Thanks be to Juhi of Nooks & Crannies, for starting this read-a-long and keeping me on track even when I don’t feel like it…
I have decided. Eliot is like casserole. A long, slow-cooked casserole that fills the house with its smell and impregnates itself into the curtains.
That’s not a bad thing by any stretch, but it is so very much a CASSEROLE. I may not have mentioned this, but I don’t really like casserole. At least, the idea of it anyway. It’s wholesome and filling, has lovely bits of carrot, generous meat and lashings of gravy; but I never FEEL like casserole.
I will pick almost ANYTHING in the world before I will pick casserole.
But then when it’s in front of me in a bowl and smelling delicious, I eat scads of it wondering why I ever thought it was bland and uninteresting.
Didn’t I realise the layers? The herbs? The interesting textures?
Why did I ever think casserole was BORING????
Thus, Eliot is Casserole.
She sounds boring; I sigh every time I think about picking her up. I procrastinate like a boss, until it’s too late, and I have to make myself read it and then BOOM: I am sucked into the lives and happenings of the Middlemarchers and I am castigating myself for EVER thinking they were dull.
(sorry Dorothea, mea culpa.)
So book III , the rather ominously entitled ‘Waiting for Death’ starts with the messy and complicated Fred Vincy, and rolls on very much in that vein.
The things of IMPORT that happen in book III:
Basically: People get sick and People Die. (Although not who you think and not who deserves it.)
- Fred be financially embarrassed. He needs to repay debts, but through a serious of unfortunate events, is unable to, so his good friends the Garths have to foot the bill of difference. Fred asked Caleb Garth to go guarantor, (rather than ask his father) and Caleb, being the jovial sort, did.
- The downside of this is that this is a devastating financial blow to the Garths; it stops one of their sons from going forth in education and takes all of Mary’s life savings
- It also throws a large spanner in the works of Fred’s ability to get Mary (Or as I am referring to them as: Frary.)
- Fred, then succumbs to illness. Misdiagnosed by the PLETHORA of doctors that seem to inhabit Middlemarch (has anyone wondered why there are SO MANY doctors in that town???) Lydgate finally comes to call and treats him successfully.
- Rosamund keeps throwing out lures to Lydgate; Lydgate keeps flirting with her, thinking himself safe from her clutches.
- unfortunately for Lydgate, he was NOT safe and book III ends up with them engaged.
- Dorothea and Casaubon return from their honeymoon
- Ladislaw writes to them.
- Dorothea & Casaubon have a good ol’ domestic, after which Casuabon collapses with a heart attack.
- Featherstone finally shuffles of the mortal coil. (dangnabit – I had my fingers crossed for someone else!)
- And CELIA gets engaged to Sir James (YAAAAAY!)
I have noticed as I am becoming further mired in the provincial life of the Middlemarchers, I am finding it increasingly difficult to judge any of them for their actions.
They all have reasons and their reasons are all valid.
Fred is happy-go-lucky, self-entitled, pecuniarily deficient, and really very likeable.
His view on life is simple and optimistic: He is a nice person with excellent taste, ergo:
1) nice things should happen to him
2) he should be able to indulge his excellent taste.
‘Fred disliked bad weather within doors…he bore the thunder with the certainty that it was transient…Fred was so good-tempered that if he looked glum under scolding, it was chiefly for propriety’s sake.’
He also has the financial acumen of a starfish….
‘[He saw] his father’s pocket as a last resource, so that his assets of hopefulness had a sort of gorgeous superfluity about them.’
‘Of what might be the capacity of his father’s pocket, Fred had only a vague notion: was not trade elastic? And would not the deficiencies of one year be made up for by the surplus of another?’
He also really really likes Mary:
‘Mary was a little hoyden, and Fred at six years old thought her the nicest girl in the world making her his wife with a brass ring which he had cut from an umbrella.’
I know, what a hunk right?
His actions are completely self-absorbed, but even then I can’t hate him.
He causes terrible financial issues for the Garths because of his carelessness and irresponsibility…BUT I still like him and I keep hoping:
1) He will step up and be a better person and,
2) that Mary will forgive for taking her life savings to pay a debt and let him court her.
Logically I know both of these hopes are ridiculous and ill-founded, but it doesn’t stop me from WISHING.
My fingers and my toes are completely crossed…
Rosamund & Lydgate = Rosagate
This is going to a be an EPIC disaster – I can tell.
But, Rosamond is determined to marry Lydgate. She is manipulative and encroaching and managing:
It was part of Rosamond’s cleverness to discern very subtly the faintest aroma of rank,
Plus, all universal signs are pointing to the fact that:
Rosamond had a Providence of her own who had kindly made her more charming than other girls, and who seemed to have arranged Fred’s illness and Mr. Wrench’s mistake in order to bring her and Lydgate within effective proximity.
And when you consider her current fate?
Mr. Ned Plymdale:
‘one of the good matches in Middlemarch, though not one of its leading minds’
This is Ned.
This is Lydgate.
Now really, can you blame her?
Also, Lydgate was quite happy to flirt with her, seek her out, enjoy her manifest charms and never think anymore of it –
‘This play at being a little in love was agreeable, and did not interfere with graver pursuits. Flirtation, after all, was not necessarily a singeing process.’
‘If a man could not love and be wise, surely he could flirt and be wise at the same time?’ Apparently not, cos Lydgate got caught by his coattails.
So whilst the karmic justice of it makes me smile, I KNOW Lydgate is never going to be happy with Rosamond. She is going to drive him MAD, And she will not understand the almost religiously intense fervour with which he views medicine and the need to make a better world through it.
Dorothea & Casaubon = Dorobon
Dorothea wants to DESPERATELY to do the wifely thing: ‘devotion which was to strengthen her husband’s life and exalt her own’
And she invested in this belief so deeply and wholeheartedly that she married Casaubon, that ‘in this solemnly pledged union of her life, duty would present itself in some new form of inspiration and give a new meaning to wifely love.’
Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite turned out like that.
‘Marriage, which was to bring guidance into worthy and imperative occupation, had not yet freed her from the gentlewoman’s oppressive liberty: it had not even filled her leisure with the ruminant joy of unchecked tenderness. Her blooming full-pulsed youth stood there in a moral imprisonment which made itself one with the chill, colorless, narrowed landscape, with the shrunken furniture, the never-read books, and the ghostly stag in a pale fantastic world that seemed to be vanishing from the daylight.’
That has to be one of the single most depressing paragraphs about marriage I have ever read.
Mrs Cadwallader thinks its because they went on a honeymoon:
“Mrs. Cadwallader says it is nonsense, people going a long journey when they are married. She says they get tired to death of each other, and can’t quarrel comfortably, as they would at home. “
But really, its because what they thought they wanted, and what they actually wanted; what they expected and what they got were so completely disparate that there was no way a middle ground could be met.
BUT they did have the jolliest blow up I’ve ever seen written. It made me laugh and cheer for Dorothea so hard:
With her first words, uttered in a tone that shook him, she startled Mr. Casaubon into looking at her, and meeting the flash of her eyes. “Why do you attribute to me a wish for anything that would annoy you? You speak to me as if I were something you had to contend against. Wait at least till I appear to consult my own pleasure apart from yours.”
“Dorothea, you are hasty,” answered Mr. Casaubon, nervously.
“I think it was you who were first hasty in your false suppositions about my feeling,” said Dorothea, in the same tone. The fire was not dissipated yet, and she thought it was ignoble in her husband not to apologize to her.
“We will, if you please, say no more on this subject, Dorothea. I have neither leisure nor energy for this kind of debate.”
Here Mr. Casaubon dipped his pen and made as if he would return to his writing, though his hand trembled so much that the words seemed to be written in an unknown character. There are answers which, in turning away wrath, only send it to the other end of the room, and to have a discussion coolly waived when you feel that justice is all on your own side is even more exasperating in marriage than in philosophy.
She began to work at once, and her hand did not tremble; on the contrary, in writing out the quotations which had been given to her the day before, she felt that she was forming her letters beautifully, and it seemed to her that she saw the construction of the Latin she was copying, and which she was beginning to understand, more clearly than usual. In her indignation there was a sense of superiority, but it went out for the present in firmness of stroke, and did not compress itself into an inward articulate voice pronouncing the once “affable archangel” a poor creature.
Unfortunately, Casaubon had the last word by collapsing with a heart attack
And then had the inconsideration NOT to die. So we’re still waiting. Which feels a little morbid – but I for one am TOTALLY ok with that.
Incidentally – do you think Eliot has a slight axe to grind re marriage?
I mean, Eliot herself, never married. She lived amidst the scorn and derision of being a ‘kept’ women for most of her life. I think its kind of interesting that most of all the marriages and engagements so far within Middlemarch, are horrible pairings:
- Dorothea who had her own choice (Casuabon)
- Rosamond who basically manipulated Lydgate into it
I am waiting to see what happens with Fred & Mary…but at the moment – when I think of Eliot and Marriage?
It may change though….next up Book IV – ( HALF WAY THROUGH!!!!!! ) is entitled THREE LOVE PROBLEMS…this is going to get real people – and I for one can not wait.
Eliot be CASSEROLE no more.
Valancy: now eating ALL her greens, including the sprouts, which are her LEAST favourite…
Header Image: portrait of George Eliot: a variation on a theme – mine. 😉
5 thoughts on “Middlemarch, Book III, Waiting for Death (or knee deep in the provincial life…)”
• Oh, this review! I love it so much that I cannot even BEGIN to express all my admiration for your writing and reviewing skills! I shall, however, taking a cue from you, attempt to dot-point!
• THE BEGINNING! YES YES YES. She is such a slow-cooked casserole, isn’t she, this woman, this author? Slow-cook/simmer is SUCH an apt way to think about Middlemarch
• THIS: I have noticed as I am becoming further mired in the provincial life of the Middlemarchers, I am finding it increasingly difficult to judge any of them for their actions.
YES! It’s very, very difficult to cast any of them as straightforward villains and/or heroes.
• Frary—LOLOLOL. You have much more patience with Fred than I do! I’d be tempted to kick him in the butts! But likening his financial acumen to a starfish DOES make me feel a little more charitable towards him! 😛 (also, awesome gif!) (P.S. I marked that bit about Fred wanting to make Mary his wife at age six, too!)
• Ned Plymdale & Lydgate look-alikes—On fleek! Also, Lol! My quota of patience went to Rosamond it seems while yours went to Fred’s!
• DOROBON-ROFL. Why don’t we just make that Doremon? 😛 And YES! I loved that scene as well! I was yelling, Go DODO!!! And lol, I did not think of C’s collapse as the last word but it so is, isn’t it?!!
• FWIW, I don’t think Eliot has an axe to grind against marriage. . . she herself had a very happy relationship (even though it wasn’t a relationship that was formally recognized). It’s significant I think that this relationship came only later on in her life, once she had had some living and some experiencing in her.
I think what she’s doing here is making her characters choose what-seems-to-them the most obvious partners/choices. . . we, as readers, know that they are terrible choices but we know this because we’re aware of the characters’ strengths and faults—a thing that the characters themselves are oblivious to. It’s no coincidence I think the one character who’s self-aware, Mary Garth, is not as eager to jump into holy matrimony as the other two are. . . that’s what I think of your question at this point anyway! Let’s see how it changes as we go deeper within the folds of Middlemarch!
P.S. Just remembered the Garths who do seem to have a happy marriage.
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Doremon – YES – that is it! lol.
And isn’t interesting how we all are noticing there is no real ONE POV – they are all facets of the multiplicity of the provincial life.
I realise that is probably the point of what Eliot is writing – but I love how it creeps up on you. It’s like these ever-widening ripples in a lake.
The abundance of multiplicity!
And I do agree – Eliot probably isn’t against marriage per-sae – But I guess life choices tend to involve picking partners and marrying so much, that it seems like everyone is making a TERRIBLE marriage decision.
And I like the juxtaposition of Dorotheas & Lydgate’s choices: Everyone, everywhere was saying Dorothea’s choice was a bad one (and it kinda was) but I imagine most of Middlemarch would think that Lydgate & Rosamond a suitable and respectable match…but I don’t think it’s going to turn out particularly well either!
And probably key is that quote you had in your post about Mrs Garth: ‘discerning what was unalterable, and submitting to it without murmuring.’
and ‘adoring her husband’s virtues’, she, accepting his deficiencies and then ‘met the consequences cheerfully.’
Both other couples have such EXPECTATIONS of their counterparts – irrational beliefs, too much dependance, etc – neither seem to truely sees and accepts their match…
Brilliant review, so enjoyed reading it! Your portrayal of the characters makes me want to hurry up and catch up to you – still on Book1 – I know, I’m a slow reader. But your reviews keep me plodding on, determined to finish! Thank you!!
Thank You! I am SO glad you have decided to venture into Middlemarch – Its a long journey – but I don’t think you will be disappointed! Keep me updated!