Middlemarch: Let’s Talk About Marriage For A Minute

Earlier this year I read of a marriage hastily, and later regretfully, made. It was between Isabel Archer and Mr. Osmond in Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady. Now, George Eliot gives me Dorothea Brooke and Mr. Casaubon in her novel, Middlemarch. Both marriages seem doomed from the moment we learn they are to take place.

I asked my friend Gretchen why Dorothea married Mr. Casaubon when I first began this novel. Why would a beautiful and charming young woman become entranced by a man with eyes in deep-sockets who resembled a portrait of Locke? It seems she thought he possessed a deep mind, containing profound thoughts, and she believed she could assist him as he laboriously studied and wrote his papers.

But, Mr. Casaubon does not seem as willing to give his heart away as much as he wants his life well served. Here is a typical kind of sentiment Eliot attributes to him throughout the novel so far, about one third of the way through:

Society never made the preposterous demand that a man should think as much about his own qualifications for making a charming girl happy as he thinks of hers for making himself happy…When Dorothea accepted him with effusion, that was only natural; and Mr. Casaubon believed that his happiness was going to begin. (p.333)

He never seems to take into account Dorothea’s happiness, or her heart, and I continue reading this novel with dread for her future.

(Please feel free read along with us, as we continue Arti‘s plan for #MiddlemarchInMay.)

6 thoughts on “Middlemarch: Let’s Talk About Marriage For A Minute

  1. Pingback: Middlemarch Book I: What are siblings for? | Ripple Effects

  2. Abby

    Why does she marry Casaubon? Because she has a deep deep hatred of herself with which I cannot disagree. Marriage with Mr. C. is apparently less messy than jumping over a cliff, drowning oneself in the pond or cutting the wrists.
    Why would anyone else marry Casaubon? Because the standard widow’s portion is two thirds of his estate. As there are unlikely to be any children, the take could be even higher.

    Mr. Featherstone is not the only chicken in the coop.

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    1. How interesting; I never saw any of your reasons. I thought she admired Casaubon’s steady head for learning, and thought she could be of service to him in helping him research/write up his papers. I agree that she is setting out on a life independent from her uncle, yet the unhappiness she encounters in her marriage was written on our minds from the first page.

      I am currently where Peter Featherstone has died, and his will was read to the great surprise of many (including the “poor” Fred Vincy). I have loved reading of the way his parents pamper both him and his sister, Rosamond, and what vapid creatures both siblings are.

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      1. Abby

        Ah, I see, you are not finished. I hope I haven’t ruined anything for you. While you are reading,you might think on these things:

        1. Where is C going with his “research” and why can’t he adequately explain what it is about?
        Notice how vague he is and how he reacts to her offer of any real help. D is the only one
        unaware of his prevarications.Mr Ladislaw certainly is not.

        2. When C offers D any room in the house for her bedroom, why can’t she just pick one? Any
        one; how about his mothers old room, you know, the one with the books…

        3, Why does D have so much trouble accepting half of her mother’s jewels? If she’s having such
        trouble deciding, why not let Celia decide first and take the other half?

        Next, concerning the Casaubon/Featherstone money. Isn’t money and the lengths some people will go to possess it one of the main themes of this book?

        Lastly, I find Dorothea Brooke the second most annoying character in literature. There are probably worse out there, I just can’t think of them right now. Except for the One. But I’m game. I’ll read it one more time to see if old age and wickedness have made me more charitably disposed towards Dorothea. Aside from the Casaubons, I have liked the book in the past….

        Liked by 1 person

        1. With my rapidly wanning interest, almost abandoning it entirely, you have sparked a new flame. Thank you! Can’t wait to finish it now, and my, what a remarkable memory you have! Looking forward to future discussions with you.

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  3. Abby

    Now that I am in a quieter place, I believe the standard widow’s portion was only one third of the estate.Still, as C is/was an apparently wealthy man, he makes as good as, or perhaps a better pigeon than Featherstone.

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