INDIVIDUALISM AND WOMEN'S HISTORY
Who, George Eliot queried in the prelude to Middlemarch, "that cares much to know the history of man, and how the mysterious mixture behaves under the varying experiments of Time, has not dwelt, at least briefly, on the life of Saint Theresa?" Saint Theresa, whose "passionate, ideal nature demanded an epic life," Eliot insisted, was surely 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." Many with such yearnings have found "perhaps only a life of mistakes, the offspring of a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness of opportunity," have known only a life of "tragic failure which found no sacred poet and sank unwept into oblivion." These latter-day Theresas "were helped by no coherent social faith and order which could perform the function of knowledge for the ardently willing soul." They alternated between "a vague ideal and the common yearning of womanhood; so that the one was disapproved as extravagance, and the other condemned as a lapse."1
Some, Eliot noted, have dismissed such blundering lives as confirmation of "the inconvenient indefiniteness with which the Supreme Power has fashioned the natures of woman." But things are not so simple. If all women shared a level of incompetence "as strict as the ability to count three and no more, the social lot of women might be treated with scientific certitude," but they do not. So imprecision persists, although the variations among women are in truth much greater than any could imagine "from the sameness of women's coiffure and the favorite love-stories in prose and verse." Here and there a cygnet appears among the ducklings. "Here and there is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heart-beats and
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Publication information: Book title: Feminism without Illusions:A Critique of Individualism. Contributors: Elizabeth Fox-Genovese - Author. Publisher: University of North Carolina Press. Place of publication: Chapel Hill, NC. Publication year: 1991. Page number: 113.
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