Middlemarch, Book Three: Waiting for Death

(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!)

So here I am, about a third of the way through Middlemarch!  I flew through Book Three – it has been the fastest moving section so far.  This was a juicy 80 pages.  Fred Vincy confesses his inability to pay back his debts to the Garths and becomes gravely ill.  Dorothea and Causabon, back from the honeymoon, quarrel about the possibility of Ladislaw’s visit, and shortly thereafter Causabon has some sort of attack (stroke?  heart attack?  I wasn’t sure.)  Rosamund and Lydgate fall in love (or lust, or something, anyway) and get engaged!  And let’s not forget the circus surrounding Peter Featherstone’s impending death – what a bunch of vultures his family members are!cover_image

I find myself empathizing with just about every major player in this portion of the novel, which is a credit to Eliot’s tremendous compassion for her characters.  I felt deeply sorry for Mary Garth when she discovered how selfish and cavalier Fred Vincy had been with the money he borrowed from her father.  She is wounded by his stupidity, yet she retains a generous spirit with him, exhorting him to be better.

“How can you bear to be so contemptible, when others are working and striving, and there are so many things to be done – how can you bear to be fit for nothing in the world that is useful? And with so much good in your disposition, Fred – you might be worth a great deal.”

I was glad when Dorothea stood up for herself when Causabon dismissively tells her he doesn’t want Ladislaw to come for a visit.  With her eyes flashing she blasts Causabon with indignation (and built up frustration, no doubt.)

“Why do you attribute to me a wish for anything that would annoy you?  You speak to me as if I were something you had to contend against.  Wait at least till I appear to consult my own pleasure apart from yours.”

I was pretty pissed at Causabon when he shut down the discussion shortly thereafter.  Yet I knew Dorothea would feel guilty about her outburst after he had his attack.

And I feel sympathy for Lydgate and Rosamund.  It’s as if they’re trying to build a marriage based on the absolute flimsiest, shakiest ground possible.  Rosamund is like, “Everyone’s talking about me flirting with Lydgate, and now I look like a fool, because he’s not really that into me, and I want to be a wife, which is the highest aspiration for my pitiful (yet true to the time) excuse for an education!” Lydgate, Mr. I’m-Not-Gonna-Get-Married-For-Five-Years-At-Least, is all like, “Oh wow, Rosamund is such a pretty, wounded bird!  She feels so much for me!  I must fall in love with her now in return!”  These two idiots!  They’re sort of insufferable, but at the same time, I feel sorry for them.  They seem to be stuck in this predetermined play, acting their parts, surely heading for disaster.

Now onto Book Four!  Mr. Brooke has invited Ladislaw to come visit him (I can’t wait to see what Dorothea thinks of that.)  What’s going to happen to Peter Featherstone’s money?  Is Rosamund going to be a Bridezilla now that she’s engaged to Lydgate?  I’ll leave you with what I thought was the funniest quotation of the section (referencing Mary Garth’s mother:) “Looking at the mother, you might hope that the daughter would become like her, which is a prospective advantage equal to a dowry – the mother too often standing behind the daughter like a malignant prophecy – ‘Such as I am, she will shortly be.'”


Thoughts on Middlemarch Book Two: Old and Young

(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!)

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.  As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity. – Middlemarch, Chapter 20

I forgot how good this book is.  Yes, it does require a bit deeper level of concentration to read than a modern novel ( a teeny, tiny bit) but my effort is rewarded tenfold in clever observations and witty dialogue.  Book Two widens the scope of Eliot’s view, including not just Dorothea and Causabon but also more of Lydgate, Rosamond Vincy, Fred Vincy, Mary Garth, and Will Ladislaw.  A lot happens in these 100 or so pages.  Mary and Fred banter, we learn more about Lydgate’s past in Paris, a new chaplain to the Infirmary is elected, and we visit Dorothea and Causabon on their honeymoon in Rome.cover_image

Ah, Fred.  He is appealing despite being kind of aimless and lazy.  He clearly adores Mary Garth – plain, poor, smart, sensible Mary Garth!  I admire her, too.  She clearly has a good head on her shoulders to want Fred to be more settled in his occupation before she gives him the slightest bit of encouragement romantically.  Even though taking care of old crotchety Mr. Featherstone is hard work, she isn’t jumping into a romance with someone who had debt.  It’s been so long since I’ve read this that I forget exactly what happens with Fred and Mary, but I can’t wait to see how Eliot arranges their futures.

Now Dr. Lydgate is an interesting chap, isn’t he?  His passion and zeal for medicine kind of reminds me of Dorothea’s fervent desire to do good for the poor of Middlemarch.  But his torrid romantic past was most interesting to me – falling in love with a dark-eyed actress and confessed murderess!  Perhaps wary of his own bad judgment,  he decides to abandon romance and focus solely on medicine.  But now, in the thick of Middlemarch social life, he is frightfully unaware of how Rosamond takes his flirtation at a dinner party. Eliot foreshadows the possibly coming train wreck when she writes,

Poor Lydgate!  or shall I say, Poor Rosamund!  Each lived in a world of which the other knew nothing.  It had not occurred to Lydgate that he had been a subject of eager meditation to Rosamund, who had neither any reason for throwing her marriage into distinct perspective, nor any pathological studies to divert her mind from that ruminating habit, that inward repetition of looks, words, and phrases, which makes a large part of the lives of most girls.

I certainly know that ruminating habit myself, don’t you?  What a timeless observation of young womanhood.

Speaking of young womanhood – Poor Dorothea!  I felt alternately frustrated by and sorry for her on her sad honeymoon in Rome with Mr. Cold Fish himself, Causabon.  There she is, lonely, in a strange country, sobbing in her villa, and she blames herself for her mental state!  She perceives it as her own “spiritual poverty,” as Eliot writes.  I was struck by the words Eliot uses to describe Dorothea’s dawning consciousness about the reality of her marriage.  “…she has been becoming more and more aware, with a certain terror (emphasis mine,) that her mind was continually sliding into inward fits of anger or repulsion, or else into forlorn weariness.”  Later in the same paragraph she writes that Causabon’s “way of commenting on the strangely impressive objects around them had begun to affect her with a sort of mental shiver.”  Great way to begin a marriage, right?

Enter curly-haired Will Ladislaw, who happens to be in Rome doing his artsy painting thing, and when he sees Dorothea at a gallery, he is instantly smitten, to the delight of his saucy German painter friend, Naumann.  I love the scene where Naumann teases Will about the obvious effect seeing Dorothea has had on him.

‘I see, I see.  You are jealous.  No man must presume to think that he can paint your ideal.  This is serious, my friend!  Your great-aunt!…’

‘You and I shall quarrel, Naumann, if you call that lady my aunt again.’

What is interesting to me in the conversations that Will and Dorothea have towards the end of Book Two is that Dorothea remains loyal to her husband, and does not in the least bit seem to flirt with Will, even when he pays her compliments.  She does not seem to suspect that he is romantically interested in her at all.  She really seems to want to make her marriage work, even though, to the reader, it is increasingly evident that she and Causabon are ill-suited for one another.

So I’m excited to begin Book Three, ominously titled Waiting for Death.  (Cue dire music!)  Who is dying?  I am interested to see what occupation Will Ladislaw tries to find for himself in Middlemarch, and to see if Fred Vincy can begin to make something of himself.  I’m also curious to see how Rosamund ensnares the clueless Dr. Lydgate.  I love that we have all these story lines to follow – that Eliot writes so many fascinating characters!



Thoughts on Middlemarch (Book One: Miss Brooke)

I am really enjoying my (very leisurely) reread of George Eliot’s Middlemarch for Juhi’s Middlemarch Readalong over at Nooks & Crannies.  I was in college when I first read it, and that was a thousand years ago, so it’s practically brand new to me!  Besides, I realize as I get older that how we read books, what we look for and what we value, changes tremendously with time.  I have no idea how I read this giant book in less than a semester with all my other class work and my college social life!  But I remember totally loving it and feeling grateful for the experience of being “made” to read it.

So, Book One.  We are introduced to many characters, but the main focus is the (very short) courtship and engagement of Miss Dorothea Brooke to Mr. Edward Causabon.  I am sure every reader of Middlemarch has wondered what in the Sam Hill Dorothea is doing, hitching her star to his middle-aged, cold, dusty old wagon.  Don’t do it!, we shout like we’re watching a horror movie and the young ingenue is heading down the dark basement staircase.  But she is blissfully determined to marry Causabon.  We learn from Chapter 1 that she thinks that “the really delightful marriage must be that where your husband was a sort of father, and could teach you even Hebrew if you wished it.”

I feel like Dorothea is not only suffering from a martyr complex, but she’s also terribly hungry for education.  Eliot makes several remarks in Book One about the shallowness of education open to women at the time.  Dorothea sees Causabon as a way to gain knowledge and then perform good works, more secure in her knowledge.

Honestly, I think that Dorothea comes across as a dull, naive prig in this first book.  But I feel empathy for her.  When she tells Celia, her sister, about the engagement, Celia can not hide her dismay.  Dorothea knows that her choice in unpopular.  (“Of course all the world round Tipton would be out of sympathy with this marriage.  Dorothea knew of no one who thought as she did about life and its best objects. “)

Causabon is not an appealing character, but Eliot makes him slightly sympathetic even in this first book.  As he spends more time with Dorothea, he feels some sense of unease at the prospective marriage.  He starts to wonder if there’s something wrong with Dorothea that he can’t make himself feel more for her, but he begins to realize that it’s nothing to do with her.  He really is just a cold fish, so thoroughly acclimated to the life of the mind and his quiet bachelorhood that he doesn’t know how to love like he thought that he might, if the chance arose.

I had forgotten how funny Eliot is.  The scene in Chapter 12 where Mrs. Waule goes to visit her brother, Peter Featherstone (uncle by marriage to Fred and Rosamund Vincy,) is hilarious.  She is spreading gossip about Fred, trying to make her own daughters look better in comparison so they will inherit the ailing Featherstone’s money.  “There’s Rebecca, and Joanna, and Elizabeth, you know,” she says before she leaves.  Featherstone replies, “Ay, ay, I remember – you’ll see I’ve remembered ’em all – all dark and ugly.  They’d need some money, eh?  There never was any beauty in the women of our family.”  He’s an obnoxious, manipulative old coot, but he’s funny!

As for the other characters, you can see the seeds of relationships being planted in Book One.  The rather level-headed Celia has a thing for the amiable Sir James Chettham, who initially had his eyes on Dorothea.  Fred Vincy, who is portrayed as lovable but lazy and aimless, seems to have an interest in the plain but virtuous Mary Garth.  And his sister Rosamund is already scheming to make an impression on the newly arrived doctor in town, Lydgate.  And then there’s Causabon’s intriguing young artist cousin, Ladislaw.  He is immediately attracted to Dorothea but writes her off because of her poor judgment in romantic choices.

I’m loving reading this again.  If you’ve never read Middlemarch, or it’s been a very long time and you’d like to reread it, please consider joining the #Marchalong!  We’ll be reading Book Two from April 1 – April 15, so you’ve got plenty of time to catch up.





Middlemarch Readalong: Join Me!

cover_imageSo I’m joining Juhi at Nooks and Crannies for a readalong of George Eliot’s Middlemarch!  If you’re curious and you want to see the schedule you can read about it here.   I like how she’s breaking it down into two weeks per section.  There are eight sections in the novel, so it will be a nice pace, not rushed.  That’s good, because I intend to continue with other reading on the side!  I began reading Middlemarch earlier this year but set it aside to get book group reading and Reading Ireland Month reading done first.  This is a reread (I read it in college,) but it’s been so long that the novel is kind of fresh for me.  If you’ve not read it in a long time, or you’ve never read it, please join us!  I know it’s a BIG BOOK, but don’t let that stop you.  We’re in this together!  We begin tomorrow with the Prelude and Book One!