The Senior Book Club’s latest text was George Eliot’s masterpiece, Middlemarch. The novel was originally created as two separate tales, which were later combined by Eliot: one of Dorothea Brooke, a nineteen-year-old woman whose idealism prompts her to marry an older scholar, Edward Casaubon; the other of Tertius Lydgate, an ambitious surgeon who has recently moved to the town of Middlemarch. Their stories parallel one another, and eventually intertwine, alongside many beautifully formed sub-plots.
Dorothea, urged on by her spiritual desire to do something meaningful with her life, makes a terrible mistake in her marriage to Casaubon. She has visions of assisting his scholarly work, but unfortunately, her husband is quickly revealed to be dry and humourless. Dorothea’s enthusiasm is essentially crushed by Casaubon’s effective exploitation of her loyal nature. For some time, Dorothea’s morals cause her to fight her unhappiness and resentment – Eliot presents a painful, but moving depiction of her disastrous marriage. Similarly, Lydgate’s choice in marriage ends up frustrating his career and hampering his freedom. Soon after his arrival in Middlemarch, he meets, and subsequently marries, Rosamond Vincy. Rosamond seems to be primarily concerned with social advancement, and her marriage to Lydgate fails following his financial losses, and their irreconcilable personalities. However, we felt that Rosamond was treated rather unfairly by the author. In her 1856 essay, entitled, Silly novels by Lady Novelists, Eliot wrote of the heroines in contemporary novels by and for women, who were often educated, but whose education made them self-satisfied and overly ambitious. Rosamond’s education is, arguably, an important element in the failure of her marriage; perhaps Rosemond is the epitome of the female characters Eliot so despised!
Alongside these two narratives, Eliot gifts the reader a varied mix of characters, all of which come together to display 19th century rural existence. Of particular note are Fred Vincy, Rosamond’s brother, and his complicated but humorous courtship of the endearing Mary Garth; the banker, Mr Bulstrode, who is universally disliked by the town, and who is revealed to have a dark history; and Mr Casaubon’s cousin, Will Ladislaw, whose attraction to Dorothea, and the consequences thereof, dominates much of the novel.
The novel is sub-titled A Study of Provincial Life, and Eliot’s skilful examination of the pre-Reform Bill existence in a rural English town is evident from the beginning of the text. Eliot achieves this through both her intrusive, often humorous narrator, and a multitude of stunningly crafted characters. We felt the length of the text reflected the time and attention Eliot granted each and every one of Middlemarch’s residents.
Middlemarch is a wonderfully refreshing, and often ironic, examination of family, moral ambiguity, class and marriage. Overall, it was a brilliant read, and has certainly encouraged us to delve into George Eliot’s (or Mary Ann Evans’!) other works.
Isabella (Year 12)