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?)


Anonymous rachel said...

I don't mind a comparison of Lydgate and Casaubon. There are certainly parallels there. But it seems to me that in their fresh-faced eagerness to do make a great contribution to the world, there's a lot of similarities between Lydgate and Dorothea as well. Those two seem, to me, to be almost the same character -- intelligent, caring, idealistic -- put into two different genders. By the time they're both in Middlemarch, their divergent experiences have made them different from each other, but they make the same kinds of mistakes.

Also: while Lydgate and Casaubon are both engaged in intellectual work (which I think would appeal to Dorothea if she weren't discouraged from it at each and every turn), the direction of their efforts is opposite. Casaubon is acquisitive and avaricious. He SAYS he wants to publish something new and original, but that's not how he behaves. He gathers information to himself and keeps it there. Lydgate, on the other hand, is almost entirely outward-directed in his energies. He is a personable and compassionate (acting) practitioner. He gives his time and mental energy to projects that will not pay him much, if anything.

You're spot-on about Fred's dilemmas, IMO. I think we're far enough into the text now that I can answer an earlier question regarding common themes of the various plotlines: it's all about love and work, my friends. Variations on a theme, done on an extraordinarily broad scale. We can draw parallels of one kind or another between almost all the characters, if we try. And that's why this is an amazing book.

3:41 PM  
Blogger Martha said...

I think Mary was absolutely sensible in the way she responded to Mr. Featherstone's request. At first I was taken aback, which goes to show how little I understand the striated society they live in. But she does understand, very well, that she could be ruined if anyone found out she had something to do with it. Permamnently. And she doesn't particularly even like Featherstone-- he has taken pleasure in annoying and tormenting her the whole time she's been there. I think she shows remarkable strength in the face of a powerful old man's rage, even though she comes to regret her decision because of its' outcome. But that's not because it was the wrong decision in the first place.

Also, I just wanted to say, I think I identify with Mr. Brooke more than just about any of the other characters, even though the author holds him in a certain amount of contempt. I share his tendency towards an interest in everything and an inability to follow through with it much of the time, and also his inability to complete a thought. I don't see Ladislaw as a Mr. Brooke type, however. I think he is in the process of discovering what he's good at, and he's only just beginning to find it. It seems to me his gift has to do with communication, with charming and interacting with people. That combined with his idealistic passions make him seem suited for social or political work, and I think he could be very focused on work like that. Unlike Mr. Brooke, who seems to dabble in it, as in everything else.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

I think Fred's most endearing quality is his total love and devotion to Mary, no matter how much she keeps putting him off... and what has she been waiting for? For Lydgate to pay her some attention? She's not even a blip on his radar screen.

I liked how Fred realized he had screwed up and tried to make up for his gambling debts by taking a big chance and screwing up even more and then realizing how much of a...(well, fuck up) he was. He confesses all and Mary, quite contrary, after first berating him, finally feels sorry for him. Interesting how Fred is a continual victim of his own decisions.

I admired the way Mary knew so firmly what the right decision was concerning the destroying of the will and didn't sway from her resolve, even though it was a dying man's last request. But I was a little surprised and disappointed that she didn't pay a visit to Fred when he was at deaths doorstep.

11:36 PM  
Blogger Ella said...

I would have caved when Mr. Featherstone made his last demand, the one where he looks at Mary "like an aged hyena, the muscles of his face getting distorted". Yikes. But I admire that Mary holds out. With all those nasty relatives in the house, she would have been completely screwed to burn his will. Oh, right, maybe she's screwed refusing, too... Must read Book 4 tonight! The suspense!

12:41 PM  
Blogger Isabella said...

Mary does seem a bit hard, doesn't she? Denying a dying man's request, putting off Fred and not visiting. But of course Featherstone's decision should be made after reflection and by the light of day. Of course she wouldn't exactly be welcomed by Mrs Vincy and she does have other duties to attend to. Mary's very realistic — which would come off as a bit harsh when plopped down amid all that idealism.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Raehan said...

Everyone in the books seems to like Fred even if they don't respect him.

I probably would have listened to Featherstone because if I was Mary, they were talking about me anyway.

10:27 PM  

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