(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!)
Three more books to go, y’all! Book Five, the ominously titled “The Dead Hand,” was chock full o’ goodness, intrigue, and shenanigans. It seemed really “plotty” for me and moved the fastest of all the sections so far. One thing that I really enjoyed about this section is how the story lines are all merging together, and we see characters mixing socially that didn’t mingle much previously.
For example, it seems that Ladislaw and Lydgate are becoming pals, so much so that Will hangs out with Rosamund even when Lydgate is at work. I love the scene where Dorothea comes to speak to Lydgate and instead unexpectedly finds Will playing piano for Rosamund. The awkwardness is so thick you can cut it, since Dorothea is increasingly aware of the antipathy between Will and her husband. I love that Rosamund is there to witness the entire scene, and how undone both Will and Dorothea are. Will as good as admits he’s in love with Dorothea, and Rosamund’s reaction is classic, self-absorbed Rosamund. She’s all, “Wow! Just because I’m married doesn’t mean I can’t flirt with and ensnare men with my feminine wiles!”
Later on Will is making a name of himself in Middlemarch as a vaguely odd, poetic, “foreign” sort of fellow, taking to putting on Punch and Judy shows for the poor kids in town and stretching out on people’s rugs when he comes to visit. I LOVE this little detail, how strange and familiar it is of him to do this, but he obviously thinks nothing of it. I love that he and Rosamund and Lydgate are this funny little platonic threesome, and that he “becomes necessary to Rosamund’s entertainment.” After all, her husband is so dreadfully serious and driven with all that tiresome, unsavory medical stuff.
Probably the biggest plot development of this section is the (long-awaited IMO) death of Edward Causabon. The night before he dies he is not well, and wakes in the middle of the night to ask Dorothea to read to him. Before they go back to sleep, he asks Dorothea to promise to fulfill his wishes after he dies, but he doesn’t tell her what she’s supposed to promise to do! He’s incredulous that she won’t promise. She puts him off and tells him she needs to think about it until tomorrow. It’s all really awful and ridiculous. She thought Causabon wanted her to continue with his work, when really he wants her to have nothing to do with Will Ladislaw when he dies. After his death Dorothea is haunted by the fact that she didn’t promise to carry out his wishes, whatever they may have been. In the next chapter, we learn from an indignant James Chettam that Causabon put a codicil in his will that says Dorothea can’t marry Will Ladislaw, or she will lose everything.
Favorite scene: While Causabon’s death scene is very powerful, my favorite scene was between Mary Garth and Mr. Farebrother. He graciously pleads Fred Vincy’s case and tries to get Mary to tell him plainly what she would do if Fred became a clergyman. He very gently and obliquely asks her if she would entertain the affections of anyone else but Fred, and it dawns on her that he is referring to himself. When she assures him that she will never love anyone else but Fred, and he turns to leave, Mary is filled with emotion.
“Her eyes filled with tears, for something indefinable, something like the resolute suppression of a pain in Mr. Farebrother’s manner, made her feel suddenly miserable, as she had once felts when she saw her father’s hands trembling in a moment of trouble… In three minutes the Vicar was on horseback again, having gone magnanimously through a duty much harder than the renunciation of whist, or even than the writing of penitential meditations.”
This was a very delicate scene, and I appreciated Eliot’s sensitive handling of this poignant moment.
Most adorable random character detail: Miss Noble, Mr. Farebrother’s aunt, is described as “making little beaver-like noises” and goes so far as to put an extra cube of sugar in her tea now that he nephew is rolling in the dough! Don’t get too crazy, Miss Noble! What kind of a noise does a beaver make, anyway?
Well, now we’re on to Book Six, titled “The Widow and the Wife.” I assume we’re talking about Dorothea and Rosamund here. Will Lydgate’s money troubles increase? Will Dorothea and Will be able to be in the same room together without either one bursting into flame? And will the unsavory Raffles turn up again to make more trouble for Bulstrode? I can hardly wait to find out.