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Live Stream: Janet’s Repentance by George Eliot

Written by Rachael Norris, 5th November 2020

Learning and Quality Leader at The Reader Natalie Kaas-Pontoppidan takes us through an extract from Janet's Repentance (Chapter 17) by George Eliot.  The theme for our daily readings in November is 'Light in the Dark' download the calendar here.

Janet’s Repentance by George Eliot, Chapter 17

Janet lay still, as she had promised; but the tea, which had warmed her and given her a sense of greater bodily ease, had only heightened the previous excitement of her brain. Her ideas had a new vividness, which made her feel as if she had only seen life through a dim haze before; her thoughts, instead of springing from the action of her own mind, were external existences , that thrust themselves imperiously upon her like haunting visions. The future took shape after shape of misery before her, always ending in being dragged back again to her old life of terror, and stupor, and fevered despair. Her husband had so long overshadowed her life that her imagination could not keep hold of a condition in which that great dread was absent; and even his absence – what was it? Only a dreary vacant flat, where there was nothing to strive after, nothing to long for.
At last, the light of morning quenched the rushlight, and Janet’s thoughts became more and more fragmentary and confused. She was every moment slipping off the level on which she lay thinking, down, down into some depth from which she tried to rise again with a start. Slumber was stealing over her weary brain: that uneasy slumber which is only better than wretched waking, because the life we seem to live in it determines no wretched future, because the things we do and suffer in it are but hateful shadows, and leave no impress that petrifies into an irrevocable past. She had scarcely been asleep an hour when her movements became more violent, her mutterings more frequent and agitated, till at last she started up with a smothered cry, and looked wildly around her, shaking with terror
(…)
Everywhere the same sadness! Her life was a sun-dried, barren tract, where there was no shadow, and where all the waters were bitter.
No! she suddenly thought – and the thought was like an electric shock – there was one spot in her memory which seemed to promise her an untried spring, where the waters might be sweet. That short interview with Mr Tryan had come back upon her – his voice, his words, his look, which told her that he knew sorrow. His words had implied that he thought his death was near; yet he had a faith which enabled him to labour – enabled him to give comfort to others. That look of his came back on her with a vividness greater than it had had for her in reality: surely he knew more of the secrets of sorrow than other men; perhaps he had some message of comfort, different from the feeble words she had been used to hear from others. She was tired, she was sick of that barren exhortation – Do right, and keep a clear conscience, and God will reward you, and your troubles will be easier to bear. She wanted strength to do it right – she wanted something to rely on besides her own resolutions; for was not the path behind her all strewn with broken resolutions; How could she trust new ones? She had often heard Mr Tryan laughed at for being fond of great sinners. She began to see a new meaning in those words; he would perhaps understand her helplessness, her wants. If she could pour her heart out to him! If she could for the first time in her life unlock the chambers of her soul!

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