Middlemarch: Book II, Old and Young (Or, not everything is coming up roses…)


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.


My Thoughts?

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…

12 thoughts on “Middlemarch: Book II, Old and Young (Or, not everything is coming up roses…)

  1. Eliot is ponderous. And while I was reading this, pre-rom days, I was THRILLED when something mildly relationship-py would occur. I understood poor Dorothea’s need to DEVOTE herself to something transcendent and noble, but boy oh boy, Casaubon is one foolish, naïve choice. Mama and my Tante Fanny always said, “Whatever you do, marry a robust one.” I guess MIDDLEMARCH is one of those books that I appreciate and know it’s left its mark on me. And I’m glad I read it. But … I’ll stop here to await your further foray into Middlemarch.


    1. And Casaubon is defintely NOT robust…I suppose I am a little dubious as to how Dorothea never worked out before she married him, that he was a middling, colourless old bore. Or if she did, she could have thought the higher calling outweighed all that… I can work that out within 5 minutes of someone’s acquaintance….But again – difficult time in which to make choices about marriage etc…

      And in saying that, I really DO like it. I like how I have to slow down when I am reading it to fully appreciate it’s depths and you are absolutely right – it does leave it’s mark. It gets under your skin when you least expect it…I am hoping Book III, waiting for death holds an not-so-unfortunate end to the cold-fish-Casauabon….(!) (*fingers crossed*)


      1. Yup, Dorothea wants to martyr herself somehow. For a Protestant girl, I thought that was the height of martyrdom ignorance. I mean one doesn’t WANT to throw oneself on that pyre, lion’s jaws, etc. But she is bound and determined and all I could think about about was “Girl, you ain’t never gonna hear the angels sing” so to speak, with your non-robust husbo. I think once Casaubon too realizes what he’s gotten himself into (he’s expected to PERFORM intellectually and physically), he gets more and more dry-stick-y and kinda mean. BUT, thank the book-ish gods, for Fred and Mary: now, there’s a romance.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I know! That martyrdom is something one of those heathen METHODISTS in LM Montgomery totally would have done…but not a whitewashed, died-in-the-wool Protestant…(!)

          ooh – I totally agree re Fred & Mary – the sparks! And she was SO cold and harsh to him…but I think she is secretly crushing…I am awaiting that one!

          Poor Dorothea – I mean she made her bed, and now she’s got to lie in…but erk – it is tres uncomfortable.
          And Casaubon? That bit where he thought his happiness should COMPOUND because, well, you know – he deserved it? gee whiz.
          But I can only hope that she doesn’t moulder away with him forever. Seeings as theres another 5 parts!


  2. Wait, you created/painted that header image?! Wowowowow!!! *bows down* that’s amazing, Valancy!

    Onto book 2! I actually did not mind the slow pace though I did resort to reading bits of the whole Lydgate section out loud to make sure that I wasn’t losing the thread! I love how you put it, “you get these clear insights into characters just by having to hang around them all while they ARE doing nothing.” Yep!! You get such a complete sense of these characters, don’t you? Even though, as in the case with Dr. Minchin, and that other doctor fellow, you don’t get a whole lot of description but only a few lines?

    I love your apt description of the first two books! “If Book 1 was about highfalutin’ ideals then Book 2 is about the first chinks in those ideals.” Yes, EXACTLY! Also love that gargantuan character map!

    And as for Will, and Dorothea, I can’t help wanting both of them to grow up a little and mature a little before they get together (because Waiting for Death HAS to be about Casaubon dying, right?!)

    P.S. I was thinking recently that it doesn’t matter whether the book you review is one that I would read or not–you make your reviews so interesting that they’re fun to read all on their own!!


    1. oh – thank you! And vice versa. 🙂
      I was actually just thinking about how I always like to know what you think about different books, because you always have an interesting take and interpretation on them, and in a way I usually haven’t thought about before ! 🙂

      And oooh – I agree – Will and Dorothea DEFINITELY have to grow up – they take offence so easily – it’s a little exhausting! If they got together now, they would just fight like cats and dogs…

      I will admit to nodding off over some parts of this book — but once Dorothea and Casaubon reentered, I perked right back up. Like Miss Bates said, I totally hang out for the relationship-y bits – it kind of holds the whole thing together.

      Eliot excels at using a tiny amount of words to explain someone’s character so succinctly – I am completely in awe.

      Also – I’m not sure if I SHOULD be filled with optimism at the thought of Casaubon carking it….but I am oh-so-hopeful that he does…(I feel awful for thinking it, but he is the equivalent of a literary road-bock)

      As always – thank you for your awesomely moral-boosting comments!
      (*preening quietly*) lol


      1. aww shucks – thank you (although tbh, with Illustrator and Photoshop…it’s not really as artsy-fartsy as it looks) – BUT it is blue – just like my castle – and that continuity makes me purr like contented cat.
        (as does alliteration lol)

        happy breezy baby


  3. I also meant to say that I didn’t think of Lydgate as the hero but he sort of is, isn’t he? Interesting that! I wonder if more heroes/heroines are going to come up in the third and the fourth book!

    And I know what you and Miss B. mean about the relationship-y bit. It happens to me too but so far it hasn’t happened in this one. . . dunno, if that’s going to change as we go along! Let’s see what book 3 brings!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t think there is a hero to the novel (if there is one, it’s Dorothea and it takes her a long time to become one … it’s more of a hero’s coming of age novel) … the heroic stuff happens off-site. If there is “hero,” it’s the sheer dogged vitality of Middlemarch itself. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on this once you’re done.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can understand your boredom with Book Two – the entire voting for the new chaplain part was rather long. I didn’t even write about it in my Book Two post. But I appreciated it for one reason – it gave me more insight into Lydgate’s character. He really likes Farebrother (aptly named?) but decided to be practical and vote for Tyke. Also, he really didn’t want to be involved in the whole mess in the first place. He made some comment about “confound their petty politics.” I don’t really find myself liking him very much, but I am interested in him, especially his coming train-wreck relationship with Rosamund.

    And I don’t know that I caught on to that whole thing with Farebrother and Trawley – that is interesting!

    Loved reading your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Farebrother is SO aptly named. Reminded me a little of one of those characters in Bunyon’s Pilgrim’s Progress, like Goodwill, or Old Honest…

      ooh – and trainwreck — I like that descriptor! It does have that feel about it doesn’t it? What with the avaricious Miss Rosamond and Lydgate’s obliviousness to it….

      We shall see how it all progresses….!

      Liked by 1 person

what are your thoughts?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s