Thursday, March 16, 2006

Two Friendships

One of the things that I enjoyed about “Miss Brooke” was Eliot’s descriptions of the two female friendships of the chapter. Rosamond Vincy and Mary Garth are firm friends, as well as cousins, but their relationship is quite different from sisters Celia and Dorothea Brooke. Yet there are some striking similarities as well.
All four characters are very different. Celia Brooke is described as sensible and practical, the natural counterweight to her sister Dorothea’s impossibly high ideals and passionate devotion to various causes. Later in the book, we meet the other two girls: Rosamond is pretty, bored, and very concerned with the thought that she might be forced to marry some local man, while Mary is described as plain and shrewd, but honest.
The dynamic between Mary and Rosamond seems to be one of good-humor and enjoyment in each other – they are the same age and have known each other all their lives. But Rosamond’s insufferable vanity (which I suppose we must excuse if Lydgate finds her so very attractive) causes a kind of mild bitterness on Mary’s part. For instance, when the two girls stand before a mirror:

“What a brown patch I am beside you, Rosy! You are the most unbecoming companion.”
“Oh, no! No one thinks of your appearance, you are so sensible and useful, Mary. Beauty is of very little consequence in reality,” said Rosamond, turning her head towards Mary, but with eyes swerving towards the new view of her neck in the glass.
“You mean
my beauty,” said Mary, rather sardonically.

On the other hand, Celia and Dorothea are sisters, and see much more of each other than Rosamond and Mary. This closeness leads to a much more interesting relationship, one in which Dorothea takes the lead, bounding ahead with ideas and plans while Celia gently tries to influence her sister’s opinions. Dorothea’s selfishness leads her to believe that her life is an exalted one, that she has been chosen to plan better lives for the local tenants or, later, assist with Casaubon’s noble work. The placid Celia, despite loving her sister and admiring her ideals, is well aware that Dorothea is headed for disaster. Eliot shows this odd mix of tenderness and stubbornness in the scene where Dorothea announced her engagement:

“It is right to tell you, Celia, that I am engaged to marry Mr. Casaubon.” Perhaps Celia had never turned so pale before…When she spoke there was a tear gathering.
“O Dodo, I hope you will be happy.” Her sisterly tenderness could not but surmount other feelings at this moment, and her tears were the tears of affection. Dorothea was still hurt and agitated.

Yet there is real affection in both these relationships, and if Eliot pokes fun at all four characters, she does so with an unsharpened stick.

1 Comments:

Blogger Martha said...

I like that Celia loses some of her delicacy around Dorothea once the engagement has been made-- perhaps Dorothea's blindness to her own misjudgement alters Celia's admiration of her sister. As in this exchange:

"I suppose it is being engaged to be married that has made you think patience is good," said Celia, as soon as she and Dorothea were alone together taking off their wrappings.
"You mean that I am very impatient, Celia."
"Yes; when people don't do and say just what you like."
Celia had become less afraid of "saying things" to Dorothea since this engagemant: clverness seemed more pitiable than ever.

11:54 AM  

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