What could be simpler than
’s support for family values? Forsaking her customary tact, Eliot fills the story with simple maxims and paeans promoting a life with wives and children, and emphatic caveats about a life without them. A faith in the family she is elsewhere content confiding to the implications of her narrative is here urged, and urged again, as conspicuous doctrine. Pulling out the stops, Eliot pours her formidable but usually discreet didactic energy into a straightforward channel of simple exhortation: ‘the Squire’s wife had died long ago, and the Red House was without that presence of the wife and mother which is the fountain of wholesome love and fear in parlour and kitchen’;
men without women inhabit houses ‘destitute of any hallowing charm’ (p. 73) and filled instead with the ‘scent of flat ale’ (p. 73); men without women live in a region barren of the ‘sweet flowers of courtesy’ (p. 121); men without women dwell in a twilight zone of tedium vitae whose only source of light is the memory of what is lost to them:
pass[ing] their days in the half-listless gratification of senses dulled by monotony … perhaps the love of some sweet maiden, the image of purity, order, and calm, had opened their eyes to the vision of a life in which the days would not seem too long, even without rioting; but the maiden was lost, and the vision passed away, and then what was left to them, especially when they had become too heavy for the hunt …?