Middlemarch by George Eliot (completed today)

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I must admit that Middlemarch didn’t interest me much until the last hundred pages. I forced myself to continue with it, due to my promise to Arti and Gretchen, and quite possibly it would have been more enjoyable if we three were together discussing it over a cup of tea with lemon. As it was, I sat this Memorial Day Weekend with this tome, in unbearable humidity, bound and determined to finish it so that I can get on to Cult X and Testament of Youth. I am not very patient with English literature, which always seems to need a better editor than it had. (Not one page of Anna Karenina, similar in length, tired me.)

And now for the interesting bits. Tertius Lydgate, who unfortunately married Rosamond Vincy, has become so far behind in debt that he beseeches his wife to give up her purple amythests, sell the silver plate, and even move to a less expensive home. Her pride, and her attachment to her belongings, forbid such actions, and she turns the situation to being his fault alone. She is completely unwilling to support him and turns her graceful neck away at an angle that makes me want to strike it.

So, Lydgate appeals to the banker, Mr. Bulstrode, who gives him one thousand pounds. Yet, almost simultaneously, a patient of Lydgate’s dies, and the townspeople believe that the money given by Bulstrode, and accepted by Lydgate, is a bribe.

”It has come to my knowledge since,” he (Lydgate) added, “that Hawley sent someone to examine the housekeeper at Stone Court, and she said that she gave the patient all the opium in the phial I left, as well as a good deal of brandy. But that would not have been opposed to ordinary prescriptions, even of first-rate men. The suspicions against me had no hold there; they are grounded on the knowledge that I took money, that Bulstrode had strong motives for wishing the man to die, and that he gave me the money as a bribe to concur in some malpractices or other against the patient-that in any case I accepted a bribe to hold my tongue. They are just the suspicions that cling the most obstinately because they lie in people’s inclination and can never be disproved.” (p. 811)

That last line is perhaps the briefest summary of Middlemarch, a novel in which George Eliot examines the defamation of character, and the consequential ruin of one’s trust in oneself; the bond of marriage which can suffocate when it is an unhappy one; the superficiality of the masses when assembled together in the same small town.

Dorothea Casaubon calls Lydgate to her home, and comforts him with her gentle and true spirit which insists on seeing the good in others. When she writes a checque for one thousands pounds for Rosamond, and delivers it to her home, she unexpectedly comes upon Rosamond and Will Ladislaw sitting altogether too closely on the sofa. He his clasping her hands in his, and the situation looks compromising. But this doesn’t bother Rosamond half as much as it does both Will and Dorothea.

”Shallow natures dream of an easy sway over the emotions of others, trusting implicitly in their own petty magic to turn the deepest streams, and confident, by pretty gestures and remarks, of making the thing that is not as though it were. She (Rosamond) knew that Will had received a severe blow, but she had been little used to imagining other people’s states of mind except as a material cut into shape by her own wishes; and she believed in her own power to soothe or subdue.”

Yet, as we read on it is Dorothea’s character to seek the good in people, to believe in the triumph of good over evil, and to know that money cannot possibly bring the happiness so desired by many. Her first husband, Mr. Casaubon, had meanly forbidden her to marry again, specifically the one she truly loved, or else she should lose the property he had left to her. But this sword will not cut through her armor, one which chooses truth over prosperity. I love how she ends with the one she loves.

As I close the last pages, I am pleased with the outcome of this book, happy that I have read a classic I had not read before. It would be a perfect story for Masterpiece Theater, as there is so much wisdom inherent to its tale told through the foolishness of so many of its characters.

”Yes, dear, a great many things have happened,” said Dodo in her full tones.

“I wonder what,” said Celia, folding her arms cozily and leaning forward upon them.

“Oh, all the troubles of all the people on the face of the earth,” said Dorothea, lifting her arms to the back of her head.

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.