*spoiler alert to Ruth, by Elizabeth Gaskell*

Dear Ruth,

I am very sorry that you had such a hard life. However, you are an inspiring example about how to handle heavy burdens with grace and love.

I just found that some people find you too passive in succumbing to your fall. They don’t relate to you for that reason. I do relate to you, so I guess I was passive in my fall too. I am divorced, and consider my fall when I got into a relationship with my ex, and in a lesser way, not being able to handle the relationship. These people also recommend that suicidal people not read this book because of the doom and gloom. I did find that even though you got on with your life, it was as if you really couldn’t get over the feelings of being bereft. Your calm sereneness was almost deathlike and defeatest. You woke up, as it were, in your confrontation with Mr. Bellingham, 8 years after he left you. But wasn’t your anger and disgust the result of fear? Fear that he had such power over you? There’s the passivity. He had the power to make you happy, feel loved, and also to take away your child and make you despair of life. How can a man have that much power, and we be so powerless to block it? I wonder if this feeling of powerlessness starts in childhood with a father who does not consider you, not that your fictional father didn’t, but maybe the father of the person you were based on, who Mrs. Gaskell met in prison, did not consider her separate personhood. Maybe he did not think what she thought matters at all. What he thinks about things is all that can have any respectable bearing on any given topic. This trains you that the man has all the control. There are other variables and extenuating circumstances that I can’t tease out right now. But it is also interesting that we both had mothers who were invalids.

But you looked back after that interview, and wanted to see him one last time. You were still hooked, but had closed yourself off to the possibility.

Even after 12 years, after you were a nurse (I was also a nurse), when you learned that he had contracted deadly typhoid, you felt you had to care for him. I think your decision to nurse typhoid patients to begin with was a death wish, and not so much the saintly thing it was written as. Did you really love the people enough to sacrifice your life for them? Weren’t you angry at them for shunning you and disgracing you and feeling superior to you? Weren’t you trying to show them up as a genuinely better person than they? To also make yourself worthy in their eyes? And to get back the respect of your son? If a person who has despaired of life gives their life, it seems more of an escape. And then when you lived through the initial epidemic and got the respect, you went back to him, on the condition that he was unconscious and wouldn’t know. But you really wanted him to know that you were worthy of his love, didn’t you? When his eyes fluttered open, you were transfixed, and the doctor had to lead you away. Further, didn’t you consider that placing yourself in harm’s way was also an abandonment of your son? Why do we end up being drawn to do the hurtful things that have been done to us? I don’t think Mrs. Gaskell felt the above was the case, but post-feminist women see things differently. If life was so painful to you, Ruth, the more courageous and sacrificial thing would be to keep living it.

Regarding your love for Mr. Bellingham. I wonder if there is an addiction to such a surrender. One can feel so alone and get so tired of mustering the energy to survive, that when another comes along who takes charge, for better or worse, it is a relief. Your workhouse, seamstress boss was in charge, but she left you to yourself on Sundays. At such a young age, being left to onesself (for certain types of people?) is too stressful, and they desperately seek relief. And even when she was there, she expected you to pick up exacting habits that were not natural to you. Her control was a burden. Perhaps you would have learned to care for details eventually, but being forced to care on fear of punishment was painful. Mr. Bellingham had a lot of energy to arrange things as he liked, and you were an ornament, and so you were content to passively sit on the shelf where he placed you, and be admired. Until he didn’t. His abandonment left you as sole orderer of your life, and it felt like a dark endless, boundary-less abyss. You had no footing. Drowning in deep waters mirrored your inner landscape, and you would have done it had not another man offered you a hand.

I wonder if women are intrinsically wired to need a man’s control? Burned or mistrustful women will close themselves off to this, but is this only on a surface level? Are they still being controlled in their defiance, if that is what it is? I think it is defiance, because I think men do want that control somewhat, and we have to resist. Which brings me back to your love of Mr. Bellingham. Or was it desire? Is love wanting what is best for the other person, and desire is wanting them to love you? Love involves sacrifice. You wanted him to be naturally pleased with you without sacrifice on his part. When he felt duty bound, you were not interested. Isn’t it pride to only want to be desired and not patronized? But “to obey is better than sacrifice” as Isaiah and Keith Green say. Love is to be freely given, but what if one feels the pang of sacrifice in doing what is best for another? Sometimes all we can muster is duty. That is not ideal, and is hopefully temporary.

But some men are not trustworthy. If yeilding to men is natural, then closing yourself from them is unnatural. Is this type of passivity natural or damaged? There’s an argument either way. But since some men are untrustworthy, and no man is completely trustworthy, our rational brains have to wise up and protect us. Or someone else does. Enter the Jesus Prayer.

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