Thursday, December 29, 2011

Marriage in Middlemarch

Maybe it's a sign of a love for gossip that I've been enjoying the peek into people’s marriages in Middlemarch.  Unfortunately - or fortunately for my curiosity, the two Eliot features most prominently are the ones that are failing.

Even if it turns out that he is a genius of a doctor, Lydgate certainly doesn’t seem to be a very good judge of women. First he falls for a black widow of an actress and then Rosamond, who has her own means for sucking the life out of a man.  I’m wondering if she has any redeeming qualities.  Is the case of the Vincys a warning of sorts to parents? If you spoil your children, they’ll either turn out self-absorbed like Fred (who at least is earnest) or selfish and conniving like Rosamond.

While the marriage of Dorothea and Casaubon seemed gloomy from the beginning, I initially thought love existed between Lydgate and Rosamond.  In both cases the couples don’t seem to know their chosen spouses very well.  Although it was aggravating that Dorothea was so blind to Casaubon’s pinched true nature, you have to admire her devotion to her vows and her persistence in trying to make Casaubon happy.  But I can’t say I can think of anyone I’ve ever met who had this kind of relationship. 

On the other hand, the relationship between Rosamond and Lydgate is immediately recognizable.  He fell for her beauty and from her behavior during courtship imagined her the model of femininity. She imagined him to be a potential savior of sorts who would raise her up from her present circumstances.  But then she turns out to be less flexible and docile than he imagined, and he doesn’t live up to her hopes for a more exciting life. It’s almost painful to read about how they destroy their relationship that seemed so promising: he expects her to be obedient; she’s secretive; he believes he knows best and shouldn’t trouble her with the money issues, but he’s irresponsible for buying what he couldn’t afford.  Meanwhile, she seems to have no care for preserving their state. At least he attempts to protect their relationship by trying to keep alive the image of what he loved about her, while she seems determined to tear him down with her secrets and silent treatment. 

It’s hard to imagine that the Lydgates can repair their relationship, unless Rosamond has some kind of conversion experience and recognizes her selfishness, and Lydgate stops treating her like she’s child, even though she acts like one.

Since Casaubon dies, the possibility of a relationship between Will and Dorothea is out there if both parties were willing to throw riches and public opinion to the wind.  But I still don’t think they seem suited to each other.  Even though she’s idealistic, he seems too romantic for her.  Is public opinion right in this case?
Maybe I have lost my sense of romance because I also think Mary Garth should marry Farebrother and not Fred.  Fred seems destined to disappoint her since he can’t seem to get over his love of a good time. Farebrother is so kind and companionable that you can imagine and healthy relationship between him and Mary. 

At least Mary has a good example of marriage in her parents. The Garths seem to be the most happily married couple in Middlemarch.  She recognizes his faults but still loves him for his goodness, and he recognizes her intelligence and good sense. Theirs is the one marriage that seems built on honesty and respect for each other, in addition to being genuinely affectionate.

Ironically, the little glimpses into the Bulstrode’s marriage seem to suggest that they can weather trials.  If Mrs. Bulstrode can still feel compassion and pity for her husband, even though he has deceived her, perhaps they can pull through their downfall.

I’m embarrassed by how little I remember from this book the first time I read it.  Thus, this quote from Robertson Davies on my new “Reading Woman” calendar from my mother-in-law jumped out at me: “A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.”  (I know everyone is supposed to use interactive computer calendar apps, but this calendar has great art and good quotes and lots of space for writing stuff to do; it makes me happy.) 


Melanie B said...

I love the Robertson Davies quote. I've been thinking along those same lines recently. How all the classics I read when I was in college will probably seem much different to me today now that I'm married with kids. This coming fall will mark twenty years since I was a freshman in college. Ooof that makes me feel old!

Enbrethiliel said...


Being a very slow reader, I just finished the chapter in which Farebrother speaks to Mary on Fred's behalf, and I'm surprised at how much I agree with you that Farebrother and Mary would be happy and very good together. (Surprised because I love Fred.) If only Fred weren't "in the way" . . . This would make an interesting Fan Fic. =P

Tiara said...