In Book Four, we see the great interconnectedness of life in Middlemarch and life at the old country estates. The social world, with all its complexity, rushes in between and around the characters we’ve been following so intimately.
I have always felt that it would be an unpleasant pressure to have a much younger adoring spouse who was eager for my great work to be FINISHED sooner. Rosamond seems a bit harder to defend...though, her marriage with Lydgate with its mutual compromises, does not seem highly unusual.
Yes, I've read that too. She was also a regular supporter and correspondent of Harriet Beecher Stowe. And of course she writes sympathetically about Jewish people in Daniel Deronda.
Duty-bound to observe that yours truly is inside fussing with her books and papers on *this* sunny summer day …
My favorite line is:
There was no denying that Dorothea was as virtuous and lovely a young lady as he could have obtained for a wife; but a young lady turned out the be something more troublesome than he had conceived.
As someone who is constantly amused at myself, I guffawed aloud in Chapter 35 where Eliot says, "The wit of a family is usually best received among strangers." Ah! Now I understand.
Mona Simpson has truly rung the bell with the fury of a house on fire with this review. What an awesome commentary. Tying together the various themes. Placing situations in context with modern times. Summarizing the plot in a tight, thoughtful writeup. Offering unexpected photos relating to the author's background... Wow! Thank you Mona!!
Book Four was the toughest assigned reading to digest thus far, not only because of its dated language and obscure references, but because all the characters we have come to love seem to have been taken to the racks and tortured in one form or another. Comical and satiric at times? Absolutely, but the reality under it all is DISTURBING. Only the Garths seem to have come out ahead, the very folks who were tortured in the first three books. (Perhaps Caleb Garth, the proverbially optimistic father figure, will come out as the hero in the end.) Mona describes their hard work and lack of ego as a "gold standard." Absolutely. As Eliot plays God in this masterpiece, it becomes more clear with each passing page just where her sentiments align. Middlemarch is an embodiment of human egotism on Earth, a workshop where we can see what selfishness, class distinctions and laziness get you in this world.
Mona asks, '"In Chapter 37, Will thinks: “Casaubon had done a wrong to Dorothea in marrying her.” Do we agree?" There is no correct answer, of course, but my truth is that both of them erred. I can't think of one significant character in the book who was in favor of the marriage, but each of them wanted to believe in the other in the best possible way. Now, however, we see that Casaubon is selfish in ways that were not evident before, while Dorothea is selfless to a fault, as well. What a study in contrasts. It's easy to say now that the clergyman was wrong, but they both had good intentions.
Mona also asks, "I should mention that the idealized Caleb Garth does, in this chapter, utter the phrase “Rich as Jews.” Ouch. What are we to do with this?" Taking a page from Dorothea, I would like to think that many people of these times, and even today, have looked upon the Jewish people as a highly educated and hard-working class that has often created wealth for themselves. I would like to think the reference was intended as a compliment, and in keeping with what seems to be the theme, that hard work pays while egotistical selfishness only makes a clown out of you in the big picture.
The references to Book Post and the Summer Subscription Offer were tastefully woven into Mona's weekly contribution. It's a generous offer. Take a look. I became a paid subscriber an hour ago. Mona and Ann's comments are worth every penny on their own merits alone.
I tabbed a lot of passages in this chapter, but I think my favorite is this interaction with the Dagleys in Chapter 39. You can tell that Mr. Brooke thinks he's a great landowner for just locking this child up for poaching instead of punishing him further the way he legally has a right to, and Mr. Dagley immediately responds with, "I'll be dee'd if I'll leather my boy to please you or anybody else." I admire this defiance of a tenant farmer who truly has nothing except his own family, refusing to give up this one thing he has, the ability to determine the relationship he has with his son and whether or not he will discipline him. Eliot manages to draw the reality of life as a tenant farmer (that line about Mrs. Dagley not having even Sunday clothes to give her small pleasure in life sticks with me) without venturing into misery porn. Sh's also immensely sympathetic in her portrayal of Dagley, explaining clearly why he's drinking in the middle of the day and why it seems like his manners are course, in a way that opposes individualist bootstraps mentality that I think was popular during the time. It's also jarring that after a book dedicated to exploring the class differences between the landed gentry and the nouveau-riche manufacturing class and how these (really rather small) differences between them define the lives of the characters, we get a splash of cold water in the form of a reminder about how the majority of people in Middlemarch are actually living—and that the majority of the characters we've been following so far, whether they are landowners collecting rent or manufacturers owning factories, live by exploiting people like Dagley.
I love Mr. Brooke, he's the funniest character in the novel even though he causes me the most second-hand embarrassment, but is he also the character that has the biggest distance between his self-perception and reality?
Mr. Brooke is a good guy; as a politician he’s a reformer. But he’s also a cheap and clueless land owner. Again, GE shows the rich being easily selfish. Nice that Dorothea comes to the rescue encouraging her uncle to hire Garth. She is beginning to act like a grown up, using her headstrong but generous nature for good.
So . . . Dorothea and Casaubon are sharing a bedroom! She reads to him at night. GE ends book 4 with Dorothea waiting for Mr C to go to bed. They have a real if unhappy marriage. Knowing that makes the depth of Dorothea’s loneliness even sadder: “He never knows what is in my mind--he never cares.”
Thanks for another great commentary on the Three Love Problems pt. four of Middlemarch! I am glad you called attention to issues of social stratification. The opening chapter, with our friends in the gentry looking down, as you say, dramatizes this stratification and its cost. Eliot might have been thinking of Book Three of the Iliad (the so-called teichoskopia or viewing from the wall) where Helen is asked by the Trojan elders to identify the Argive warriors from that high vantage point. But Dorothea, as you say, "alone recalls the dead man," and one could go further and say Dorothea rejects the view from above altogether, or at any rate it makes her uncomfortable. "...she was not at ease in the perspective and chilliness of that height." No Helen of Troy, then, or a new kind of helen. Brooke, also, refreshingly, enters with the word "no." He emphatically has not come for the viewing de haut en bas but to deliver Ladislaw and the painting, painting being a more integrative and transformative "in your face" kind of seeing. There is a genius ending to the chapter, too, don't you all agree? "I'll go and fetch Ladislaw." [end of chapter!] Eliot has been accused of being prolix, but that is a wonderfully abrupt ending. Ladislaw's entry would have been too much, too toxic? Too many people in the room. Instead, the next chapter, suggestively begins, "When the animals entered the ark in pairs." Instead of Ladislaw's entrance, we get animals entering an ark. I wonder what that's all about?
I've fallen way behind in the reading! I just finished Book 3 and am on Ch. 38 in Book 4.
Too many wonders to comment on in the chapters on Featherstone's funeral and will! I am noticing more the many ways Eliot uses to comment on the characters and the story she is telling about them. She makes good use of the word we, for one. It has the effect of enlarging the story depthwise as well as widthhwise, I think.
She must have been an absolute sponge as a child, listening to people around her talk and watching their faces and bodies as they engaged with one another. I can think of no other explanation for her genius except some special collusion of time and place + a uniquely observing mind. How did so much stay with her that she could later use in her fiction? This is not to denigrate her imagination, but she doesn't get her behaviors mixed up, and there is little or no romance about it. There is a bedrock of fact and understanding behind all she writes.
I do not know anything about the world of Eliot criticism, but I am sure an entire book could be written and no doubt has been on the way she uses metaphors of science, in particular physics and biology, to extend her thoughts and views about human nature. I love those parts.
I had to look up batrachian: a frog or toad ! i.e. Mr. Rigg/Featherstone and his frog-like face!
Well and also -- Eliot outright says in Ch. 34 Book 4 that Casaubon does not know himself why he dislikes Will. So.. that is interesting. "But he wished to repress outward signs." Hmmmm.
It seems that he is jealous of Will for lots of things. For being the man in the world he secretly wants to be. Mr. Brooke says that Will "remembers what the right quotations are .. and that sort of thing - gives subjects a kind of turn." We--ee--ell - that is just what Casaubon can't do. Give anything a turn. Oh dear oh dear.
It is more than sexual jealousy, and perhaps the sexual jealousy is secondary to some other things, and I imagine that even the sexual jealousy is more about outward appearances that anything else.
What do we make of Dorothea's statement of belief (ch. 39), "that by desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don't quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are part of the Divine power against evil-widening the skirts of light and making the struggle with darkness narrower"? The whole exchange with Will in this chapter is remarkable and cries out for comment. "They were looking at each other like two fond children who were talking confidentially of birds." I love Dorothea, but she is not always so wise about what is going on in other people's minds. A consequentialist would argue that she needs to think less about her belief and more about what can be agreed to by others. How can she possibly have thought Casaubon would agree to give his money to Will when he was already in the process of disowning him. Nevertheless, an internal voice, a divine conscience (which one might think of as Wesleyan or otherwise evangelical) drives her to ask this of him in the intimacy of their bedroom. Surely this is an example of the risks of an intuitive/introspective belief system? And yet this is part of why Will loves her and many readers love her. She hasn't really a clue...she's one of those people who "comes out with stuff" and clears the air.
Book Four feels like a Tolstoyan panorama of a chaotic battle against Napoleon. Can love, loyalty, virtue, and truth win against the power of money and social systems?
Hey, no kidding!
There is a famous passage in Lucretius where the animals go to war against one another. Perhaps Eliot had that in mind, but it's also Malthusian/Darwinian/in the air, Tennyson's "nature red in tooth and claw," and so on. "I went into these things deeply at one time." But what I also wanted to suggest about the transition between chapters is that "Ladislaw" leading into "pairs" is a suggestive way of treating him as a lover.
I think you're on to something with that term!