(The #Marchalong continues! Many thanks to Juhi from Nooks and Crannies for hosting the Middlemarch readalong and giving me an excuse to reread this marvelous book!)
I love Middlemarch. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. It’s not a perfect book, though. There are parts where my eyes glaze over a bit, and I kind of skim over the page, especially when Eliot writes about local politics. Book Four contained quite a few of these passages. I admit that they don’t hold much interest for me, although I can see why Eliot would want to write about them. Middlemarch is set in the early 1830s, which is around the time of the passage of the Reform Bill of 1832, which expanded voting privileges and more fairly represented bigger industrial cities. (Yeah, I looked this up! You can read about it here if you like.)
Even so, Book Four is titled “Three Love Problems,” and our main focus in on relationships, which is what keeps me turning those pages. So what are the problems exactly? My thoughts are thus:
- Rosamund and Lydgate’s engagement and impending marriage – who does/does not support it, how are they going to afford to live the lavish lifestyle to which Rosamund is accustomed, how quickly can they get hitched.
- Will Ladislaw’s growing (and so far, unrequited) love for Dorothea – how to contain his feelings while also making sure that he watches over Dorothea.
- Causabon’s and Dorothea’s crumbling marriage. Both are frustrated, neither can seem to communicate effectively with the other, and one is in very ill health.
(I might be wrong. I could have included Fred Vincy and Mary Garth, but I felt that their potential love story was relegated a bit to the back burner in this section.)
Passage that made me laugh out loud: In Chapter 36, socially conscious Rosamund wants Lydgate to write to his baronet uncle Godwin about their engagement. Lydgate says, “I will write to him then. But my cousins are bores.”
It seemed magnificent to Rosamund to be able to speak so slightingly of a baronet’s family, and she felt much contentment in the prospect of being able to estimate them contemptuously on her own account.
Passage that made me want to gag: (Coincidentally, this came right after the previous passage.)
Lydgate, you perceive, had talked fervidly to Rosamund of his hopes as to the highest uses of his life, and had found it delightful to be listened to by a creature who would bring him the sweet furtherance of satisfying affection – beauty – repose – such help as our thoughts get from the summer sky and the flower-fringed meadows.
Lydgate relied much on the psychological difference between what for the sake of variety I will call goose and gander: especially on the innate submissiveness of the goose and beautifully corresponding to the strength of the gander.
Passage that made me utterly swoon: (Will Ladislaw, thinking of Dorothea)
But he would never lose sight of her: he would watch over her – if he gave up everything else in life he would watch over her, and she would know that she had one slave in the world.
It doesn’t get any more romantic than that, folks. As far as I’m concerned, I’m all in for Will Ladislaw.
Having said that, Eliot does something remarkable with the last chapter of Book Four. She makes the reader feel genuine sympathy for Causabon. Lydgate tells him that he is most likely dying, and as he reckons with this knowledge, Causabon shrugs off Dorothea’s heartfelt offering of love and affection. He wants no part of her pity, and he wants to brood alone in his room. Dorothea is surprised, hurt, and angry. But she holds off on quarreling with him, and instead waits for him to come up to bed. The last scene of Book Four almost had me in tears, as Causabon, touched by Dorothea’s devotion, softens towards her, and they walk arm in arm down the corridor.
I can’t wait to see what happens in Book Five, ominously titled “The Dead Hand.” How will Lydgate and Rosamund settle into domestic life together? Will Fred Vincy accept a job doing honest work for Caleb Garth? Will Mr. Causabon die, and will Ladislaw and Dorothea become closer? We’re half-way through Middlemarch, guys!