moments. However, if this is something writers can seek through united effort, they can add up and up until they become part of a collective culture – something that holds great power.
So practically what does this mean for the publishing world, and other creative industries? For the writer, I think it is important to be intentional with your creativity – to be mindful of the power of words, and their ability to shape culture once they are part of public consciousness. For the reader, I think this is a creative act too – to mould the public consciousness by sharing, re-tweeting and subscribing to publications that hold this power so they can remain alive. As a duo, the writer and reader can do more than inspire – they can encourage action.
I will steal my ending from Dorothea’s – a moment of incomparable poignancy that epitomises this as succinctly as I could ever hope to achieve – that doing good may not be remembered, but it will always change the world somehow. It’s fine – your blog post may not go down in history as a literary great like Middlemarch, but it only needs to be read by one person to contribute in some way: “For 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 owning to the number who have lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs”.
This article was written in the build-up to the CS Lewis Literary contest launching on 2 July 2015. Organised by GOODFRUIT in collaboration with threads, the contest is calling for bold writers to enter their fiction or non-fiction plot summaries to an expert publishing panel for a chance to win bringing their literary creation to life through crowdfunding. Visit threadsUK.com/GOODFRUIT for more details.