The Long Lost Middlemarch Wrap-up

(The #Marchalong is over!  Many thanks to Juhi from Nooks and Crannies for hosting the Middlemarch readalong and giving me an excuse to reread this marvelous book!)

Oh yeah!  I was supposed to write a post about the final section of Middlemarch, Book Eight, “Sunset and Sunrise.”  I finished reading this marvelous chunkster of a book on July 12, according to Goodreads.  If you’ve been following my Middlemarch posts thus far (and God bless you!) you know that I love this book.  I love that it took me five months to finish it.  If I’d had a tighter deadline for reading and posting, I probably wouldn’t have signed up for the readalong.cover_image

We left off in Book Seven with Dorothea aghast at the unsavory allegations directed towards Lydgate.  We begin Book Eight with the Misters Farebrother, Chettham, and Brooke trying to persuade her not to get involved.  (I love Dorothea’s impassioned question, “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?  I cannot be indifferent to the troubles of a man who advised me in my trouble, and attended me in my illness.”)

Rather than summarize the plot, I simply want to highlight some of my favorite quotations from this section.  I know that some of you have expressed a desire to read Middlemarch at some point, and I don’t want to spoil it.  (If you can spoil a book published in 1872!)

When Mrs. Bulstrode tells her husband that she knows all the allegations against him:

He raised his eyes with a little start and looked at her half amazed for a moment:her pale face, her changed, mourning dress, the trembling about her mouth, all said, “I know;” and her hands and eyes rested gently on him.  He burst out crying and they cried together, she sitting at his side.  They could not yet speak to each other of the shame which she was bearing with him, or of the acts that had brought it down on them.  His confession was silent, and her promise of faithfulness was silent.  Open-minded as she was, she nevertheless shrank from the words which would have expressed their mutual consciousness as she would have shrunk from the flakes of fire. She could not say, “How much is only slander and false suspicion?” and he did not say, “I am innocent.”

After Dorothea sees Rosamund and Will in what she assumes is a romantic interlude, and Rosamund tells Will to go after Dorothea and explain:

“Explain!  Tell a man to explain how he dropped into hell!  Explain my preference!  I never had a preference for her, any more than I have a preference for breathing.  No other woman exists by the side of her.  I would rather touch her hand if it were dead than I would touch any other woman’s living.”

When Dorothea and Will finally confront one another and unburden their souls:

While he was speaking their came a vivid flash of lightning which lit each of them up for the other – and the light seemed to be the terror of a hopeless love.  Dorothea darted instantaneously from the window; Will followed her, seizing her hand with a spasmodic movement; and so they stood, with their hands clasped, like two children, looking out on the storm, while the thunder gave a tremendous crack and roll above them, and the rain began to pour down.  Then they turned their faces towards each other, with the memory of his last words in them, and they did not loose each other’s hands.

This book is about everything:  love and marriage, the pitiful education of females in the 19th century, finding the courage to discover your calling, class consciousness, changing political times, spending above your means, honesty, flirtation, altruism, and what constitutes a good life.  There are many strands to the web that Eliot spins, but they are all beautifully connected and come together in surprising ways.  It is funny, witty, comforting, astute – and sometimes feels so modern that I can’t believe it was written almost 150 years ago.  I admit that I’ve missed delving into its pages and visiting its characters over the past few weeks. This is a book that I will take the time to read again in the years to come.

Thoughts on Middlemarch Book Seven: Two Temptations

(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!)

It’s the Fourth of July as I write this, and what’s more American than musing on a massive classic British novel?  Yes, I celebrated our nation’s independence earlier today by eating too much potato salad and lemon blueberry icebox cake and hanging out with family, but now it’s time to talk about Book Seven, the next-to-last section of Middlemarch.  It might as well have been titled Poor Lydgate!  I do feel sorry for Tertius, even if he has gotten himself into this fine mess by marrying someone he can’t trust, spending way above his means, and aligning himself with the town pariah, Mr. Bulstrode.middlemarch

What I connected with the most from this section was the marital strife between Lydgate and Rosamund.  He is consumed by his debt, and determines that nothing short of one thousand pounds will alleviate the pressure.  Only how to acquire it?  He is a proud man, desiring to sell his house and furniture to Ned Plymdale rather than borrow money from family.  Rosamund, however, has other ideas.  She goes behind Lydgate’s back and cancels the plans to sell the house, essentially taking it off the market.  She then takes the liberty of writing to Lydgate’s wealthy uncle Sir Godwin, asking him for money and neglecting to make it clear that Lydgate didn’t know anything about her letter.  OH BOY.  Trouble!  We readers watch as Lydgate struggles with the revelation of Rosamund’s first deception, as yet unaware of her second.  At the end of Chapter 64 he reluctantly determines to go visit his uncle Godwin, as only an in person visit and not a letter will do.  Oh, the dramatic irony!

When Godwin’s humiliating response arrives the next day in the mail, Tertius is understandably apoplectic.  “…it has been of no use for me to think of anything.  You have always been counteracting me secretly.  You delude me with a false assent, and then I am at the mercy of your devices.  If you mean to resist every wish I express, say so and defy me.  I shall at least know what I am doing then.” Rosamund’s response is basically, You’re the one who married me and led me to believe that I would be taken care of in the manner to which I have become accustomed!  She pretty much refuses to admit that what she did was wrong.  He is flummoxed by her stubborn tenacity in acting like the wronged party.  It’s like he’s dealing with a child, and indeed Rosamund strikes me as very childlike.  But they both went into this marriage with little knowledge of the other person, and much in the way of dreamy fantasies of what married life was supposed to be like.  Eliot writes their arguments with such emotional depth and nuance; I am in awe of her skill.

So Lydgate and Rosamund’s marriage and finances are hanging in the balance.  Meanwhile, the devious Mr. Raffles comes back to town, only this time he is gravely ill.  Somehow Bulstrode gets him to convalesce at his place, with Lydgate giving medical advice.  Bulstrode knowingly does not precisely inform his housekeeper to follow Lydgate’s strict instructions, and as a result, Raffles dies.  Just before, however, Bulstrode happens to write Lydgate a check for the thousand pounds that he so desperately needs.  Lydgate had his suspicions about the case, but he didn’t follow up on his intuition.  However, when the rest of the town, who had been hearing all about Bulstrode’s previous misdeeds, hears of Raffles’ death and Lydgate’s sudden windfall, they assume the worst of both men.

The lovely and good-natured Dorothea is absent from this book, until the very end, when she returns from travels in Yorkshire.  When informed of the momentous happenings with Lydgate and Bulstrode, she emphatically defends Lydgate.  “You don’t believe that Mr. Lydgate is guilty of anything base?  I will not believe it.  Let us find out the truth and clear him!”  It leaves me with a note of hope that there may be some small sense of professional and personal redemption for Lydgate after all, even if his marriage to Rosamund is damaged beyond repair.

One more section to go!  So much to be resolved!  I have been thinking about tackling another hefty classic novel after I finish Middlemarch – taking it slowly, dividing it up by sections and writing about it.  I am still pondering, but if you have a suggestion for a good, meaty classic novel I would love to hear it.


Thoughts on Middlemarch, Book Six: The Widow and the Wife

(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!)

Friends, we are now two-thirds finished with Middlemarch.  Only two more sections to go!  I have loved the slow pace of this readalong, as it has allowed me the freedom to read other things while still rereading this amazing novel.  Reading it slowly has also allowed me to connect with these characters in a way that I feel like I will never forget them.  My husband, who has never read it,  marvels that I am “still reading that book,” but I view it as a treat and a privilege to be able to linger in these pages a while, and really enjoy the luxurious feeling of a close, slow read.

Book Six is not as exciting a section as Book Five, but there are several significant developments.  The train line is coming through Middlemarch, which some folks are vehemently opposed to, and people are revealing all sorts of secrets right and left.  Mrs. Garth tells Fred Vincy that Farebrother harbors feelings for Mary.  Lydgate admits to Rosamund the depths of their financial troubles.   Rosamund reveals to Will Ladislaw that Causabon has included the codicil in his will forbidding Dorothea from marrying him.  And Bulstrode tells Will that he kept his mother and grandmother apart and stole the money that should rightfully be his.  And perhaps most significant of all, Dorothea finally understands that Ladislaw is in love with her.EliotMiddlemarch

What struck me about Book 6 was the awakening of Dorothea.  After her husband’s death and three months spent with her sister Celia at Freshitt, she is ready to go back home and get to work.  She seems to have regained her energy and desire to do good that she had at the outset of the novel.  Of course, part of her desire to get back to Lowick involves her desire to see Ladislaw again – she is self-aware enough to admit this to herself.   Everybody seems to have so many FEELINGS about what Dorothea should do now.  Celia wants to her to stay and watch her baby Arthur being bathed every day, as if it’s the most fascinating prospect in the world.  Mrs. Cadwallader wants her to get married again, but Lady Chettam is aghast at the notion.  James Chettam wants her to remain a widow.  But Dorothea simply goes home and starts working with Caleb Garth to “improve the land and build a great many good cottages.”

Another notable plot point is that Fred Vincy seems to finally be getting on track, both with his career and with his beloved Mary Garth.  Caleb generously takes him under his wing and makes him an apprentice of sorts, even going so far as to hilariously berate his atrocious handwriting.  (“The Lord have mercy on us, Fred, I can’t put up with this!”)  He also takes Fred’s part up with Mrs. Garth, who is not convinced that Fred will make a good match for her daughter.  Caleb identifies with Fred, in that he, too, was seen as not a good prospect for Mrs. Garth when they were married.  Caleb is so sweet and honorable!  He is truly a good-hearted, trusting man.  Even though Fred and Mary talk, nothing is definitely  settled by the end of Book 6, but this reader feels that things will work out for them in the end.

Rosamund and Lydgate… oh my.  We learn that Rosamund has lost the baby after being thrown from her horse on a ride that Lydgate didn’t want her to take in the first place with his “vapid fop” of a cousin, Captain Lydgate.  Both Rosamund and Lydgate are disillusioned with one another, finally seeing each other for who they are, and not exactly liking what they see.  Lydgate finally tells Rosamund how badly they are in debt, and Rosamund immediately gets her jewelry box and hands it to Lydgate, telling him to take whatever he wants.  She acts cold and distant, and says she’s going to her parents’ house for the day.  Lydgate asks her to reconsider, and reminds her that it would be better for her to be there when the man comes to collect some items, so that the servants are as unaware of their situation as possible.  She relents, and they end up embracing, but it is not a wholeheartedly convincing reconciliation.

Mr. Bulstrode, meanwhile, is still haunted by the specter of his blackmailer, Raffles.  He tells Will Ladislaw his secret, that he knew the whereabouts of Will and his mother, and kept that knowledge secret from Will’s grandmother.  He also offers Will money, the money that is rightfully Will’s inheritance.  But it seems Bulstrode has also added to his fortune with questionable businesses, and Raffles has told Will as much.  I love how Will refuses the money, saying, “My unblemished honour is important to me.  It is important to me to have no stain on my birth and connections.  And now I find there is a stain which I can’t help.  My mother felt it, and tried to keep as clear of it as she could, and so will I.  You shall keep your ill-gotten money.”

Will finally leaves Middlemarch in the last chapter, after talking about leaving basically the entirety of Book 6.  In the meantime Dorothea has heard some juicy gossip that Will is flirting (or worse) with Rosamund, since he’s always hanging around and playing piano with her.  Dorothea refuses to believe it, but she’s stung all the same, crying on the way home from Freshitt.  When they meet soon thereafter they are terribly awkward with one another.  Will wants to reassure Dorothea that he’s not after her money, and Dorothea wants to make him believe that she has never thought ill of him.  It’s all very pained and vague, and Dorothea at one point questions whether Will really does have feelings for Rosamund.  But in the end, she believes that he only has feelings for her, and it makes her happy even though Will is leaving, seemingly never to return.

Everything is up in the air at the end of Book 6.  Eliot has two more sections, about 200 pages, with which to tie up all the loose ends.  I am still very much invested in the lives of these characters, and can’t wait to see what happens next.  I am sad for Rosamund and Lydgate – they went into the marriage with such high hopes but are realizing just how unsuited they are for one another.  Will they find happiness?  Will Bulstrode be exposed?  Will Fred succeed at business and finally propose to Mary?  What will Dorothea do now that Will has left town?  Stay tuned!




Thoughts on Middlemarch, Book Five: The Dead Hand

(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.9780143107729

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.



Thoughts on Middlemarch, Book Four: Three Love Problems

(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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!


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!