Middlemarch


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(1871-2)

Dorothea Brooke, a young woman of impeccable character, marries the embittered Mr. Casaubon, who almost immediately dies. Eliot takes the reader through a labyrinth of nineteenth-century morals and conventions as Dorothea searches for fulfillment and happiness.
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What is wonderful about George Eliot's Middlemarch is that she translates her previous fables (Silas Marner, The Mill on the Floss) into the fates of an entire community. The clashes of different fates are like the War of the Worlds, in her massive morality.--Submitted by Anonymous.


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Recent Forum Posts on Middlemarch

Did Dorothea and Casaubon get it on?

I just read this article in The Guardian in which both Martin Amis and Kathryn Hughes write that the marriage between Casaubon and Dorothea was unconsummated. I did wonder if they ever got it on, but apart from them not having any children I could not detect any evidence either way. There was a bit in the book, after they have had a bit of a row, when Dorothea meets Casaubon in a corridor and they go to their bedroom. Interestingly, Martin Amis also talked about Hard Times by Charles Dickens in which a fifty-year-old Mr Bounderby marries a twenty-year-old Louisa Gradgrind. That marriage looks like it may not have been consummated either. In one chapter Louisa is described leaving her bedroom to have a serious talk with her brother. No Mr Bounderby was in her bedroom, and I wonder whether he was just not interested in women. Come to think of it, I wonder what was really medically wrong with Mr Casaubon. Fifty is no great age. He is not described as overweight. Why is he so weak? The way he is written he seems more like seventy.


Will Ladislaw's character depiction

Henry James did not think the character of Ladislaw was very well depicted. I am reading some student notes which mentioned the review. What did you think? I thought he was all right. To me he seemed like an artistic version of Lydgate, although less cagey. Maybe he had too many talents heaped on him, and had too exotic a background to be very credible. I have to say, I thought his German art student friend was very well described. He was witty and different. Perhaps Ladislaw was not as well depicted as him.


Is Mr Farebrother the most perspicacious character in literature?

Who is the most perspicacious character in literature, if not Mr Farebrother, the vicar in Middlemarch. He seems to know everything. He seems to be able to predict everything. He seems to know what is in other people's minds. No wonder he wins at cards. Mind you, he might have hinted to Lydgate that Rosamund would be a very expensive wife.


Tertius Lydgate

SPOILERS There have been three or four points so far (chap 49) where I have wondered whether Lydgate was doing the right thing: I am not quite sure what the controversy is with his not dispensing medicines. I thought what he was objecting to was that most doctors had cosy arrangements with certain chemists (I suppose apothecaries in them days). An apothecary would pay a cut to the doctor for every patient sent to him to buy medicine. I thought Lydgate viewed this sort of arrangement as unethical, and that patients should be able to buy their medicines from whoever was cheapest. However, I am not sure I understood that correctly. Now I wonder whether the problem is that he thinks most of the medicine that his colleagues sell is snake oil. The problem is that the patients expect to get something for their money, and don't expect to pay just for taking up the doctor's time. Alright, most the medicine is snake oil, but this is how the doctors get paid. By taking a stand, Lydgate is alienating all his colleagues. The meeting at which the trustees of the new hospital appointed a chaplain was rather contrived. First, the vote was a dead heat until Lydgate arrived late, so not only was his the casting vote, but everyone knew which way he voted. If it were not for Mr Bulstrode's patronage, Lydgate would have voted for his friend Mr Farebrother rather than the other curate. Mr Bulstrode is powerful but unpopular.This was unfortunate. If Lydgate had arrived late to find that one or other of the two candidates had won by two votes or more, he could perhaps have spared himself from voting, or could have voted for the other curate without hurting Farebrother. At first, I thought that Lydgate probably made the right decision in voting for Mr Bulstrode's favoured candidate, because he wanted a position at the new hospital. However, several chapters back it said it was an unpaid position. There can not have been too many doctors in Middlemarch prepared to work for nothing, so it seems to me that Lydgate could have voted for his friend Farebrother after all. When Mr Casaubon had his heart attack, Lydgate told his wife Dorothea, but did not tell Mr Casaubon because he did not want to distress him. I wondered about that. Even if the news would distress him, Mr Casaubon had a right to know. These days, a doctor would tell a patient straight, even if the news was very distressing. I wondered whether practice was different then. However, I think this may have been a plot device, because later Mr Casaubon demands of Lydgate to tell him the worst, and also whether he had let Dorothea know. Lydgate did not tell Mr Casaubon about his heart attack, but he also did not tell his wife, Rosamund, about the letter demanding payment for some furniture he had bought. Rosamund is buying some pretty things, but she cannot be criticized too much for spending money if she is not made aware that they are in financial trouble. The impression I get is that Lydgate is good with the science, but not so good with people.


Dogs and small children (Middlemarch)

I liked the way Elliot used dogs in chapter 39. Dorothea is mentioned petting her uncle's hound, Monk. Then Elliot reminded us about the incident early on in the book, in which Dorothea said she did not like the toy dog that Sir Chettam had brought her as a present when trying to win her love. Mr Brooke then goes to visit some of his tenants, the Dagleys, about one of their boys who had been caught having poached a leveret. The Dagleys had a sheepdog called Fag. Fag was thinking of causing some mischief until he saw Monk, then thought better of it. The hostility of Mr Dagley towards Mr Brooke increases, until Mr Dagley throws a pitchfork in the ground, at which point Monk starts barking. I thought that was a good way of building up the tension. It was also a sort of metaphor. Mr Brooke has the bigger dog. Although Mr Dagley has some natural justice on his side, in the end Mr Brooke has easier recourse to the law, and money to pay baliffs if need be. Apart from getting into the mind of dogs, I also really like the way Elliot got into the mind of the small girl, Lette in chapter 40. I liked the way her father cut off the seal from a letter in one piece so that she could have it. I also liked the bit where she was described as an inconvenient child who listened to everything, when she asks her sister Mary if she could come along with her after Mr Farebrother, the vicar, asked Mary to visit her mother.


Psychology in Middlemarch

I have read Middlemarch described as a psychological novel several times. It is true the characters and their motives are very well described and seem realistic. However, I was surprised to read the word 'psychology' in chapter 30: "a medical man likes to make psychological observation". The book was written about 1870, and was set about 1830, when Lydgate was reported having this thought. I thought that Sigmund Freud was the father of psychology, and that he did not get going until near the turn of the century. OTOH, phrenology, the practice of ascertaining a person's personality by the bumps on his skull had been around for a while. Phrenology was referred to in Jane Eyre. Phrenology was part of psychology, even if it now discredited.


Fred Vincy's problems (Middlemarch)

SPOILER Alert I am currently reading the section describing Fred Vincy's debt problems. For some reason, I found this section even more painful to read than Dorothea's unwise marriage to Mr Casaubon. When Fred devised the plan to buy a farmer's horse and sell it at the horse fair for a profit, it sounded like a deal that was certain to go wrong. Then I thought, no, this is George Elliot. Her plot lines are realistic and unpredictable. She may wrong foot us. Fred may discover a talent for horse trading and become immensely rich. When the plan went wrong the next day, and Fred had to tell the family friend, Caleb Garth, who had unwisely secured his debt, that he could not pay it, it was awful. Especially when Mr Garth's wife had to use the 92 she had saved to pay for her son's apprenticeship, and even his daughter, Mary, had to hand over 20 she had saved working as a governess. Reminds me a bit of Pip's trouble from Great Expectations. I am a bit concerned about developments in the Tertius Lydgate - Rosamund Vincy situation. Just marry her and cut out ten chapters from the book.


The vote for the hospital chaplain (Middlemarch)

Chapter 18 about the meeting to select the chaplain for the new hospital was the stand out chapter of the book so far. I think Lydgate made the right decision to vote for Tyke rather than Farebrother. Myself, I think Farebrother should have got the post for the reason Mr Hawley stated: that Mr Farebrother had been doing the job for free up to then, so it was not right to appoint someone else after a salary became associated with the post. Another point in Farebrother's favour is that he is cheerier company for the patients than Tyke was reported to be. Like Mr Powderell says, the prime consideration of the post should be the saving of the patients' souls, but how do you judge which of the two candidates is better at that? However Lydgate could not afford to get on the wrong side of Mr Bulstrode at this early stage of his career. If he had, he might as well have packed up and moved his practice to another town. The attendees seemed to be directors or trustees of the hospital. Four doctors, a lawyer, a banker, some of the local gentry were there, but so was a retired ironmonger, and a rich tanner. I was surprised people kept walking in during the meeting. Were some people late or did some start early? It seemed a lively meeting, with much frank speaking. It was a pity Lydgate was the last to arrive with the vote a draw, because he had to make the casting vote to let down his friend. Maybe that was a plan that backfired, because if he had arrived with one of the candidates having won by a margin of two, he could have voted for Tyke without letting down Farebrother.


Middlemarch economics

I am still trying to work out the correct multiplier for 1 between 19th Century and now. Previously I thought it was 80x going by the price of gold, but this did not reflect comparative standards of living. Pip in Great Expectations received 500 a year, which multiplied by 80 comes to 40,000 a year. This is quite a lot of money for a young, single man, but not outrageously so, especially when he secretly starts to donate half to further his friend's career. Then I thought 150x was a better multiplier, going by the incomes the characters were getting in New Grub Street. Those values seemed to work out quite well for middle class people, but not working class. From reading 19th century literature, 50 a year seems the minimum annual amount for a single person to live off, who has food and rent to pay for, but no servants. Angel Clare gives Tess 50 to live on while he's abroad. Ed Reardon in New Grub Street struggles to earn 150 a year as an author with wife and child to support and a young, female servant to pay. Ed Reardon says he previously worked as a clerk for 50 a year, but that 400 a year is reckoned comfortable. Bob Cratchit is paid 15 shillings a week by his employer Scrooge, but there is probably a bit of exaggeration in that. 37.50 would be an impossibly small amount to live on with a wife and five children to support. Anyway, I fixed on a 150x multiplier, even though it seemed too low when applied to poor people's incomes, but then I discovered that today's price of a gold sovereign is about 225. A gold sovereign represented 1 back then, so I decided a 225x multiplier would be a good one. That brings 50 a year closer to the minimum wage. However, chapter 14 of Middlemarch has thrown a spoke in that idea. Fred Vincy's uncle gives him 100, telling him 80 should be enough for a decent hunter (horses for fox hunting). Fred is slightly disappointed because he has been racking up gambling debts. I googled hunters and they seemed cost in the range of 3000 to 9000. 9000 would buy you a very good horse. That brings the multiplier back to about 100x again Mr Lydgate, the young doctor, has savings of 800, but thinks that will not go far in setting up his practice once the cost of his horse and carriage is paid for. Offhand, I cannot remember the exact configuration of this horse and carriage, but it sounds like it is indispensible for a country doctor to be taken seriously by his clients. I suppose that would be like a BMW, so that suggests a multiplier more in the 80-100x range. 100 seems to be a typical amount for Victorian characters to get into trouble with. Pip was pursued for a debt of about 115 from his jewellers; the young Tom Gradgrind steals just over 100 from Mr Bounderby's bank to cover his gambling debts. Now Fred Vincy appears to have gambling debts round about that mark. An 80x to100x multiplier would give a debt similar to that a young person can get into trouble with by maxing their credit cards. BTW, the exchange rate is currently 1 to $1.64, and 1 to 1.20 Euros.


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Saving this one for later as I don't want to read the plot spoilers. And another. And this one.


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