Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Dodo and Kitty

The initial focus of Book I is, of course, "Miss Brooke" — Dorothea. The prelude sets her up to be a modern-day Theresa, a victim of circumstance, a swan who will always remain among ducklings. Dorothea is our heroine, for whom we should feel sympathy. We're supposed to root for her.

So I was greatly surprised to find, within the space of just a few pages, that I don't particularly like her. (Yet I'm compelled to read more about her.) Her contradictions. Her obliviousness. She has Ideals, but her charity does not seem to extend to her daily relationships. She's proud.

Her case is not helped by the affectionate appellation her sister applies. Dodo. No doubt it's a term of endearment commonly used to refer to the Dorothys of the world. But I wonder if it had the same connotations — silliness, stupidity, extinction — in Eliot's time.

Celia on the other hand: Kitty — sweetness, perhaps ingratiating?

I'm struck by the relationship between these sisters. They bicker. They push each other's buttons, deliberately. (I like that they bicker. It makes them so real.) Of course they love each other, but they express also that cattiness so often attributed to women, found among those who are thrown together by circumstances (family, coworkers) not entirely of their own choosing — the instinct to resist the "yoke" (end of chapter 1) of relationships already predetermined.

Since they could remember, there had been a mixture of criticism and awe in the attitude of Celia's mind towards her elder sister.

I rather think, at this early stage anyway, that this is the attitude most of the characters hold towards Dorothea, and the one that we readers are also expected to take.

Do you like Dorothea? Celia? Do you relate to one or the other, see your relationship with your sisters in them? Is Dorothea also "yoked" into her role of elder sister?

(My own sister is 13 years older than I am. We have the benefit of having not grown up together; we came to know, and like, each other as adults. But there are still yokes.)

There are hints that things will not go so well for Dorothea and Edward Casaubon, and I don't doubt there will come a time when indeed I will feel sympathy for her (but not yet). Do you support Dorothea's choice of Casaubon for a husband? While I don't like the look of him and I think she acted impetuously, I would've chosen the same way — the attraction of heart and/or mind over "a good match."


Anonymous Danielle said...

I am a little behind (just started chapter 10), but I am relieved that I am not the only one who isn't really liking Dorothy. She is so *moral*. Not that that is a bad thing--she does have very good intentions, and really I should be able to identify with her, but she has just been grating on me. I am not really convinces that she loves Casaubon. I almost think she sees in him a father figure. She seems to want guidance, and someone to teach her. For someone who seems so independent and willing to speak her mind about social issues, she is not very willing to speak up to Casaubon (but I think this will change--or I am misinterpreting her actions)--she wants to make no changes to her new home or even choose a boudoir. I do like Celia. She seems more level headed actually or grounded in reality. Anyway, not sure I am on the right track, but this is what I feel so far. At first I thought this would be dry, dense reading, but I am enjoying it more and more as I read.

11:49 AM  
Blogger rachel said...

I can't say I like her either, but I certainly sympathize with her. I remember being that naive, and was certainly that foolish. It's painful to have to watch somebody else go through it -- it reminds me of the worst of myself. But I guess we're all entitled to be young and ignorant once.

12:10 PM  
Anonymous kimbofo said...

Hmmm. This made me think.

Impulsively I would have said that I don't like Dorothea very much. But after careful consideration I realise that I actually admire her. She's got strong views and isn't afraid to share them. I like that she wants to make the world a better place. (When she visits Casaubon's house before the marriage to see if there is anything to change, she declares "Pray do not speak of altering anything. There are so many other things in the world that want altering." I thought that was a wonderful insight into her character.)

Although she might come across as a little dull (and perhaps lacking a sense of humour), I think she is very sensible (and courageous) to choose the man, "a listener who understood her at once", rather than the good-looking one everyone thought was a better match for her age.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

I have hopes for Dorothea and I am trying to like her. Dorothea is young and though it is true that her choices seem limited, it is interesting to see how well she and Chettam get along once the pressure is off. She speaks her mind and is not afraid to confess her ignorance about things she knows nothing about, such as Ladislaw's sketches. Unfortunately, her confession was misinterpreted by Ladislaw, but even he seemed to find a kind of fascination in her. In fact, everyone seems to regard her as being clever, but that is not enough for her. As Ms. Eliot says in chapter 7, that Dorothea is not just content with procurring a wise husband, "she wished, poor child, to be wise herself." I am hopeful that she will find this wisdom she seeks, but it may be a rough road she has embarked on to find it. Interesting to note that in that same paragraph Eliot says, "Miss Brooke was certainly very naive with all her alleged cleverness. Celia, whose mind had never been thought too powerful, saw the emptiness of other people's pretensions much more readily."

I was a little thrown off by the shift in characters towards the end of the chapter, but then found myself liking them even more. Interesting the way Lydgate was used as a transition to introduce the new characters. I've never read Eliot before, but I find myself quite liking her writing!

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll be the Dorothea of the bunch ;) and say that I quite like her. I think the reason she's so moral is because she has a desire for some sort of greatness beyond the realm of conventional Middlemarch, but has no awareness of any other avenue for this, aside from the church. So she tries very hard to pour all of her idealism into that area, struggling to reconcile the contradictions that arise.

To someone who has grown up in Middlemarch, a man like Casaubon is the height of learning, and since she doesn't dare to hope that she could reach those lofty peaks herself, she projects it all onto Casaubon.

I'm sure she'll have a hard fall as she begins to see her idol's feet of clay and her idealism becomes tempered by maturity, but I can't fault her for wanting to find some wider, truer arena than the narrow smugness of Middlemarch.

3:59 PM  
Blogger Ella said...

I like them both, but I find myself appreciating Celia's little forays into sarcasm at Dorothy's expense.

11:16 AM  
Blogger piksea said...

I'm not a fan of Dorothea's, but that doesn't mean that I don't already feel sorry for her. I do... and a lot. She seems to like feeling superior to people and yet she's marrying a man who she considers superior. It may be just another of the paradoxical characteristics of Dodo, but taking an objective look at the match, it seems sort of doomed to me.

I too, prefer Celia. She may be the ditzy one of the two, but she seems more age appropriate and down to earth than her sister. I find the passive-aggressive swipes that Celia takes to be very realistic. She's not a fan of confrontation and she's learned how to pull her sister's strings and push her buttons as her way of getting what she wants/needs from her sister.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Yannis said...

I'm around chapter 7 myself, Dorothea has just accepted Casaubon's proposal, and I have to say I quite like her! We shouldn't forget that Dodo is very much a woman of her times, I doubt she would have seemed vain and sanctimonious back then, more like a clever girl trying to find her way in a male-dominated world, like Eliot. And she would have aroused the readers' sympathies. Whereas kitty's type is more familiar to us because there's still lots of women like her around. Probably Dorothea speaks more to readers from oppressive and religiously conservative societies?

6:32 PM  

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