I was walking in the backstreets of Tokyo after nightfall. It was a chilly January day, and I was listening to an audiobook of Middlemarch by George Eliot. This elaborate novel has established itself in the history of world literature despite its somewhat cumbersome structure. I imagined how Mary Anne Evans, who wrote under male pseudonym due to the unsavoury prejudice towards women at that time, must have felt when she wrote it. The intricate circumstances of gender-sensitive authorship of the novel is quite poignant. The young and talented Dorothea marries Mr. Casaubon, who appears to be culturally superior with significant ambitions. The disappointment of Dorothea in finding the dry and aged nature of Mr. Casaubon is a wonderful study of human psychology, if somewhat sarcastic.
Suddenly, while listening to the recording of Middlemarch on my iPhone in the chilly Tokyo night, I realized how any hopes of eternal fame is only an ultimately sad illusion generated by our reaction to our mortality. It is like the marriage of Dorothea to Mr. Casaubon. We stake our hopes on it, but it ultimately turns out to be without substance and empty. That is probably why Dorothea's disappointment has universal repercussions. I listen to George Eliot in Tokyo in the 21st century and am thankful for it. However, as far as the essence of existence is concerned, the life of Mary Anne Evans was there and then, and no more. The same is true for all of us.