In Book Six Eliot uses gossip to hurtle the plot forward, inspiring fear and wild risks in her characters.
Small thought. Is it a little fault of Caleb Garth that it does not occur to him to make Mary, who is obviously capable and "like[s] the outside world better," his assistant instead of sending her to teach in York and offering the position to Fred?
Fantastic post, thank you Mona. A pleasure to read after getting through Book 6 with some degree of conscious perseverance! All amply rewarded!
Re liking the Vincys, I like the way Rosamond sticks up for herself against Lydgate, who can be a bully (with a disturbing hint of physical violence). However the way in which she risked (not once but twice) and then lost her pregnancy and seems completely unaffected by it seems to put her resistance in a different light. Her parents are well-meaning, the father probably too busy working and enjoying the fruits of his labor and the mother with little more than goose feathers in her head and free rein but in Rosamond it seems they have created the too-perfect mirror of their upwardly mobile dreams, one that does not reflect light so much as suck it in to itself. They - the Vincys and Lydgate - have put too much emphasis on appearances and appearances are beginning to appear deceiving.
I guess this is where gossip comes in, the truth-telling kind as well as other kinds.
It seems that Lydgate however foolishly did believe that hardship would bring he and Rosamond closer together and is surprised and hurt to find it pushing them apart instead.
There is so much going on in Book 6, about appearances and what we say and think about them like the auctioneer trying to sell things by saying they are what they aren't. And it works, he always gets a buyer! I thought the parts about the railway and how lies about it were spread was an exact explanation of what still happens today, only Eliot can be forgiven for not knowing the internet would be the engine used to spread lies faster and to more people than ever before.
There's all kinds of contrivances, deceits and hidden secrets coming to light, whether used with good intentions or not. Arguably the biggest sin (and therefore most forgivable?) seems to be that of self-deceit, such as in Mr. Bulstrode.
I agree I feel the implausibility of a second parting btw Will and Dorothea too and even a second meeting to say goodbye, again! It's explained by Eliot and it does seem like something that would happen but why he stuck around so long is hard to completely understand.
I like Mr. Farebrother a lot better than Fred, I have to say. But I think Mary has always loved Fred, she just has had reasons for not admitting it. It's funny how some of the characters in this book, Fred being one, do seem to be created in a dependent way on the story turning out a certain way. Not totally imbued with free will, but acting under the large sky of Eliot's creation. Which is fine by me!
Of course, if this were a 20th century novel, we would have had it spelt out to us that the Lydgate/Rosamund romance was all about sexual attraction, and they had had no time, reason or opportunity to explore their real characters or intellects, and what they wanted out of life, before they got married. When engagements and weddings were the only answer to strong and risky sexual attraction, when there was no chance to satisfy physical curiosity and then perhaps move on to a more suitable relationship, it is not surprising that marriages could prove so difficult and unsatisfying. We know from Eliot's personal life that she probably had far more awareness of this common problem than many other female writers of the day. But I think she hints at the issue - as so often the couple's arguments are suspended (not resolved) by physical contact...'Dear Rosy, lay down your work and come and sit by me'...Rosamund too was still under the power of that same past...She put his hair lightly away from his forehead...' Of course, in time, even this will fail to solve the unhappiness.
I am really enjoying this slow meander through one of my favourite novels of all time. And it reminded me of something that had bothered me for many years - why do so many great Victorian novels have such wonderful villainous bankers! (having been a banker myself...) . Were there so many scandals at the time? You might enjoy this post?
One thing I always ask my students: when Lydgate tells Rosamond that she shouldn't go riding, and presents it as an order, is that the doctor speaking or the husband? A bit of a trick question because of course it's both, and then Eliot plots things so that the doctor's order is born out by what then happens. But it's one of those points where his imperiousness brings him close to the kinds of marital orders that Casaubon issues, even as his professional knowledge also serves to distinguish between the two men. A bit.
I was reviewing the chapter where Raffles approached Will, letting him know of his possible relationship to Bulstrode. Can anyone comment of how often in British literature people turn out to be related? It seems to be a literary device to move the plot along. Oliver Twist is the best example, but it happens in 20th and 21st century British lit, too. If ET were to read British lit from another planet, he would think Great Britain was a small town and everyone was related in one way or another. I can’t think of examples in American lit, certainly not as often!
Shallow, conceited, spoiled, self-absorbed - the list could go on! Is she full of pride, too? As much as Lydgate is?
Is she really the least sympathetic? Do you actually feel sorry for Bulstrode?
I do have sympathy for Rosie. She married a man who in many ways is as blind as Dorothea is to his own needs and wants and now she has to find a way to her happiness (however we may judge the quality of it) on her own. Lydgate is so rarely at home, busy trying to improve the state of the world and make a name for himself, she's making do with Will, who doesn't even like her, because he doesn't like anyone except Dorothea.
I don't think she is pretending when she cries. And frankly I would cry too if I were married to Lydgate.
But it's fine for him to come home and say, by the way, we are broke and people are coming to take most of our things tomorrow but I know I'm so great and you love me so much you won't mind a bit.
He tried to take her jewelry!
Yes he gave it back. I know. He's amazing.
Do we really believe Rosamond should be made to bear the brunt of her husband's mistakes?
Chapter 59 (only three pages) is about the 'aerial whispering' joy of gossip. The epigraph is about the nectar-like sweetness of gossip whispering in the ear of the soul, and it is here that Will learns from Rosamond who has learned from Fred who learned at Lowick parsonage about the codicil. Casaubon's malice has been sweetened in the medium of the gossiping Rosamond. "A confidential little bird...a magnet in the neighborhood."
Well, we’re probably not going to agree with each other, which is perfectly OK. 😊 Statements like “Lydgate is so rarely at home” sound to me like arguing from our present-day context; was it common or expected for the person in business those days (say, a Caleb Garth) to be spending a lot of time at home? Is “making do” with Will a good thing for the health of her relationship with Lydgate? Isn’t that problematic? The jewelry: if the choice is between bankruptcy and pawning the jewelry, what should it be, for the survival of the family? The fact that the jewelry is important to Rosamond and that to give it up is hurtful to her does not elicit pity in this reader. Yes, this is what Rosamond cares about, but is that a worthy vessel for one’s cares, especially when the family is falling apart otherwise? Mary Garth and Dorothea Brooke: these are two women with precise moral compasses -- Mary on the practical side, Dorothea on the idealistic side. Compared to these two, Rosamond’s moral compass points in one direction only: “propriety” and appearances. Maybe we shouldn’t blame her because she is nothing more or less than a product of her environment. And maybe we should blame Lydgate equally for not providing her what she needs, the implication being that if he did all would be well. But, again, speaking just for myself, I don’t believe that. GE is warning perpetually stupid men about the dangers of fatal physical attraction, which women, when chastising men for their mistakes (does this sound like he protesteth too much?), don’t get it because they’re not men. For me, when sizing up a fatal beauty that is also mistress of manipulation (which Rosie is), I would whisper in Lydgate’s ear, as he moves faster and faster toward his goal, the word’s Dante reads over the gate of hell in the Inferno: “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.” 😎
Yes, there is the sense of something 'catching up' to Bulstrode! Himself?
It works for me, too. That is, I don't mind at all a bit of Dickens in anything and it is fun to see Eliot using the same kind of plotting in her own way and for her own ends.
Wow! This treatise on Eliot’s use of gossip as a device to propel the plot forward, one of the most important topics addressed this week, is marvelous. It gives us insight into a dimension of the plot and characters that is subtle but powerful. In a first read of the book, it could be entirely missed. I am elated to have it exposed before I move on to the next chapter, as this knowledge adds mightily to my appreciation of the tale, and calling it to our attention now is akin to learning how a master magician performs their tricks so we are better able to appreciate the next act before the show ends.
I’ve now read Mona’s latest contribution three times over. It again proves beyond any doubt (or gossip) that she is a champion athlete of fine literature, rocketing us towards the finish line with her brain on fire, the keyboard smoking, and only two books and a finale to go. It is an admirable feat stepping up with such an insightful commentary, after yet another week, without any visible sign of fatigue. In fact, she is giving us even more this time — again. What can be added to all of our previous words of appreciation and praise but yet another heartfelt, “thank-you!”
Book Six is entitled, “The Widow and the Wife.” It makes me wonder about the novel’s apparent theme: “hard work serving others with your ego held in check is the secret to a good life.” Is the kernel of this theme ultimately meant to be expressed through the opposing yin/yang of Dorothea and Rosamond? In so many respects, the entire orbit of plot and characters seems to trace its core back to these two women. Almost every character and scene ultimately affects them directly or indirectly in some manner. Is understanding these two women meant to be a key to the “big picture” of it all?
While they were both spoiled growing up, Rosamond (the wife) is totally self absorbed to the point of making us scream. Dorothea (the widow) is so self absorbed helping others we want to paint a halo over her head and cry. These two women are on the mind of Lyndgate himself as he learns of and foresees what may become his own ruin thanks to his devotion to his wife, a function of his own ego and Rosamond’s insane quest for social standing.
All of these feelings are brought to a boil within our own hearts through the ether of gossip, which perhaps is moral number two in the novel. The electric current that animates our thoughts, the very means for us to judge others, is all based on shared perceptions. History itself is nothing but the opinion of others if we let Mr. Wilde boil it down for us. And history and dare say “god” shimself will judge us all on how well we hold our ego in check and do well unto others as reflected by a Jungian sort of group think. That is what this chapter seems to say through two diametrically different women who are blind to their own ego-driven motivations.
It’s not enough just to be good and hold our ego in check, however. We also have to manage our reputations by obtaining untainted opinions of others (a 360 degree review in academic and corporate realms), too, because we are blind to our own faults and not always in a position to objectively judge ourselves. (Think Brooke’s desire to improve his tenant farms as a result of his worrying about voter perceptions while he is running for office, etc.)
Yet we all try to stand above the fray and not worry about what other people think, or so we are taught to believe. Eliot reveals this as a multi dimensional contradiction, that is, how we judge ourselves and how we ourselves are judged are two distinct things and what other people think DOES matter because how we judge ourselves is a corrupt mechanism. Like Bullstrode, like Rosamond, we can justify anything we want and it is only group opinion that is the ultimate authority. We can not even be a martyr if no one thinks of us as such (cue Dorothea). How might Lyndgate’s lot have been improved if he was more sensitive to the feelings of others? In an artificial sense, how might Rosamond be perceived if she was not so “polished” hiding her feelings and motivations?
I could go on I am so pumped up by this thread and everyone’s insights, but I must confess this thread is like a Tootsie Pop in its sweetness and I must succumb to the temptation of biting the delicious chocolate center instead of finishing it slowly as I started. So I am now sprinting on to the finish without waiting to read Mona’s comments a week from now. I no longer have the strength to endure six more days of waiting. I don’t want to share another insight gleaned. I must know how it all ends today. The sooner the better.
Please keep going faster than the speed of sound Mona! I dare say my mind would never have been stretched so far and so pleasurably without you out in front leading the charge, preparing to take another gold medal for fine literature home again.
The gossip mechanism is an ingenious way to propel the story.
~You just knew there’d be a mysterious legacy as Will learns from Bulstrode.
~BTW what a prideful idiot is Will. Why not tell Bulstrode to double his offer and offer some capital up front? (Unless something happens later to justify the stick he’s shoved up his own…)
Yes, both thought of themselves as “realists” (though I’m not sure this ever fit Dostoevsky), but from completely different universes.
Thanks! Can’t wait. So shall I skip Framley parsonage, or just glide though?
I wondered that about Eliot, too. Is it a small blind spot in her vision? Is that even possible??
Late to this because I had a poorly timed vacation, but I just have to share some of my thoughts on Book Six.
I actually think that Eliot portrays Rosamond in a fairly balanced way, even though she is a character who is difficult to understand sometimes. Book Six feels like a bit of a bait-and-switch for our expectations: the implication until now was that Rosamond was responsible for the sad financial state of her household due to her excessive spending, but Eliot makes it clear that Lydgate is just as responsible. He's also responsible for spending above his means, as the sole breadwinner he didn't prioritize his family life before his own arrogance and drove his practice into the ground, and he didn't share the information with his wife in time. He is more like Rosamond than he may want to admit, for months, he thought that thinking about money was beneath him as he ordered furniture and clothing and alienated half the town.
It's clear that Lydgate had no idea who Rosamond was as a person (in his fantasy of her as a wife he says "who would reverence her husband's mind after the fashion of an accomplished mermaid," talk about arrogance) before he married her. Even during their courtship, Lydgate didn't really think about Rosamond's feelings, only about the idea of Rosamond. I think it was in Book Three that he was causing gossip by hanging around Rosamond and chasing off all her other suitors, with no intention to propose until her aunt Bulstrode gently calls him out for his behavior. While Rosamond is also lost in the clouds, as an extremely sheltered young woman, she didn't have much of an opportunity to develop a more realist analysis of courtship. The responsibility does rest more on Lydgate, who theoretically should have more experience with both finances and romance.
Mona says that she has a liking for the Vincy parents, but I actually dislike them strongly. They seem like some of the worst parents/guardians in the book because by spoiling their children, they are setting them up for failure. Fred claws his way out of the hole somehow due to the moderating influences of the Garths who teach him better ways, but Rosamond's only influence is, well, Lydgate. The Vincys educated their children for the class they want to be, not the class they are. It's all well and good for a woman of Celia or Dorothea's station not to think about money, because she doesn't have to, but for a woman like Rosamond, the gentlewomanly idea of money being too coarse for a lady really isn't going to cut it. The Vincys didn't prepare her or educate her for the world she would realistically be in, and then don't do much to help her (Mr Vincy from the beginning is adamant about not helping them financially, partially due to his own money troubles but also because he doesn't like Lydgate). Rosamond is a tough character to read because her actions really make you shout at the page sometimes, but did she have any choice to turn out differently?
Side note, I liked the parallel between Will turning down Bulstrode's money, saying, "My unblemished honour is important to me," and Mary Garth refusing to burn Featherstone's will because it would stain the beginning of her life. I saw the debate down below about whether or not Will's sense of honor is due to his inherent values or because he wants to be worthy of Dorothea, and it's probably a little of column A, a lot of Column B, but is that necessarily a bad thing? It is a noble goal to want to be worthy of the one that you love (although the circumstances of your birth shouldn't be the things holding you back).