Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Middlemarch and Rigidity

Middlemarch is an incredibly complex novel that can be seen from many different angles and in many different lights. Often compared to a web (Eliot herself uses the metaphor many times throughout the work) it is a little like the Hindu concept of the net of existence—each nexus of the fabric is a jewel that reflects all the other jewels in the grid of the universe. But though webs are flexible, there is a sense of rigidity reflected in many of the attitudes of the Middlemarchers themselves that contributes greatly to the conflict in the novel. And it is a habitual rigidity, a sort of inbred inertia, that causes a lot of the trouble among the inhabitants of Middlemarch.

It seems to me that the primary nexus in that vast web of connections that is Middlemarch is the symmetry of the Dorothea/Casaubon and Lydgate/Rosamond marriages. Although Dorothea and Lydgate have their faults—he more than her—both are practical idealists who unfortunately have been paired with impractical and headstrong partners. Dorothea is under Casaubon’s yoke as much as Lydgate is under Rosamond’s. If there are protagonists in Middlemarch—the novel seems to me unique in being practically free of any clear-cut heroes or villains—they are Dorothea and Lydgate.

Dorothea marries Casaubon chasing some false ideal of service to a great intellect since, being a woman in pre-Victorian England, the great intellectual quest has been denied her. She eventually finds that Casaubon is no great intellect, a fact of which he himself is well aware, and that his life’s work, the Key to all Mythologies, is nothing more than a Penelope’s cloth—a hopeless work that justifies his existence but can never be completed because it would expose him as the mediocrity he is. Her horror at finding that he expects her to go on weaving and unweaving this pointless fabric after his death is palpable. And the codicil to his will that prevents her from ever considering marriage to Will Ladislaw is the final link in a ponderous chain that binds her to him even in death. Casaubon’s chief failure, however, is stubbornness. It is his unwillingness to compromise with Dorothea that causes most of the strife in their marriage. His jealousy of his cousin, Will, however unfounded, is something he sticks by even in the face of proofs to the contrary, just as he sticks to his plodding and pointless scholarship.

Lydgate is under a similarly stubborn enslavement to Rosamond Vincy, the entitled daughter of the mayor of Middlemarch. Rosamond is a poster child for viciously passive-aggressive behavior. The more Lydgate struggles to free himself from the web of debt that she will not even acknowledge, the more she wraps him in it’s sticky shroud, until she has poisoned his relations with his uncle and with her own father. Eliot poses a paradox here—she surely doesn’t want to suggest that wives should blindly obey their husbands, yet Rosamond’s flouting of Lydgate’s specific orders is the root of terrible consequences. Her manner in this puts her husband totally in her power, for she always leaves him feeling that he is in the wrong no matter how outrageous her own behavior. And her rigid refusal to abide by his wishes drives spike after spike into the coffin of their marriage.

Of course, Rosamond is not Lydgate’s only problem. It is the rigidity of the other Middlemarch medical men that cast doubt on his methods in the first place, rendering his dearly bought practice worthless and his opinions suspect. And the fact that Lydgate is allied (in the town’s eyes, certainly not in his own) with the Bulstrode/Reform faction, labels him an outsider right from the beginning. Rigidity is an insider’s game, after all.

Bulstrode himself shows his own rigidity in his religion, but it is not only morally suspect characters in Middlemarch who are stubborn. Will Ladislaw shows his rigidity in his refusal of his uncle Casaubon’s support and later of Bulstrode’s money. Mary Garth shows hers in her refusal to help Featherstone alter his will in favor of Fred Vincy and her father shows his by his rejection of Bulstrode’s commission after hearing Raffle’s story. Each of these rigidities has consequences, some fortunate, some not, and Eliot remains as neutral as is possible in an author in order that we may see how a slight compromise here or there would have changed so many lives so drastically. Would Casaubon have suspected Dorothea and Will if Will had not been so adamant in breaking the connection to his cousin? Would Lydgate have been able to pull himself out of debt if Rosamond had acquiesced? Would Fred have inherited Stone Court if Mary had not been so rigid, and in doing so, would the whole Rigg/Raffles connection have fallen apart? Perhaps, but then there would have been no novel Middlemarch, although the town of Middlemarch would have certainly been a more peaceful place.

Monday, April 24, 2006

I have a couple of observations to make about the last couple of chapters--
First, has anyone else noted the very offhand way Elliot deals with the children in this novel? Isabella pointed out earlier that there's only one line announcing Rosamund's pregnancy. Later, there are a few paragraphs devoted to the premature birth of her stillborn child, but the event is used mostly to demonstrate the direction her relationship is headed with Lydgate. She seems to recover in no time, and apparently has no lasting effects from her loss. And finally, Dorothea spends time with Celia and her baby, but doesn't seem particularly attached to it, while Celia's devotion to it is described in a distinctly satirical way. Which is funny, and spot on, and at the same time I wonder at the lack of warmth there.

Did GE have children of her own? It didn't look like it from the little bio in the front of my book, but I'm sure it's not very complete. And there is a strong bond portrayed between parents and older children, like Fred and his mother, Mary and her father. Do you suppose this would have something to do with a different attitude toward infants, when mortality rates must have been very high? Or possibly a distaste for small children on the part of the author?

The other bit I wanted to comment on was Bulstrode and his situation. I think the description of Bulstrode's gradual corruption by the world and his own desires is brilliant. It shows him in a much more human light, though he is still not a very likeable man. This paragraph is applicable to most of the characters in the book:

The spiritual kind of rescue was a genuine need with him. There may be coarse hypocrites, who consciously affect beliefs and emotions for the sake of gulling the world, but Bulstrode was not one of them. He was simply a man whose desires had been stronger than his theoretic beliefs and who had gradually explained the gratification of his desires into satisfactory agreement with those beliefs. If this be hypocrisy, it is a process which shows itself occasionally in us all, to whatever confession we belong, and whether we believe in the future perfection of our race or in the nearest date fixed for the end of the world; whether we regard the earth as a putrefying nidus for a saved remnant , including ourselves, or have a passionate belief in the solidarity of mankind.

Bulstrode is a man who is changed by the world, and by his desires, and things don't turn out the way he thinks they are going to. The world becomes a little darker, a little sadder, and it seems that is the trajectory many of Middlemarch's characters are following. Any comments?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

My crush on Farebrother

(Isabella's going to be so miffed if nobody posts! Where is everybody?!)

I haven't always had a soft spot for Farebrother. My first time through, I was 21 years old and much more taken with sexy Ladislaw and tormented Lydgate. The self-deprecating Farebrother came across as, well, an old fuddy-duddy. He steps out of the way of the happy young people, and he should. He's a geek and an antique.

Ah, times change. I'm now closer to Farebrother's age than Dorothea's. His renunciations look different from here, more poignant and complicated. I've been there and done that -- with significantly less grace.

Here's what I admire this time around:

  • Although he's in the wrong career, he doesn't get down about it. He does what he can to pursue his entomology on his own time. There's a lot to be admired in a passionate amateur.
  • Although he's in the wrong career, he doesn't shirk his duties. When Fred asks him to speak to Mary, he takes the charge as a clergyman and manages to be simultaneously compassionate and dispassionate. He doesn't undermine Fred's case, and goes so far as to speak up when he sees Fred slipping.
  • He doesn't try to conceal or rationalize his shortcomings. There is no pretense with Farebrother, and being honest with himself helps him deal with others compassionately.
Much of this book seems to be about disillusionment and failure. Farebrother has weathered both with grace and humility. Maybe I don't so much have a crush on him as want to be him when I grow up. Disappointments will come whether we will it or no; he offers us a model for dignity, philosophical equanimity, and good humor in the face of life's sucker punches.

(Interestingly, his approach also fails at one point. But that section is not yet under discussion here, so I'll save "Farebrother vs. Dodo: Deathmatch!" for another time.)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Members update

In case you didn't already know, life goes on. We've lost one member for certain (Gaelicgrl) (maybe others?). Meantime we've officially gained Lelia. Sam's gone to Spain for 3 weeks, but promises to check in on us when he returns. Myself, I leave in the morning for 10 days or so, and won't have internet access.

I've never bothered to slap a counter on this blog, but I've stumbled across a number of mentions of this site across le bloguemonde. Rest assured that if other people aren't reading Middlemarch along with us, they're at least reading about our trials and tribulations.

There is also the occasional colourful commentary I don't know how to alert you to.

Enjoy Book V.
"The Dead Hand" — what a great title.
Just one little line to tell us Rosamond's pregnant?!
That codicil's a bit much, don't you think? Confound Casaubon!
Do you think they're in love already?
And what about Mary and Farebrother — do you figure it turns out for the best?
Did anyone else freak out at the last couple paragraphs? I was stunned.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Reform Bill: Middlemarch's political backdrop

I must admit that my eyes glaze over whenever Middlemarch touches on politics. From some of your comments, it sounds like I'm not alone.

After doing a bit of research, I returned to text and was amazed to find how little politics there was. My ignorance simply blew it out of proportion.

However, politics is clearly part of the book. Middlemarch was published in 1871-2, but its setting is the 1830s. Eliot is at times quite colourful in describing the past of 40 years previous as ancient history, implying how greatly times had changed.

From The Oxford Companion to English Literature:
The Reform Bill of 1830 widened the parliamentary franchise by extending the vote to include the rich middle classes, and removed some of the inequalities in the system of representation by redistributing members of Parliament to correspond with the great centres of population. The Bill was introduced by Lord John Russell (1792–1878) in 1831, and carried in 1832. The Reform Bill of 1867, which more than doubled the electorate, extended the franchise to include many male members of the industrial working class, and Bill of 1884 took in (with the exception of certain categories, i.e. lunatics, convicted criminals, and peers) all males over 21. In 1872 voting by ballot was introduced. Women over 30 were enfranchised in 1918; and women over 21 received the vote in 1928. In 1969 an Act was passed which lowered the age of all voters to 18. The question of reform is a principal theme in many Victorian novels, notably in G Eliot's Middlemarch and Felix Holt.

While Eliot did not see most of those changes, it is important to note that they all stem from that one little bill that Sir James opposes and that Mr Brooke supports without seeming to fully understand.

Early in chapter 6 we learn that Brooke "took Peel's side about the Catholic Bill."

(I'm using Wikipedia as reference for what follows, not that it's by any means an authoritative source, but for the sake of ease — the nature of the information is such that it's easily verifiable.)

Robert Peel was born to one of the richest textile manufacturers of the early Industrial Revolution (the elder Robert Peel was most noted for reform of working conditions during the first part of the 19th century) and was a star of the Tory party.

(Note to our American friends: Tories are Conservatives; Whigs are Liberals.)

Catholic Emancipation in the United Kingdom occurred during the late 18th century and early 19th century and involved reducing and removing many of the restrictions on Roman Catholics (eg, re property ownership, and therefore voting rights). In 1829, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel, against their previous judgements, introduced and carried another major Catholic Relief Act, removing many of the remaining substantial restrictions on Roman Catholics in the UK.

I assume Mrs Cadwallader's accusation against Brooke refers to finally relenting to grant Catholic relief.

At the end of chapter 35, Featherstone "was dead and buried some months before Lord Grey came into office."

Lord Grey:
In 1830, the Whigs finally returned to power, with Grey as Prime Minister. His Ministry was a notable one, seeing passage of the Reform Act 1832, which finally saw the reform of the House of Commons, and the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833. As the years had passed, however, Grey had become more conservative, and he was cautious about initiating more far-reaching reforms. In 1834 Grey retired from public life...

(Mr Brooke supports Grey (ch 46).)

The Reform Bills, Act of 1932:
This act not only re-apportioned representation in Parliament, thus making that body more accurately represent the citizens of the country, but also gave the power of voting to those lower in the social and economic scale, for the act extended the right to vote to any man owning a household worth £10, adding 217,000 voters to an electorate of 435,000. Approximately one man in five now had the right to vote. Some sources say only one in seven.

For many conservatives, this effect of the bill, which allowed the middle classes to share power with the upper classes, was revolutionary in its import. Some historians argue that this transference of power achieved in England what the French Revolution achieved eventually in France. Therefore, the agitation preceding (and following) the first Reform Act, which Dickens observed at first hand as a shorthand Parliamentary reporter, made many people consider fundamental issues of society and politics.

My understanding is that the county in which Coventry (the model for Middlemarch) is set was divided into two districts, thus increasing its representation in Parliament.

Understand that the Bill was contentious: the motion was carried with a government majority of one vote.

It's also argued that:
the influence of the gentry was still strong in the Parliamentary composition and there was still great disparity between the population of constituencies. Indeed some argue that the power of the rich had been increased. Some working men who had previously held the vote were disenfranchised when some less common (and generous) franchisement systems were abolished after the standardisation of such systems nationwide.

At the end of chapter 39, Eliot makes it quite clear that nobody understands the full implications of the political machinations. Nobody knows what's best for them.

From chapter 51:
Mr Brooke, necessarily, had his agents, who understood the nature of the Middlemarch voter and the means of enlisitng his ignorance on the side of the Bill — which were remarkably similar to the means of enlisting is on the side against the Bill.

Brooke calls Ladislaw "a kind of Shelley, you know." In 1819, Shelley wrote the essay "The Philosophical View of Reform," his most thorough exposition of his political views, and soon after created a journal call The Liberal.

All of this has to do with the rise of the Middle Class. It is the perfect backdrop for Middlemarch's characters to be struggling with the themes of tradition vs modernity, societal expectations vs the claims of the individual. Progress, social/industrial but personal too. The character's bear all the symptoms of middle class: for the first time in history (am I exaggerating here?) people have the time and money to worry about what to do with their life, where to extend their charity, what causes to support.

Eliot sums things up nicely as chapter 37 starts (emphasis mine):
The doubt hinted by Mr. Vincy whether it were only the general election or the end of the world that was coming on, now that George the Fourth was dead, Parliament dissolved, Wellington and Peel generally depreciated and the new King apologetic, was a feeble type of the uncertainties in provincial opinion at that time. With the glow-worm lights of country places, how could men see which were their own thoughts in the confusion of a Tory Ministry passing Liberal measures, of Tory nobles and electors being anxious to return Liberals rather than friends of the recreant Ministers, and of outcries for remedies which seemed to have a mysteriously remote bearing on private interest, and were made suspicious by the advocacy of disagreeable neighbors? Buyers of the Middlemarch newspapers found themselves in an anomalous position: during the agitation on the Catholic Question many had given up the " Pioneer " — which had a motto from Charles James Fox and was in the van of progress — because it had taken Peel's side about the Papists, and had thus blotted its Liberalism with a toleration of Jesuitry and Baal; but they were ill satisfied with the " Trumpet," which — since its blasts against Rome, and in the general flaccidity of the public mind (nobody knowing who would support whom) — had become feeble in its blowing.

It was a time, according to a noticeable article in the "Pioneer," when the crying needs of the country might well counteract a reluctance to public action on the part of men whose minds had from long experience acquired breadth as well as concentration, decision of judgment as well as tolerance, dispassionateness as well as energy — in fact, all those qualities which in the melancholy experience of mankind have been the least disposed to share lodgings.

These are complicated times, and like Middlemarch's inhabitants, their politics are messy mixes of opposing forces, of both good and bad.

Still bored? Confused? (Still middle class?)

On Politics

A number of people have been complaining about the political chapters, and I would like to address that briefly.

If you seriously try to untangle Middlemarch politics, it will drive you crazy. The key to everything is the Reform Act of 1832 (Wiki and an English site) - this is what they're debating, and what divides the parties. Basically, the Act would enfranchise the middle class (one in seven adult males, according to that second site). While that doesn't sound like a very good percentage in these egalitarian times, it was enough to significantly reduce the power of the gentry in urban areas.

Now, this needs to be taken in context with the book. I am on somewhat shakier ground here, so those of you who have studied English history in more detail, please chime in. One of the big themes of the book, it seems to me, is class relations. You have your Freshitt, Tipton, and Lowick gentry on the one hand, and your sturdy industrialist middle-class Middlemarchers on the other. You have people who blur those lines: Lydgate, who has abandoned his class (if not its tastes); Ladislaw, whose grandmother married beneath her; Farebrother, who as a clergyman is able to walk among all classes. You have people who aspire to be a different class (Rosamond) and people with very rigid ideas of who can associate with whom (Sir James; Mrs. Cadwallader, her personal history notwithstanding). You have Vincys snubbing Garths. This stuff is everywhere.

Is it ironic that Brooke, as gentry, should be supporting Reform? Very. But Brooke, bless his heart, is one ball short of a billiard table. Ladislaw, I believe, recognizes that his candidate is an idiot, but until the Reform is passed, it is possible that someone like Ladislaw would not be able to have a political career of his own. He sees Brooke as a necessary stepping stone toward getting the right legislation passed.

Other class-subverting forces are at work as well: the railroad that's being built (hope that's not a spoiler; I can't remember if it's been mentioned yet). Industrial capitalism (which is elevating people like Bulstrode). Money, medicine, morality, there are cris-crossing lines everywhere.

Sorry this is unfocussed -- I have a little boy here who keeps interrupting. But I hope this will start some discussion of the topic. I thought the politics was dull my first time through as well, but it seems a lot more central on a second reading. Hope I've given you a fresh eye for it, anyway.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Ha! I'm caught up! I was just about to post that I seem to characteristically finish each "book" exactly one week behind schedule but then I double-checked and found, to my surprise and delight, that having finished Book V just this moment, I am right where I'm supposed to be! Woohoo!

I am absolutely shocked to see how many of you have actually finished the entire book already. This has been an interesting and eye-opening experience for me; I can see that my attention span has dwindled from years of reading breezy, modern, fast-moving literature. In the words of Dorothea, "I am very slow. When I want to be busy with books, I am often playing truant among my thoughts." I often have to go back and reread an entire page when I come to the end of it and realize that I have no idea what I just read.

But I'm liking it very much. As so many of you have said, there is much deep thinking represented here. I am contantly scribbling profound passages into a notebook, and still I get the feeling that in trying desperately to keep hold of the story, I'm passing over more of these passages than I'm catching. This copy I'm reading is from the library, but I broke down and ordered a copy from amazon this morning. I can tell that this is a book that will benefit from rereading.

Most of my "profound passages" seem to have to do with the disillusionment of Dorothea. And yes, I would definitely say that this book is "modern" in that Dorothea's mistaken belief that she could find fulfillment in living through a man is one that is all too familiar today, too. In fact, I just yesterday came across a book review of a new novel called Memoirs of a Muse that shares this same premise:

Tanya is a girl who escapes her unpopularity by dreaming that she will become the muse of a great writer. Her favorite is Dostoyevski, and she chooses as her own inspiration his mistress, Polina, who was immortalized as a character in The Brothers Karamazov and The Idiot. Dostoyevski's wife, Anna, to whom he dictated The Gambler, seems a mere stenographer to Tanya; a muse "influences the great man's work," she believes, in some glorious, "magical way."Throughout the book, as she moves from her youth in the U.S.S.R. to her first years as a young woman in New York City, Tanya interweaves her own story with that of the affair between Dostoyevski and the actual Polina (Apollinaria Suslova), a story that is a mix of fact and Tanya's romantic fantasies. Only after she joins her émigré aunt and uncle in New York, almost halfway through the book, do we learn that the novel's catchy title is ironic. "Memoirs of a Muse" is the name Tanya gives to her diary about her days as an inspiration—others might say kept woman—of an American writer, Mark Schneider. The section about their affair becomes more satiric, with its sly portrait of a pretentious, not-quite successful writer in middle age and his navel-gazing Manhattan literary world.
Maybe I'm just seeing Middlemarch everywhere, but can't you just see Dorothea and Mr. Casaubon in there? And really, couldn't young women today benefit from reading:
It was this which made Dorothea so child-like, and, according to some judges, so stupid, with all her reputed cleverness; as, for example, in the present case of throwing herself, metaphorically speaking, at Mr. Casaubon's feet, and kissing his unfashionable shoe-ties as if he were a Protestant Pope. She was not in the least teaching Mr. Casaubon to ask if he were good enough for her, but merely asking herself anxiously how she could be good enough for Mr. Casaubon.

Um, show of hands? Anyone here not thrown aside her reputed cleverness in order to partake of this stupidity?

Well, I just wanted to check in and say that I'm here, I'm humming along in my reading, and I'm liking the book a lot in spite of its plodding pace and obsession with local politics. And as soon as Memoirs of a Muse is in paperback, I'm so there.

A Word Game

I finished the book late last night. There is so much to talk about, but I know we are all at different stages in the book, so I thought we could play a game while we're waiting for everyone to finish.

What word or words come to mind in response to this book.

My word is: Modern

Another is: Complete

Will you play?

Feel free to disagree with me.

Dorothea's Lost Dog

"Dorothea Brooke has always irritated me; in fact, she makes my flesh creep. My allergy to this saintly, statuesque heroine, whom everyone else seems to adore, should disqualify me as a lover of Middlemarch, but I hope it won't: when I first read the novel as a junior in college, its greatness made me shiver, but I shivered at, and with, poor Casaubon, struggling with an intractable book and a hectoring wife, and I still do."

These are the opening lines from an essay by Nina Auerbach who is a Professor of Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. I caught this book, "Middlemarch in the Twenty-First Century", edited by Karen Chase as it was being cataloged in my library and took at peek at the essays, and the Auerbach one caught my eye. I want to read it all the way through, but I am afraid it will give too much of the book away (and I have lots to read yet). So I will check it out and read it later. I was quite surprised since Dorothea seems quite a beloved character. At first I was not too thrilled about her (case in point the dog she refused as a gift, which the essay does refer to), but she has grown on me since she married. Now she seems more human maybe. I was also surprised to hear Auerbach say poor Casaubon--so far I have not felt poor Casaubon at all! It is interesting to see such a completely different perspective.

In case you might be interested in this book, it was just published by Oxford University Press. Some of the essays include: "What's Not in Middlemarch", "Space, Movement, and Sexual Feeling in Middlemarch", "Dorothea's Lost Dog", and "A Conclusion in Which Almost Nothing is Concluded: Middlemarch's 'Finale'." Hmm.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Three Love Problems

I'm having trouble counting.

Eliot is, I think, a careful writer. So why is Book IV "Three Love Problems," not simply "Love Problems"?

I count:
1. Mary and Fred. Fred had expected something from the will and that Mary could not then refuse him, but the will doesn't go his way. Mary meanwhile feels responsible for this. The two of them don't even interact in this book. I guess this qualifies as a love problem.

2. Dorothea and Casaubon. There's disagreement over duty to Will, not to mention misunderstanding, lack of communication, jealousy — does that really count as only one problem?

(Oh, but Casaubon is an ugly man. By the way, here's clarification on Casaubon's capacity for jealousy, at the end of chapter 37: "Poor Mr. Casaubon was distrustful of everybody's feeling towards him, especially as a husband. To let any one suppose that he was jealous would be to admit their (suspected) view of his disadvantages: to let them know that he did not find marriage particularly blissful would imply his conversion to their (probably) earlier disapproval. It would be as bad as letting Carp, and Brasenose generally, know how backward he was in organizing the matter for his "Key to all Mythologies." All through his life Mr. Casaubon had been trying not to admit even to himself the inward sores of self-doubt and jealousy. And on the most delicate of all personal subjects, the habit of proud suspicious reticence told doubly.")

There's Ladislaw's problem: love for a woman beyond his reach.

There's also the question of Lydgate's financial prospects and the possibility of ending his engagement to Rosamond, but neither party in question sees it as a real problem; it's more a temporary glitch, no matter what may be foreshadowed by these sentiments.

So that's less or more than 3 love problems, depending. Did Eliot mean simply to show that there were problems in each of the 3 main threads, even if they're somewhat unbalanced and not in the least like each other?

Chapter 39

I'm not very good at writing about literature but wanted to check in to say that I found Chapter 39 to be a gorgeous and immensely satisfying chapter. I think it shows Eliot at her best--able to bring the personal and political-the interior and the exterior of a person together in believable, recognizable and illuminating ways.

What did I love about it? Passages like these:

* "Will, the moment before, had been low in the depths of boredom, and, obliged to help Mr. Brooke in arranging "documents" about hanging sheep-stealers, was exemplifying the power our minds have of riding several horses at once by inwardly arranging measures towards getting a lodging for himself in Middlemarch and cutting short his constant residence at the Grange; while there flitted through all these steadier images a tickling vision of a sheep-stealing epic written with Homeric particularity. When Mrs. Casaubon was announced he started up as from an electric shock, and felt a tingling at his finger ends."

*Dorothea sharing her "belief" with Will:
"That by desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don't quite know what it is and connot do what we would, we are part of the divine power against evil--widening the skirts of light andmaking the struggle with darkness narrower."
(Will): "That is a beautiful mysticism--it is a--"
(Dorothea): "Please do not to call it by any name....You will say it is Persian, or something else geographical. It is my life. I have found it out, and cannot part with it."

*I also loved the visit to Mr. Dagley and how the description of Dagley's ignorance in the end emphasized Brooke's ignorance.

*This is from an earlier chapter, but I am very tickled by the fact that Mrs. Cadwallader keeps calling Casaubon, Thomas Aquinas. It pleases me to no end.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Slowing down?

I can't help but notice that posting/commenting has been a bit slower over the last week. Is the schedule too fast? too slow? Are you encountering text-related sutmbling blocks (language, characters) that could be discussed here?

Depending on your comments, I'll consider posting a revised schedule for the rest of the book. Anyone?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

And All Those Other Writers in "Middlemarch"...

The more I read “Middlemarch” the more I keep coming across references to other literature. George Eliot must have been fantastically well-read; I’d love to get my hands on an annotated edition so I can see all the references I’m missing. Here are the ones that have already made me smile:

“Why, you might take to some light study – conchology, now: I always think that must be a light study. Or get Dorothea to read you light things – Smollett – “Roderick Random”, “Humphrey Clinker”: they are a bit broad, but she may read anything now that she’s married, you know. I remember they made me laugh uncommonly – there’s a droll bit about a postilion’s breeches. We have no such humor now.”

The scene he is referring to is the one where Humphrey rides alongside a coach containing the woman he loves, wearing too-small pants which have ripped apart moments before. I can just see Mr. Brooks laughing himself silly over it. Later in Book 3, we meet Borthrup Trumbull, who is of a more serious bent.

“You have an interesting work there, I see, Miss Garth,” he observed, when Mary re-entered. “It is by the author of “Waverly”: that is, Sir Walter Scott. I have bought one of his works myself – a very nice thing, a very superior publication, entitled “Ivanhoe”. You will not get any writer to beat him in a hurry, I think – he will not, in my opinion, be readily surpassed. I have just been reading a portion at the commencement of “Anne of Jeerstein”. It commences well.”

My advice to you, Mary, is that you'd better not spend too much time on someone who worships Walter Scott.

How about you, fellow readers? Any other allusions I'm missing?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Waiting for Death: general impressions and about Fred

Well, I'm glad that the death turned out to be Featherstone's, as I'm still enjoying waiting for Casaubon's, and I don't think I could bear Fred's, though it's twice now that Mrs Vincy has been likened to Niobe (whose children were slain!) just before bad stuff happens to Fred, so the next time there's a Niobe reference I'll hold my breath, maybe just set the whole book aside.

I like Fred. I'm not entirely sure why. He's a bit of a fuck-up after all. In a way, he's the most modern of Middlemarch's characters; that is, suffering from a modern phenomenon prevalent in Western societies, and certainly one I can relate to: not quite knowing what to do with one's life while feeling a burden of expectation that one has to do something, being comfortably enough middle-class that one is given the luxury of time and to some degree the assurance that one will be bailed out of one's scrapes. I think it's my generation's strength and failing that we're raised with the notion that we can be anything we want to be, we should pursue our "calling," love our work, and this often results in a lot of time-squandering, failed schemes pinned on our dreams rather than our realities and better judgement, and disappointments. I know a lot of Freds.

Mr Garth likes Fred too. One of the most poignant moments for me, thus far, is when he asks Mary for her savings. I have the distinct impression (though I can't quite pin it to the words in the text) that, knowing and approving their love for each other, he has no intention of telling her the full truth, at least at this point, that Fred is at fault. (Of course, when he learns that Mary already knows, he does have that conversation he'd've liked to postpone.)

There are lots of similarities coming to light regarding all our characters. As Rachel pointed out, Dorothea and Lydgate are paralleled, certainly structurally as our main personae — their characters have a common seed in idealism and their behaviours are contrasted as defined by their circumstance, but the male and female experience are so different that it's difficult to pinpoint similarities between them. Meanwhile, I see Lydgate as a young potential Casaubon. Fred strikes me as a young Farebrother (how old is he, anyway?), in their uncertainty regarding their vocation and their indulgence in "vice." Dodo and Fred share the experience of the possibities of youth and their quest for something meaningful. Mr Brooke on first meeting Ladislaw (way back in Book I) saw him as like his younger self. In the end, of course, each of them is absolutely unique, but I'm starting to see this as a novel of possibilities — how a character's choices and actions determines who they become. (I wonder too if some of the other players might be a potential Featherstone or Mrs Cadwallader.)

A propos of nothing, my favourite sentence (from the beginning of ch 27): An eminent philosopher among my friends, who can dignify even your ugly furniture by lifting it into the serene light of science, has shown me this pregnant little fact.

And a question: Would you, not knowing the contents of the wills, have acted as Mary did, refusing Featherstone's request? (Did she do the right thing?)