Friday, March 31, 2006

Lydgate Screed, part 1

(NB: I can't stop spoiling, however hard I try. Doing my best, here, but I am manifestly cursed. If nobody reads or comments on this before finishing the book, I will totally understand.)

I have always liked to say, regarding Middlemarch, that there are Dodo people, and there are Lydgate people. Oh, I suppose there may be folks who identify equally well with both, but I don't know. Frankly, I don't want to know.

I think some of my impatience with Dodo is that she is so thouroughly curtailed by society. She has noble thoughts and genuinely wants to do good, but her social position (as a woman and as gentry) has her hemmed in on all sides. It's not her fault, but it drives me crazy.

Lydgate, on the other hand, is a man. He can go anywhere he wants, do anything he wants, pursue his intellectual passions wherever they might take him. His thoughts are as lofty, in their own way, as Dodo's, his intentions as good.

And, as has already been demonstrated at least twice, a fat lot of good it does him!

Lydgate is railroaded into choosing Tyke over Farebrother (*sob!* Farebrother is like, my serious crush this read-through!). Lydgate ends up engaged to Rosamond almost without understanding how he got there. Both are his own big fat stupid fault -- let's be frank, here! He may be a good doctor with modern methods (she is less clear on whether he is actually a good researcher), and he has social graces but surprisingly little social judgment.

These parallel characters, Dodo and Lydgate, female and male, are one of Eliot's masterful strokes in this novel. It would be so easy and tempting to tell the story of a woman hemmed in by circumstance -- it's much more interesting to be able to demonstrate that men, for all their advantages, do not necessarily find it easier to stay on track to achieve great things.

Do Lydgate's attitudes toward women work to his detriment? Hell, yes! But more on that in Screed #2!


Blogger gina c said...

As I was reading through your first sentence, my mind said "But I'm neither, I'm a Farebrother Person!!!" and then I read further to see that I am not alone! I really like Mr. Farebrother. If I were casting him in a film where I could choose anyone, living or not, I would choose Claude Rains to portray Mr. Farebrother. So there it is, I am revealed as a Farebrother Fan-girl.

10:04 AM  
Anonymous rachel said...

Well, right, but Farebrother is more a supporting actor. I guess I was talking about the two (arguably) central characters.

And Fred is pretty central, but his story doesn't quite parallel the other two.

11:34 AM  
Blogger gina c said...

I was attempting to comply with the truism, if you cant say anything nice, dont say anything at all.

I think that I will wait until we all finish the book before posting again. I want to see if these main characters improve.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Martha said...

Interesting comparison between Lydgate and Dorothea-- it's clear when you pointed it out, but I hadn't consciously made the connection. I think one of the limiting elements for Lydgate is his level of self-absorption, and his hubris, and in that way he is a perfect match for Rosamund. But can two bullheaded and self-absorbed people actually get along over the long term?

Dorothea has also mostly lived in her head, but it seems her married life is changing that, and she is reaching out in a way that she hasn't before, because she is so desperate for contact. Has anyone noticed that Eliot seems to be treating her much more kindly since she has married? She has become a much more sympathetic character.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Isabella said...

I see the parallel so far as they're both idealists and not very successful in realizing their ambitions.

I don't know about this Dodo people/Lydgate people business. While Dodo has become much more sympathetic, I feel pretty indifferent toward Lydgate. And this aspect of the novel/writing fascinates me: that the main characters are so messy, so NOT clearly heroic or tragic. It's interesting too that according to the intro to Rachel's edition, Lydgate was conceived as the main character, and Miss Brooke's story was tacked on.

Lydgate seems oblivious. I'm tempted to draw a parallel (at this point) with Casaubon — both driven, they have a calling, a purpose, but have trouble making it happen. (Would you call Casaubon an idealist?)

But I don't exactly dislike Lydgate, or even want to. After all, going back to ch 15, "The man was still in the making." Eliot points out his commonness lay in his prejudices regarding furniture, women, etc. Why do we expect better of him on these points, just because he has a superior intellect?

What do you think Farebrother sees in him?

10:08 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

I had wanted to post something on dissecting Lydgate, but seeing as he has already been opened up, I'll just add to it. I'm still trying to figure him out. He is obviously intelligent, but what was he thinking regarding Laure??? Of course, he was only viewing her on a stage and I suppose that's not far removed from being infatuated with something in a glass bottle. But then how quickly his resolve to "henceforth take a scientific view of women," and to not marry for several years changed with a few tears from Rosamond!

But basically, I find I like Lydgate and his level headed scientific approach, but he seems to have no idea how to control his emotions.

I'm having trouble viewing him as a parallel character to Dorothea. Like Isabella, I find him, so far, more a parallel character with Casaubon. Both have an intellectual pursuit to follow, which seems to be their driving force, and now Lydgate is about to follow Casabaun into a questionable marriage.

ps I think, Gina, Claude Raines would make an excellent Farebrother and I hope you'll reconsider your decision not to post anything more until the characters improve. They are much more interesting in their unimproved state.

12:21 AM  

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