My question is about the following quote:

"Is it not rather what we expect in men, that they should have numerous strands of experience lying side by side and never compare them with each other?" -- George Eliot

The only way I can understand it is as thus:

Men shoud have numerous strands ... and always compare them...

I have no idea how to reconcile it with the original words. Have I guessed the meaning entirely wrong? Or is it kind of sarcasm ?

  • 2
    It seems to me he's saying that (alas) men tend to have various experiences but they never connect them together to better understand the whole. In terms of psychology this is saying that they are afraid of anything that hints of cognitive dissonance.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 12:48
  • 1
    @HotLicks typo? en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Eliot
    – Spencer
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 14:38
  • @Spencer - If you're saying that Eliot's a woman, yes, I had forgotten that detail. It doesn't really affect the interpretation of the statement, though, other than the fact that she may have observed that men can be particularly pig-headed.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 18:46

2 Answers 2


The context of this quote can be found in "Middlemarch" Book VI - Chapter LVIII

How this came about may be easily seen without much arithmetic or knowledge of prices. When a man in setting up a house and preparing for marriage finds that his furniture and other initial expenses come to between four and five hundred pounds more than he has capital to pay for; when at the end of a year it appears that his household expenses, horses and et caeteras, amount to nearly a thousand, while the proceeds of the practice reckoned from the old books to be worth eight hundred per annum have sunk like a summer pond and make hardly five hundred, chiefly in unpaid entries, the plain inference is that, whether he minds it or not, he is in debt. Those were less expensive times than our own, and provincial life was comparatively modest; but the ease with which a medical man who had lately bought a practice, who thought that he was obliged to keep two horses, whose table was supplied without stint, and who paid an insurance on his life and a high rent for house and garden, might find his expenses doubling his receipts, can be conceived by any one who does not think these details beneath his consideration. Rosamond, accustomed from her childhood to an extravagant household, thought that good housekeeping consisted simply in ordering the best of everything—nothing else "answered;" and Lydgate supposed that "if things were done at all, they must be done properly"—he did not see how they were to live otherwise. If each head of household expenditure had been mentioned to him beforehand, he would have probably observed that "it could hardly come to much," and if any one had suggested a saving on a particular article—for example, the substitution of cheap fish for dear—it would have appeared to him simply a penny-wise, mean notion. Rosamond, even without such an occasion as Captain Lydgate's visit, was fond of giving invitations, and Lydgate, though he often thought the guests tiresome, did not interfere. This sociability seemed a necessary part of professional prudence, and the entertainment must be suitable. It is true Lydgate was constantly visiting the homes of the poor and adjusting his prescriptions of diet to their small means; but, dear me! Has it not by this time ceased to be remarkable— is it not rather that we expect in men, that they should have numerous strands of experience lying side by side and never compare them with each other? Expenditure—like ugliness and errors—becomes a totally new thing when we attach our own personality to it, and measure it by that wide difference which is manifest (in our own sensations) between ourselves and others. Lydgate believed himself to be careless about his dress, and he despised a man who calculated the effects of his costume; it seemed to him only a matter of course that he had abundance of fresh garments—such things were naturally ordered in sheaves. It must be remembered that he had never hitherto felt the check of importunate debt, and he walked by habit, not by self-criticism. But the check had come.

You can read it here :

Reading the quote, it is a rhetorical question and in order to understand it, let's break this quote up into pieces.

Is it not rather what we expect in men...

The question is making a statement indicating that it is what is expected in men.

... that they should have numerous strands of experience lying side by side...

This should be self-explanatory but putting the first part with this, it is stating that men should have "numerous strands of experience lying side by side"

...and never compare them with each other

and never compare the experiences of themselves and other men.

  • My mistake was that I was always thinking of inconsistent thoughts (or dormant experiences) in one single human head while the quote seems talks about many. Simply , we ignore each other experiences. It is just an assertion of that sad fact. Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 13:56

Lydgate, [I assume - I have not read this book :-(], husband of Rosamund, did not stop Rosamund from spending all of their money on 'nothing but' the finest things, to the extent that they were spending beyond their means, spending [approximately] twice as much money as they had as income.

They were doing this because they [Rosamund] felt obliged to 'Keep up with the Joneses' [...and never compare them with each other] and Lydgate, for whatever reason failed to stop her.

If you read the excerpt that Chris kindly supplied, it makes it clear that, if Lydgate should have known better [... that they should have numerous strands of experience lying side by side...].

The writer is asking:"Is it not reasonable for us to assume that someone of Lydgate's age / experience (of life) should have understood, or have the common sense to realise the consequences of allowing Rosamund to spend them into debt? [Is it not rather what we expect in men...] . The implication is that, if it is reasonable, what is wrong with Lydgate that he did not act to stop Rosamund? Or are we wrong to make this assumption? [Rhetorical]

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