as strict as the ability to <count three> and no more


Senior Member
turkey turkish
Hello, I am thinking over and over about this sentence. Please help me. is this sentence logical?

Some have felt that these blundering lives are due to the inconvenient indefiniteness with which the Supreme Power has fashioned the natures of women: if there were one level of feminine incompetence as strict as theability to count three and no more, the social lot of women might be treated with scientific certitude.

I can not sense especially the meaning of to "count three" here. Can you tell me what does that sentence mean?
  • joanvillafane

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    "Count to three" - a very simple and basic level of competence.

    If women were all equally incompetent (unable to count to three), then it might make sense to treat the social lot (role) of ALL women with scientific certitude. But women are "inconveniently" variable (indefinite) in their levels of competence.


    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    Source: Middlemarch, by George Eliot

    The book was written almost 150 years ago. Some of its language will not conform to current usage.
    The whole passage is at

    The sentence of the OP suggests that women's level of 'feminine incompetence' is not
    simply stated/determined, as we could if you asked, "Can the person count to three."
    To such a question one can say, "Yes they have that competence." But in the case
    at issue, women's abilities to deal with and overcome social obstacles, there are all kinds
    of levels; further this issue is not intrinsic to the woman, but relates to her circumstances.

    She is not really talking in our sense of 'competence', but rather whether women
    will be able to suceed in the face of social complexities and difficulties.

    The passage ends with

    Here and there is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heart-beats and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off and are dispersed among hindrances, instead of centring in some long-recognizable deed.

    "dispersed among hindrances" is related to this 'incompetence' which is, in other words
    insufficient, luck, resources, and opportunities. Saint Theresa (Teresa) is one of those rare successes.


    In my opinion, Joan's line suggests somewhat of a misunderstanding. (That's my impression at least.) The writer is NOT saying women lack a basic competence comparable to the ability to count three.

    Joan in part (post #2):
    If women were all equally incompetent (unable to count to three),
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