Book I: Miss Brooke (Prelude & Chapters I to VI)
Well, I’m even more behind than I planned to be. I’ve barely had time to read; today was actually the first time I’ve been able to sit down with the book for any length of time. I also wasn’t able to get my hands on a new copy, so I’m stuck with my ugly mass market paperback one. But I’m not going to let either of these things stop me! Even if I finish weeks after everyone else and strain my eyes with this dreadfully small print, I will make it through this book!
My favorite part so far has actually been the prelude. It’s certainly an odd one, though thankfully a great deal shorter than the one in Romola. This prelude seems to sum up the main purpose of the book: to explore the lives of women who are born for greatness yet never have the opportunity to achieve it. While this is a perfect description of Dorothea, I got the distinct impression that Eliot is also referring to herself. One of her biggest goals as a writer was to not be judged or held back by her gender, and that truly comes through in this prelude.
Since I’m a Victorian scholar with a particular focus on women’s literature, this is an important book for me to read. It’s Eliot’s contribution to the discussion on the condition of women. From the very first chapter, we are met with how limited women’s lives are. Dorothea has a fierce temper and strong opinions, but there isn’t a place for that in her world. Everyone expects she will marry Sir James, a neighboring baronet who is not her intellectual equal. While he allows her the opportunity to reform local cottages and improve life in the village, it is not enough. She believes that by marrying Mr. Casaubon, a scholar old enough to be her father, she can achieve greatness by helping him with his work.
I must admit, I’m finding it hard to like Dorothea. In many ways, she is similar to Romola, but she’s infinitely less likeable. Her sister Celia notes some moments when she is incredibly condescending, and I agree wholeheartedly. Her superiority on everything is so irritating. Particularly grating for me was the scene of Sir James trying to give her a puppy and her rejecting it by calling pets parasitic. It made me irrationally irritated. But the most frustrating thing for me is actually an issue I had with Romola as well. While they are not Angels in the House, both Dorothea and Romola are Angels in the Library; they sacrifice themselves to aid men in their intellectual pursuits. I know the point is that Dorothea realizes the mistake she has made, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating to read about.