Lydgate Screed, part 1
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!