We tend to think of piety as being about prayer or action – addressing God or doing good. We know there are many things we should be doing to Save the Earth or Protect the Planet. Here, in the mid-19th century, is another view, which has a surprisingly modern ring to it: that you can take care of the world by delighting in it.
Will Ladislaw gives this advice to Dorothea, a profoundly good person with a strong sense of duty. I feel he was suggesting that she occasionally allow herself to wallow a little in the world’s wonders. To let up a little and simply enjoy things.
‘The best piety is to enjoy – when you can. You are doing the most then to save the earth’s character as an agreeable planet. And enjoyment radiates. It is of no use to try and take care of all the world; that is being taken care of when you feel delight – in art or in anything else.’
Source: George Eliot, Middlemarch (London: Oxford University Press, 1973), p. 234
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