Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hetty and the Guinea Pigs


Hetty: Remind me again. Why did I buy cavies from a sailor in the market of Rio de Janeiro?

Ruth Raven: Everyone who has read these words from George Eliot's Adam Bede will either get a lovely warm glow or reach for the sick bucket.
'There are various orders of beauty, causing men to make fools of
themselves in various styles, from the desperate to the sheepish; but
there is one order of beauty which seems made to turn the heads not only
of men, but of all intelligent mammals, even of women. It is a beauty
like that of kittens, or very small downy ducks making gentle rippling
noises with their soft bills, or babies just beginning to toddle and
to engage in conscious mischief--a beauty with which you can never be
angry, but that you feel ready to crush for inability to comprehend the
state of mind into which it throws you. Hetty Sorrel's was that sort
of beauty.'
As we clever modern people know, there is a dark side to all this. Oh, there is. There just is. The implication is that Hetty, just like the cute little animals, has zilch concept of morality.

Hetty: I feel an attack of the megrims coming on.

Ruth Raven: I know, but stay with me. In George Eliot's last book, Daniel Deronda, she uses a beautiful phrase to describe the sort of goodness that desperately flawed human beings could still aspire to- 'a region in which the affections are clad with knowledge'. It seemed to me that one way you could start clothing your affections with knowledge was to have guinea pigs crapping in your pockets for a while- a sort of preparation for motherhood, if you like. You see, even soft furry animals have their dark side.

Hetty: Was George Eliot a Methodist, like my cousin Dinah?

Ruth Raven: Nope.

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