When last we left them, the Middlemarchers were fair to middling in their various life choices.
We had met Dorothea and DESPAIRED of her marrying that dull prosy old fart (Casaubon); and had made a tentative acquaintance with Tertius Lydgate.
Both Dorothea and Lydgate were sublimely happy in their life-choices (no matter how much I yelled at my book – it made no difference) and were intent on ensuring that they came to pass.
(So interesting that the hero and heroine of this book are clearly NOT intended for each other and lead dual narratives no…?)
Book 2, Old and Young starts with Fred Vincy & Mary Garth, veers off to Rosamond and Lydgate, (with whom we stay FAR to long, learning the ins and outs of a you-know-what regarding voting and chaplaincy etc) and then just when I am about to expire from insane amounts of boredom, Dorothea and Casaubon pop back in at the last minute, on their honeymoon; just in time to save me from screaming.
Ok. So I may be completely prejudiced against boring male characters in books. But book 2?
What happens you ask? I dot point:
- Fred Vincy, gets into a wee bit of strife with his uncle Featherstone. (Rumour has it he may have been trying to borrow money against a future inheritance from Featherstone…)
- He gets a parental-type – ‘no, I promise it’s just a vicious rumour’ note from Bulstrode (the Banker) to get him out of hot water.
- Featherstone decides to (in a most hilarious scene) bequeath Fred some money right away…alas – it was a very small sum of money
- Fred proposes to Mary who viciously rejects him (I would’ve cried if she had said that to me..)
- Then we meet Lydgate.
- Lydgate meets Bulstrode
- Lydgate ponders unfathomable possibilities about the state of the world, the universe, the soul and science, and of course RELIGION
- Lydgate meets Farebrother and TOGETHER they discuss unfathomable possibilities, etc. (see above)
- Lydgate meets a committee about appointing a new chaplain
- Lydegate ponders about voting.
- Lydgate votes
Valancy falls into a deep and exhausting boredom coma, only reviving with the tiny speck of hope that Dorothea was back and it was going to get GOOD.
And it did.
- Dorothea, the sheen rather rapidly wearing off her marriage, is on her honeymoon, abandoned and left to her own devices.
- She meets LADISLAW (whoop, whoop – the Unresolved Sexual Tension – it BRIMS over deliciously) and his artist friend Naumann.
- Naumann paints both Dorothea & Casaubon
- Dorothea & Casaubon have their first (but I am sure not their last) domestic.
END OF BOOK 2.
Eliot was just gently leading us through the shallows in the first book. This one feels like we have lost the floaties and are floundering about up to our neck. There are SO MANY MORE PEOPLE. More politics. More everything. The landscape has grown. The problems and characters are more nuanced, more complex.
See below for the GIGANTICALLY enlarged Character Map.
I be running out of space…
If Book 1 was about highfalutin’ ideals (i.e the prologue; Dorothea looking to worship at the feet of learned husband and teacher) then Book 2 is about the first chinks in those ideals.
Dorothea is just starting to learn that her choice in husband may not have been the most wise of choices. What seemed like a reasonable way of expanding her knowledge and learning, is really just the opposite. Casaubon is supposed to be collecting writings and information to create this AMAZING answer to all the world’s questions about mythologies…but it would appear the collecting is far more appealing than the actual doing.
‘How was it that in the weeks since her marriage, Dorothea had not distinctly observed but felt with a stifling depression, that the large vistas and wide fresh air which she had dreamed of finding in her husband’s mind were replaced by anterooms and winding passages which seemed to lead nowhither?…that, in fact, you are exploring an enclosed basin.’
Lydgate (currently no3 in my list of most boring people on the face of the planet) spends most of the book waxing lyrical about how he wants to be great – or at least combine science and doctoring in a way that makes him great.
‘I should never have been happy in any profession that did not call forth the highest intellectual strain, and yet keep me in good warm contact with my neighbors. There is nothing like the medical profession for that: one can have the exclusive scientific life that touches the distance and befriend the old fogies in the parish too.’
He has high expectations of what he can achieve with all his learning…but when push comes to shove; he folds like a cheap suit. –
‘For the first time Lydgate was feeling the hampering threadlike pressure of small social conditions, and their frustrating complexity.’
Eliot writes SLOW.
But her writing is decisive, even in the midst of nothing happening; and you get these clear insights into characters just by having to hang around them all while they ARE doing nothing.
‘Dr. Minchin was soft-handed, pale-complexioned, and of rounded outline, not to be distinguished from a mild clergyman in appearance: whereas Dr. Sprague was superfluously tall; his trousers got creased at the knees, and showed an excess of boot at a time when straps seemed necessary to any dignity of bearing; you heard him go in and out, and up and down, as if he had come to see after the roofing. In short, he had weight, and might be expected to grapple with a disease and throw it; while Dr. Minchin might be better able to detect it lurking and to circumvent it.’
‘Certainly, small feet and perfectly turned shoulders aid the impression of refined manners, and the right thing said seems quite astonishingly right when it is accompanied with exquisite curves of lip and eyelid. And Rosamond could say the right thing; for she was clever with that sort of cleverness which catches every tone except the humorous. Happily she never attempted to joke, and this perhaps was the most decisive mark of her cleverness.’
Also, there are these tiny vignettes of people and their escapades that look like they have just been thrown in there, but just as you relax, suddenly there is a double quick backpass and the lines connect and there is a completely interesting link between some seemingly unrelated person and all the Middlemarchers.
Case in Point: Lydgate had an affair with a Madame Laure in Paris. She had been accused of killing her husband whilst they were both on stage. He was an instant defendant of her, fell head over heels and then when he found out she really did kill him he was devastated.
“I will tell you something,” she said, in her cooing way, keeping her arms folded. “My foot really slipped…He wearied me; he was too fond: he would live in Paris, and not in my country; that was not agreeable to me.”
“Great God!” said Lydgate, in a groan of horror. “And you planned to murder him?”
“I did not plan: it came to me in the play— I meant to do it. ” Lydgate stood mute, and unconsciously pressed his hat on while he looked at her. He saw this woman—the first to whom he had given his young adoration—amid the throng of stupid criminals.’
So there I was, thinking it was just some unfortunate backstory, when out of the blue, Mr Farebrother, lets slip to Lydgate that he is in correspndence with Trawley (whom Lydgate lived with whilst in Paris) and clearly knew about the whole shermozzle.
You think it’s:
But really, it’s:
So we shall see where it all goes hmm…?
Next up: BOOK III: Waiting for Death.
Sounds tres upbeat, yes?
Valancy: desperately trying to find a way to work ’empty bigwiggism and obstructive trickery’ into a conversation somewhere…
Header Image: Portrait of George Eliot, mine – cos I just couldn’t find a good one anywhere – sigh…