Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

After Meg Eliot finds herself alone in the world at forty-three, she discovers that she does not know either other people or herself. Only when she knows can she take the next step, that of choosing her own way of living from among the many possibilities presented to her. As one who must know and as one who must knowingly choose, Meg becomes not only a heroic figure but, in addition, a modern model.

Just after the shooting, Meg begins her insistence on facing facts when she tells the British consul that she knows her husband is dead. Later, she insists on knowing the details of the trial, and back in England, she must have a clear picture of Bill’s anxieties, so that she can assess her own responsibility for their financial troubles. When Tom Pirie approaches her, when Jill turns on her, Meg realizes that she has not seen them or herself clearly. Yet Jill, the professional widow, determinedly blind, unknowingly assures Meg that her own curiosity is better than Jill’s certainty. Later, Meg confides to David that, after having taken life at face value for such a long time, she decided after Bill’s death, “I won’t ever be caught off my guard again. I must know what’s going on in the world.” After she has left David, it is not surprising that Meg changes jobs frequently. When she knows something about politics, she wishes to know about industry.

Life, then, depends on knowledge, which in turn makes it possible for one to make...

(The entire section is 541 words.)