Wide World of Quotes > George Eliot Quotes


George Eliot
English novelist
(1819-80)



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Scenes of Clerical Life (1858)

In every parting there is an image of death.
-- Scenes of Clerical Life (1858)

Nice distinctions are troublesome. It is so much easier to say that a thing is black, than to discriminate the particular shade of brown, blue, or green, to which it really belongs. It is so much easier to make up your mind that your neighbour is good for nothing, than to enter into all the circumstances that would oblige you to modify that opinion.
-- Scenes of Clerical Life (1858), "The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton", ch. 4

Every man who is not a monster, a mathematician, or a mad philosopher, is the slave of some woman or other.
-- Scenes of Clerical Life (1858), "The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton", ch. 4

[Most people] are neither extraordinarily silly, nor extraordinarily wicked, nor extraordinarily wise; their eyes are neither deep and liquid with sentiment, nor sparkling with suppressed witticisms; they have probably had no hairbreadth escapes or thrilling adventures; their brains are certainly not pregnant with genius, and their passions have not manifested themselves at all after the fashion of a volcano... Depend upon it, you would gain unspeakably if you would learn with me to see some of the poetry and the pathos, the tragedy and the comedy, lying in the experience of a human soul that looks out through dull grey eyes, and that speaks in a voice of quite ordinary tones.
-- Scenes of Clerical Life (1858), "The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton", ch. 5

Any coward can fight a battle when he's sure of winning; but give me the man who has pluck to fight when he's sure of losing. That's my way, sir; and there are many victories worse than a defeat.
-- Scenes of Clerical Life (1858), "Janet's Repentance", ch. 6

Opposition may become sweet to a man when he has christened it persecution.
-- Scenes of Clerical Life (1858), "Janet's Repentance", ch. 8

The blessed work of helping the world forward, happily does not wait to be done by perfect men.
-- Scenes of Clerical Life (1858), "Janet's Repentance", ch. 10

Cruelty, like every other vice, requires no motive outside itself -- it only requires opportunity.
-- Scenes of Clerical Life (1858), "Janet's Repentance", ch. 13

Worldly faces, never look so worldly as at a funeral.
-- Scenes of Clerical Life (1858), "Janet's Repentance", ch. 25

Errors look so very ugly in persons of small means -- one feels they are taking quite a liberty in going astray; whereas people of fortune may naturally indulge in a few delinquencies.
-- Scenes of Clerical Life (1858), "Janet's Repentance", ch. 25

Adam Bede (1859)

Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them.
-- Adam Bede (1859)

Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds; and until we know what has been or will be the peculiar combination of outward with inward facts, which constitute a man's critical actions, it will be better not to think ourselves wise about his character.
-- Adam Bede (1859), ch. 29

Consequences are unpitying. Our deeds carry their terrible consequences, quite apart from any fluctuations that went before — consequences that are hardly ever confined to ourselves.
-- Adam Bede (1859)

He was like the cock who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow.
-- Adam Bede (1859), ch. 33

We hand folks over to God's mercy and show none ourselves.
-- Adam Bede (1859), ch. 42

The mother's yearning, that completest type of the life in another life which is the essence of real human love, feels the presence of the cherished child even in the debased, degraded man.
-- Adam Bede (1859), ch. 43

The Lifted Veil (1859)

I wish to use my last hours of ease and strength in telling the strange story of my experience. I have never fully unbosomed myself to any human being; I have never been encouraged to trust much in the sympathy of my fellow-men. But we have all a chance of meeting with some pity, some tenderness, some charity, when we are dead: it is the living only who cannot be forgiven — the living only from whom men's indulgence and reverence are held off, like the rain by the hard east wind. While the heart beats, bruise it — it is your only opportunity; while the eye can still turn towards you with moist, timid entreaty, freeze it with an icy unanswering gaze; while the ear, that delicate messenger to the inmost sanctuary of the soul, can still take in the tones of kindness, put it off with hard civility, or sneering compliment, or envious affectation of indifference; while the creative brain can still throb with the sense of injustice, with the yearning for brotherly recognition — make haste — oppress it with your ill-considered judgements, your trivial comparisons, your careless misrepresentations.
-- The Lifted Veil (1859)

The Mill on the Floss (1860)

Our instructed vagrancy, which has hardly time to linger by the hedgerows, but runs away early to the tropics, and is at home with palms and banyans -- which is nourished on books of travel, and stretches the theatre of its imagination to the Zambesi.
-- The Mill on the Floss (1860), bk. 3, ch. 9

The dead level of provincial existence.
-- The Mill on the Floss (1860), bk. 5., ch. 3

Th happiest women, like the happiest nations, have no history.
-- The Mill on the Floss (1860), bk. 6, ch. 3

I should like to know what is the proper function of women, if it is not to make reasons for husbands to stay at home, and still stronger reasons for bachelors to go out.
-- The Mill on the Floss (1860), bk. 6, ch. 6

How lovely the little river is, with its dark changing wavelets! It seems to me like a living companion while I wander along the bank, and listen to its low, placid voice...
-- The Mill on the Floss (1860)

We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it...
-- The Mill on the Floss (1860)

If a man means to be hard, let him keep in his saddle and speak from that height, above the level of pleading eyes, and with the command of a distant horizon.
-- The Mill on the Floss (1860)

Ugly and deformed people have great need of unusual virtues, because they are likely to be extremely uncomfortable without them.
-- The Mill on the Floss (1860)

It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them. How can we ever be satisfied without them until our feelings are deadened?
-- The Mill on the Floss (1860)

She and Stephen were in that stage of courtship which makes the most exquisite moment of youth, the freshest blossom-time of passion, — when each is sure of the other's love, but no formal declaration has been made, and all is mutual divination, exalting the most trivial word, the lightest gesture, into thrills delicate and delicious as wafted jasmine scent.
-- The Mill on the Floss (1860)

There is something strangely winning to most women in that offer of the firm arm; the help is not wanted physically at that moment, but the sense of help, the presence of strength that is outside them and yet theirs, meets a continual want of the imagination.
-- The Mill on the Floss (1860)

Silas Marner (1861)

In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright
land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child's.
-- Silas Marner (1861)

That quiet mutual gaze of a trusting husband and wife is like the first moment of rest or refuge from a great weariness or a great danger — not to be interfered with by speech or action which would distract the sensations from the fresh enjoyment of repose.
-- Silas Marner (1861)





Romola (1863)

Our deeds are like children that are born to us; they live and act apart from our own will. Nay, children may be strangled, but deeds never: they have an indestructible life both in and out of our consciousness.
-- Romola (1863)

An ass may bray a good while before he shakes the stars down.
-- Romola (1863), bk. 3, ch. 17

Felix Holt (1866)

An election is coming. Universal peace is declared, and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry.
-- Felix Holt (1866), ch. 5

A little daily embroidery had been a constant element in Mrs Transome's life: that soothing occupation of taking stitches to produce what neither she nor any one else wanted, was then the resource of many a well-born and unhappy woman.
-- Felix Holt (1866), ch. 7

A woamn can hardly ever choose... she is dependent on what happens to her. She must take meaner things, because only meaner things are within her reach.
-- Felix Holt (1866), ch. 27

"Abroad", that large home of ruined reputations.
-- Felix Holt (1866), epilogue

I'm proof against that word failure. I've seen behind it. The only failure a man ought to fear is failure of cleaving to the purpose he sees to be best.
-- Felix Holt (1866)

"Oh May I Join the Choir Invisible" (1867)

Oh may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence.
-- "Oh May I Join the Choir Invisible" (1867)

Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879)

Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.
-- Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879)

... that modern sect of Flagellants who make a ritual of lashing — not themselves but — all their neighbours.
-- Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879)

Debasing the moral currency.
-- Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879)

Middlemarch (1871-2)

That Spanish woman who lived three hundred years ago, was certainly not the last of her kind. Many Theresas have been born who found for themselves no epic life wherein there was a constant unfolding of far-resonant action; perhaps only a life of mistakes, the offspring of a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness of opportunity; perhaps a tragic failure which found no sacred poet and sank unwept into oblivion.
-- Middlemarch (1871-2), Prelude

Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts, not to hurt others.
-- Middlemarch (1871-2), bk. 1, ch. 6

He said he should prefer not to know the sources of the Nile, and there should be some unknown regions preserved as hunting grounds for the poetic imagination.
-- Middlemarch (1871-2), bk. 1, ch. 9

We do not expect people to be deeply moved by what is not unusual. That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the course imagination of mankind.
-- Middlemarch (1871-2), bk. 2, ch. 20

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.
-- Middlemarch (1871-2), bk. 3. ch. 29

A man is seldom ashamed of feeling that he cannot love a woman so well when he sees certain greatnesses in her: nature having intended greatness for men.
-- Middlemarch (1871-2), bk. 4, ch. 39

People glorify all sorts of bravery except the bravery they might show on behalf of their nearest neighbors.
-- Middlemarch (1871-2)

Every limit is a beginning as well as an ending. Who can quit young lives after being long in company with them, and not desire to know what befell them in their after-years? For the fragment of a life, however typical, is not the sample of an even web: promises may not be kept, and an ardent outset may be followed by declension; latent powers may find their long-waited opportunity; a past error may urge a grand retrieval.
-- Middlemarch (1871-2)

Marriage, which has been the bourne of so many narratives, is still a great beginning, as it was to Adam and Eve, who kept their honeymoon in Eden, but had their first little one among the thorns and thistles of the wilderness. It is still the beginning of the home epic — the gradual conquest or irremediable loss of that complete union which makes the advancing years a climax, and age the harvest of sweet memories in common.
-- Middlemarch (1871-2)

Some set out, like Crusaders of old, with a glorious equipment of hope and enthusiasm and get broken by the way, wanting patience with each other and the world.
-- Middlemarch (1871-2)

What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other? I cannot be indifferent to the troubles of a man who advised me in my trouble, and attended me in my illness.
-- Middlemarch (1871-2)

There is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it. A new Theresa will hardly have the opportunity of reforming a conventual life, any more than a new Antigone will spend her heroic piety in daring all for the sake of a brother's burial: the medium in which their ardent deeds took shape is forever gone. But we insignificant people with our daily words and acts are preparing the lives of many Dorotheas, some of which may present a far sadder sacrifice than that of the Dorothea whose story we know.
-- Middlemarch (1871-2)

Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: 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 owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
-- Middlemarch (1871-2), last lines of the novel

Daniel Deronda (1876)

Gossip is a sort of smoke that comes from the dirty tobacco-pipes of of those who diffuse it: it proves nothing but the bad taste of the smoker.
-- Daniela Deronda (1876), bk. 2, ch. 13

A difference of taste in jokes is a great strain on the affections.
-- Daniela Deronda (1876), bk. 2, ch. 15

There is a great deal of unmapped country within us which would have to be taken into account in an explanation of our gusts and storms.
-- Daniela Deronda (1876), bk. 3, ch. 24

The beings closest to us, whether in love or hate, are often virtually our interpreters of the world, and some feather-headed gentleman or lady whom in passing we regret to take as legal tender for a human being may be acting as a melancholy theory of life in the minds of those who live with them — like a piece of yellow and wavy glass that distorts form and makes colour an affliction. Their trivial sentences, their petty standards, their low suspicions, their loveless ennui, may be making somebody else's life no better than a promenade through a pantheon of ugly idols.
-- Daniela Deronda (1876)

It is good to be unselfish and generous; but don't carry that too far. It will not do to give yourself to be melted down for the benefit of the tallow-trade; you must know where to find yourself.
-- Daniela Deronda (1876)

A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some spot of native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of earth, for the labours men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakeable difference amidst the future widening of knowledge: a spot where the definiteness of early memories may be inwrought with affection, and kindly acquaintance with all neighbours, even to the dogs and donkeys, may spread not by sentimental effort and reflection, but as a sweet habbit of the blood. At five years old, mortals are not prepared to be citizens of the world, to be stimulated by abstract nouns, to soar above preference into impartiality; and that prejudice in favour of milk with which we blindly begin, is a type of the way body and soul must get nourished at least for a time. The best introduction to astronomy is to think of the nightly heavens as a little lot of stars belonging to one's own homestead.
-- Daniela Deronda (1876)


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The selection of the above quotes and the writing of the accompanying notes was performed by the author David Paul Wagner.

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