In a wonderfully resonant passage in George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1994) the author inter-

venes to pass comment on one of the central characters, Mr Casaubon. He is a rather

dull, pedantic scholar who has been working on his life’s project the ‘Key to All

Mythologies’, a process of endless cataloguing that is doomed to failure. Despite his

weaknesses of character, the author declares that she feels sorry for him and gives her

reasons as follows:

It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to

be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry

shivering self – never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our

consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardour of

a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambi-

tious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.