How Should One “Mend” Society?

While consuming and considering the assigned readings for this past weekend, my mind was constantly searching for connections between last week’s readings and the texts before me. While I observed many glimmers of possible connections I could make between the two sets of texts, I was most struck by George Eliot’s discussion of how best to mend the position of women in society, and, more generally, how to mend society as a whole. Eliot writes that “there is a perpetual action and reaction between individuals and institutions; we must try and mend both little by little” (Eliot, 7) and goes on to state that this is the only definitive way in which human beings and their creations can be mended.

This idea of mending immediately made me think back to Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, a work whose title translates to “the tailor retailored.” Thanks to the research that Group 6 completed last week, I have a better understanding of the significance of Carlyle’s title and his stance on the idea of mending society. Through their insightful unpacking of Carlyle’s clothing metaphor, I came to interpret Sartor Resartus as a work that urges individuals and institutions to make new clothing and that rejects the notion of “mending.” However, upon reading further works of Carlyle’s, I began to doubt the legitimacy of his radical belief, and now align his views with Eliot’s, who seems to use the works of Mary Wollstonecraft and Margaret Fuller as platforms upon which he bolsters his own views. Indeed, through my reading of Carlyle’s Past and Present, I realized that Carlyle, like Eliot, advocates for steady, small changes that will more or less preserve the existing social order by preserving the presence of arguably damaging hierarchies within society.

I look forward to discussing in class whether or not Fuller and Wollstonecraft actually argued for the “little by little” mending which Eliot and Carlyle both seem to adamantly support. Being that I have not read either Fuller or Wollstonecraft’s works, I think it will be interesting to see if their ideas were, in fact, more radical than Eliot perceives and manipulates them to be within his review. Should their views be accurately represented by Eliot, I am lead to wonder: was this a mechanism by which each respective author was able to garner any support at all, due to the way in which women were viewed and treated during the Victorian period?

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