Thursday, March 23, 2006

How Many Plots Can We Fit Into One Book?

I am beginning to feel like Eliot has crammed at least three books into one, and I am having trouble keeping it all straight. Not the kind of trouble where you forget who is related to whom, and can’t remember the difference between Ladislaw and Lydgate, but the kind where you find yourself following three or more plot lines without knowing which is the important one.

Plot One: Dorothea’s development from idealistic young girl to jaded woman. Players include Dorothea, Chasaubon and Will Ladislaw; themes are of disappointment, disillusionment and resignation, plus unexpected adoration on the part of poor Ladislaw. Defining moments include arguments, misunderstandings and passionate avowals.

Plot Two: Lydgate’s introduction to Middlemarch society. Here we have Lydgate, of course, and all the other important men in Middlemarch, from Farebrother to Bullstrode to Thesiger. Here the themes involve religion and politics, both of which come heavily spiced with satire. The defining moment of this plot, so far, is the vote on who gets to be the hospital chaplain.
Plot Three: Fred Vincy’s descent into debt and dishonor. (All right, the dishonor hasn’t happened yet, but I’m positive it will). This one centers around Fred’s relations with his father and uncle Featherstone. The theme of this one is weakness, foolishness, and hopelessness, plus greed. And the defining moment of this plot is when Fred hands his mother the money from his uncle and asks her to keep it safe, as he can’t trust himself with it.

I don’t think it really bothers me to find all this jammed into one novel, since the stories and characters are related, but my question is: can there be a singular theme to a work like this? Or is Eliot just making a point about the human difficulties we all share, no matter what our circumstances are?


Anonymous rachel said...

Blurghhhhh. I can't figure out how to say anything useful without spoilers. I believe there are common thematic threads in all the plots. Keep your eyes open.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Ella said...

I guess I will look at this again when I've finished the book. And laugh at myself, probably.

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Julia said...

I'm reading for the 3rd time and am just starting to see how intricately linked the themes really are.
Hopefully this is not a spoiler - but just in case...

This time around I've been enjoying the comparison and contrast of how (not just major) characters choose who to love. How do their various backgrounds and experience influence 1. their choices, 2. their growth through the consquences of those choices 3. how this all affects any further choices.

3:05 AM  
Blogger Isabella said...

What about the title of Book II — "Old and Young"? (I've been trying to write a separate post on the subject but I'm not getting anywhere...)

Eliot gives us two studies in contrast. The focus switches from Bulstrode to Lydgate, and later from Casaubon to Ladyslaw. Old and young.

The first pair: tradition v modernization and, I can only assume, a kind of political/social reform.

The second pair: the old, dried-up stick in the mud v youthful exuberance. Casaubon also represents an academic old school and refuses to modernize his methods. Ladislaw's a Romantic.

So I do think old v young (or better, new) is an emerging theme, though I have yet to figure out how it exactly applies to the Vincy thread (possibly social class — old money v nouveau riche?).

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Danielle said...

Please tell me some of you (Julia three times now) have read this before? This is definitely a novel that can be read on many levels. I feel like I am only reading it now on the most superficial level--and slowly at that. I think if I was reading this on my own without all this discussion, I would not be getting much out of it!

12:24 PM  

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