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.)

#MiddlemarchinMay

“We believe in (Dorthea Brooke) as in a woman we might providentially meet…when we should find ourselves doubting the immortality of the soul.” ~Henry James

When Arti read The Portrait of A Lady by Henry James with us earlier this year, it sparked a yearning for George Eliot, and thus we have a read-along for Middlemarch in May.

Beginning May 1, and taking our time, her plan is to (tentatively) end in June. Vivek, my new friend from the Man Booker International Prize 2018 shadow jury is joining us. Won’t you join in as well? All are welcome.

(On Twitter #MiddlemarchinMay)

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Even though I became rather bogged down around page 581, I’m awfully glad that Nymeth suggested a read of the novel Middlemarch. It’s the first time I’ve read anything by George Eliot, and it’s the first time I’ve opened Middlemarch‘s pages, although it’s one of my best friend’s favorite series on PBS. Indeed, reading this book was much like the experience I had watching the Austen series last winter: one of longing for times past and an afternoon tea with some of the more endearing characters.

Principal to the story are Dorothea Brooke, who made an unhappy marriage for herself in marrying Mr. Casaubon, and Lydgate who married the beautiful Rosamunde Vincy. Also appearing are Will Ladislaw, Casaubon’s cousin who falls in love with Dorothea, Fred Vincy who loves Mary Garth, and Caleb Garth, her father, whose integrity made him my favorite character of all.

I leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from this novel, as George Eliot filled it with philosophical insights and observations accompanying her plot:

“People were so ridiculous with their illusions, carrying their fool’s caps unawares, thinking their own lies opaque while everybody else’s were transparent, making themselves exceptions to everything, as if when all the world looked yellow under a lamp they alone were rosy.”

“He had also taken too much in the shape of muddy political talk, a stimulant dangerously disturbing to his farming conservatism, which consisted in holding that whatever is, is bad, and any change is likely to be worse.”

“The difficult task of knowing another soul is not for young gentlemen whose consciousness is chiefly made up of their own wishes.”

“This was one of the difficulties of moving in good Middlemarch society: it was dangerous to insist on knowledge as a qualification for any salaried office.”

“Marriage, which was to bring guidance into worthy and imperative occupation, had not yet freed her from the gentlewoman’s oppressive liberty: it had not even filled her leisure with the ruminant joy of unchecked tenderness.”

and my all time favorite, from Caleb Garth himself:

“You must be sure of two things: you must love your work, and not be always looking over the edge of it, wanting your play to begin. And the other is, you must not be ashamed of your work and think it would be more honourable to you to be doing something else. You must have a pride in your own work and in learning to do it well, and not be always saying there’s this and there’s that–if I had this or that to do, I might make something of it. No matter what a man is, I wouldn’t give twopence for him”–here Caleb’s mouth looked bitter, and he snapped his fingers–“whether he was the prime minister or the rick-thatcher if he didn’t do well what he undertook to do.”

Amen.