Monday, March 20, 2006

I figured I would weigh in with some observations before we move on to the next book, which is soon (yikes!).

First off, I was struck by how often Eliot makes reference to the social constraints the characters are operating under, the roles they are all expected to play. I think one of the defining characteristics of Dorothea is that she is not temperamentally suited to play out the role she's been assigned by society. My sense of Dorothea is that she is intelligent and intellectually curious. She's also a romantic idealist and very very young. She doesn't know her own mind, and as she is a part of her social context, she can't imagine being the one in charge, even though in an equitable world, she would be. I think that's probably where the martyrdom stuff comes from-- if you can't take action on your own, or play the hero, then you passively keep up with what you were doing until someone gets fed up and kills you. And then oh boy you can be a hero! Or a saint, even. I guess posthumous glory is better than no glory.

When she thinks of marriage, I don't think she's looking for a love match at all, or even for a practical arrangement where she might have some freedom-- I think in that sense Sir James could work out well for her, in that she could probably finagle as much leeway as she wanted:

"Sir James had no idea that he should ever like to put down the predominance of this handsome girl, in whose cleverness he delighted. Why not? A man's mind--what there is of it--has always the advantage of being masculine, as the smallest birch-tree is of a higher kind than the most soaring palm, and even his ignorance is of a sounder quality. Sir James might not have originated this estimate; but a kind of Providence furnishes the limpest personality with a little gum or starch in the form of tradition."

She wants more of a mentor who will give her legitimate entry into the world of knowledge, which has been deemed inappropriate for a young woman such as herself. She says:

"The really delightful marriage must be that where your husband was a sort of father and could teach you even Hebrew if you wished it."

My feeling about that is, well, eeeew. But then, I live in the twenty-first century.

And she meets her match for naivetee in Mr. Casaubon, who has a lot less excuse for it. She's a trophy for him, a sweet young thing to prop up his vanity. He loves the fact that she looks up to him, and he notes that she is at least somewhat intelligent. Which he respects only to the point that it allows her to understand what he's talking about. You get a real feeling for his indifference when he insists on asking Dodo's sister Celia along for their honeymoon. Again, eeew. I think Dorothea's true self mostly shows itself in the flashes of irritation and hurt she feels in this case, and in others where she's slighted for her lack of knowledge, or when she oversteps her social boundaries and is firmly put in her place.

Ummm, and those are some thoughts. A few of many. I'm hoping Dorothea and Casaubon get back soon, though. I'm having a little more trouble getting attached to the new batch of characters. And my new least favorite is Mr. Bulstrode. Ugh.


Blogger gina c said...

I agree with you about Bulstrode, he isnt very agreeable, and I find my mind wanders when he's on stage. I could do with a bit less of Fred Vincy too, but then I've been reading ahead! This format has enabled me to go farther than ever before in this long book, and it doesnt seem as long as it did before.

8:18 AM  
Blogger piksea said...

I just picked up that "1001 Books To Read Before You Die" and Middlemarch is on it. The author mentions that the book is a study of small town or provincial life and the roles people play in it. So, it seems you are honing in on just what Eliot was trying to do.

I'm guessing that in order to really drive home the roles played in small towns, she's made these characters at least a little like caricatures of the types they represent.

11:23 AM  
Anonymous rachel said...

Mary Garth,
Lydgate (even though he's an idiot),
Will Ladislaw (but that may only be because he was played by Rufus Sewell... the character in the book I'm a bit more on again/off again),
Mr Farebrother (have we met him yet? no? Damn! I'm spoiling again!)
Uncle Brooke! I love a man who makes me laugh!

3:06 PM  
Blogger Isabella said...

I was a bit smitten with Fred when first introduced to him in ch 11. As I read farther on, I realize I'm a bit more forgiving of him than I really ought to be.

My mind starts to wander during the politicking.

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Danielle said...

I am only now finishing up book one, so I will have to do some serious reading before I can read future posts. I wonder how Dorothea is going to come out of this marriage? At first I really didn't like her, but after seeing all the different perspectives, I am seeing her in a different light. I wonder if the marriage ends up being a disappointment, she will end up embittered? And yes, just when you are getting comfortable with characters, a whole new set is introduced. I sort of like Fred, but he just came into the story. Rosamond has potential. Need to read more...

4:38 PM  
Blogger Ella said...

Mr. Bulstrode makes my teeth hurt.

10:46 AM  
Blogger piksea said...

Rachel ~ I'm with you on all of your favorites, especially Mary Garth and Will Ladislaw. I was disappointed in Lydgate for not sticking up for Mr. Farebrother.

I love how Bulstrode is described as sort of a "vampire." He eats nothing but feeds on the people he has power over.

10:11 AM  

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