Book II: Old and Young, Book III: Waiting for Death, and Book IV: Three Love Problems (Chapters XXXIV to XXXVII)
I got a new edition of Middlemarch (as you may have seen in my latest Come Book Shopping with Me post)! I’m quite pleased with it, and it’s making the novel much easier to read. Anyway, I made some serious progress this weekend and am all caught up to the original schedule! I didn’t think that would happen. But it’s amazing how much faster this book is going now that I can actually see the print. Who would have thought?
I love Mary Garth. We need more of Mary Garth. The whole damn book should have been about Mary Garth. She is a young, impoverished relative of Mr. Featherstone’s who works as his housekeeper. It’s clear from the start that Fred is in love with her, and I’m sure they’ll end up together because this is a Victorian novel. But quite frankly, she is far too good for him. She’s smart and practical, though understandably cynical considering her circumstances. There are some great scenes with her throughout this large chunk of the book (including one where she tells Fred off), and I enjoyed all of them.
Meanwhile, Dorothea is slowly becoming aware that she made a mistake in marrying Casaubon. The marriage isn’t what she expected, and she doesn’t enjoy their honeymoon in Rome. But she does run into Will Ladislaw again. The two end up getting along well and clear up the misconceptions from the first meeting. He ends up as the guest of Dorothea’s uncle once they’re back in England, and it’s quite clear that he is in love with her. I think she’s getting to that point, but it’s going to take her forever to realize it. Though she’s seeing the cracks in her marriage, she views them as her fault and remains devoted to her husband.
Eliot uses her three heroines–Dorothea, Rosamund, and Mary–to explore the different aspects of Woman’s condition at the time. Their options were limited: marry, remain dependent on family, or work. We see how oppressive marriage can be through Dorothea, but Eliot shows the other options are just as dreadful through Mary. Both are intelligent women who could do great things if they weren’t held back by society. Then we have Rosamund, who is essentially a social climber. While she’s clever in her way, she uses it only to get what she wants. She’s a product of her society, the result of the limited education provided to women. Based on the way Eliot writes about her, I don’t think we’re supposed to especially like Rosamund, and I’m sure her marriage to Mr. Lydgate, a country doctor hoping for medical reform, will be a disaster. But she’s a far more enjoyable character than Dorothea. Perhaps that’s the point, to draw attention to the fact that we prefer a shallow yet lively woman to a deep and severe one. Or maybe I’m the only one that finds Dorothea insufferable. I’m not sure.