Connecting Conflicting Ideas of Nature

George Eliot’s essay, “Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft,” provides an interesting account on how we define the word “nature.” She uses this term in a descriptive sense. For instance, she depicts how Fuller’s appeal for the removal of unjust laws forced upon women makes it so that “her nature may have room for full development.” In this regard, nature is referring to her state of being. By removing these unjust laws, she can begin to reform who she is and gain a stronger will. Additionally, she praises both authors for their “strong and truthful nature.” Thus, she is commending their strength as people for writing their ideas on womanhood and how they are being treated unequally in society, even though many people may criticize them for it. She also admires Fuller’s redefining of “woman’s nature.” Again, this use of the term is attributing to what makes up a woman and her sense of self. Overall, Eliot’s use of nature is a term for illustrating the character of the individual and who he or she is as a person.

In contrast, Thomas Carlyle uses the term “nature” in a different sense within Past and Present. He has a more abstract definition when mentioning the term. For example, when describing Willelmus Conquestor he recounts that he was “provided by nature” and that he “by no means felt himself doing nature’s work.” Noticeably, the term isn’t referencing the nature of who someone is or describing their character, which is how Eliot writes of nature. Carlyle presents the term as more of an abstract idea that allows nature to stand more on its own and doesn’t pertain to a particular person. Along with this, one interpretation of his use of nature is that Carlyle is suggesting that nature is almost like a higher power; when comparing people and nature, people are more like pawns who work to perfect society by the orders of nature. Notably, he also specifies that it is necessary for nature to bring in her people of a higher social standing to lead the rest of society. Again, he is indicating that nature is a being itself when referring to it as “her.”

Therefore, these authors have a contrasting view on what nature is and how to use the term. Eliot uses it to pertain to the character of a person, while Carlyle portrays it to be separate from the person and makes it its own being. As a result, this provides an enlightening discussion on the various interpretations of the word.

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