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2014 Group Reads - Archives > Middlemarch - Book 1

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message 1: by Silver (last edited May 01, 2014 06:03PM) (new)

Silver BOOK I


message 2: by Emma (new)

Emma (emmalaybourn) | 298 comments It's a few years since I last read Middlemarch, and I'd forgotten how funny it is (or maybe it didn't strike me as funny then?) I'm thinking particularly of Mr Brooke and all the deep areas of knowledge he has supposedly gone into, and the famous people he has supposedly met - just catching himself in time before he says he knew Virgil: yet he's obviously the most empty-headed person around. I suspect this particular joke might wear a little thin in the course of the book; but I was also amused, if rather more sadly, by Mr Casaubon's narrow expectations of marriage and his wonder that he isn't happier at his prospects.

So far, one of the book's main themes seems to be knowledge - how we acquire it, what we do with it: Mr Brooke and Mr Casaubon both have supposedly extensive knowledge that doesn't, however, make them wise. Dorothea's marriage, spurred on by her desire for learning and excellence, is clearly unwise.

And I like Celia and the relationship between her and Dorothea. Every page of this book is so packed with observation.

message 3: by Alysia (new)

Alysia (nineteenoone) Emma, I also really enjoyed Celia in the beginning of the book. I think what struck me the most was Casaubon's rhetorical style when speaking. His speech about 'talking with the dead' reminds me of Machiavelli's letters during his exile.

message 4: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4417 comments Mod
It's been years and years since I read Middlemarch. I found some very funny lines in it. I especially liked the one where Mrs. Codwalladar says her husband is too gracious so she must abuse everybody herself.

I wasn't really struck by the theme of knowledge. Instead I see a lot about the status of women and what makes a good marriage. I've got a lot more to say. It's taken me two days to be able to connect and access Goodreads. I don't have my notes near me so I will continue my comments tomorrow.

message 5: by Emma (new)

Emma (emmalaybourn) | 298 comments I think you're right, Deborah, about the status of women being a major theme. Some of this is tied up with women's education: eg the conversation between Mr Brooke and Casaubon about Dorothea's learning Greek - "too taxing for a woman," says Mr Brooke, though Casaubon is prepared to teach her some Greek, even if it's purely for his own benefit. I'm not sure if this might not have been quite advanced for the time the book is set (around 1830). But he's probably reflecting a common view of the time when he tells Dorothea: "The great charm of your sex is its capability of an ardent self-sacrificing affection, and herein we see its fitness to round and complete the existence of our own."

In other words, he's the one who really counts. I guess that's a view that lasted well into the 20th century, and is probably not extinct now...

message 6: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4417 comments Mod
I don't think it is extinct even now Emma. It's reflected in some of the things the U.S. health insurance companies cover (i.e. viagra is covered, birth control/hormone replacement is not).

message 7: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4417 comments Mod
Yeah, finally connected with my notes in hand.

There are many characters and many themes already in this book. As previously mentioned status of women. Also, what is a good woman. Dorothea is one type, Celia another, and we meet a third near the end of this section, Rosamond Vincy, who is touted to be the "perfect woman".

Dorothea believes that intellect and being effective is all that is important. Wanting to make a difference is not a modern concept, but one that would not have been easily accepted in this time period. Yet, she has a sensuous side (the joy she feels while riding and the joy she experiences in the color of the emeralds) (chapter 1 and 2). She feels these feelings must be stifled in order for her to live a good life. She has a thirst for knowledge in order that she may make a difference, but she also feels that in order to have a good marriage the man must be like a father to the wife, and one that could teach the wife what she needs to know.

Celia, is not so certain this self-deprecation is needed to this extent. She starts in awe of her sister, yet as she views the choice Dorothea makes in marriage, her sister becomes more human to her. She is not as superficial as one might suppose as she is described as not impulsive and willing to plan and wait for the most expedient time to communicate to get the results she wants.

We also have various types of men as well. Mr. Brooke, who appears good hearted, yet seems to be flightily in decisions and in beliefs. However, he is very much concerned with Dorothea's marriage choice, and does, in his own way, try to dissuade her. Unfortunately, he's not a strong enough personality to put his foot down and tell her absolutely not.

Casubon makes my skin crawl. He's arrogant and self-centered. He is only interested in his own pursuits. While he seems like he wants to make Dorothea happy, he readily agrees to not change anything so she can accommodate him. He is willing to teach her Latin, but feels she just needs to know how to read/write it and doesn't need to know how to understand it. He has spent literally years filling notebooks of information that appear will never be published or used in anyway. Yet, he says this is great calling in life. Because I'm a very liberal modern woman, I just want to smack him one on the side of the head and say get real. He also indicates he feels no truly strong passion for Dorothea.

James Chettam seems an interesting mix to me. While elegant, and gentry, he is also open to new ideas. He welcomes Dorothea's idea of the cottages with an open mind and is willing to be the guinea pig for this project. He is so much more well rounded than Casaubon. The fellow male characters like him because they view him as a manly man (successful in life and sport), yet looking passed that, I see a man who is kind and forward thinking.

Really enjoy Mrs. Cadwallader. She makes me smile every time I read of her escapades. No wonder the villages get a kick out her antics.

Even Casaubon's house is creepy. It says one side is happy while the others are melancholy. It doesn't sound like a place I would where I would want to live. Yet Dorothea is incapable of seeing it clearly. Instead she makes it part of an imaginary picture in her head about what her life will be like. It doesn't seem to bother her that he is planning on leaving her along quite a bit during their honeymoon so he can do his research.

There is so much more in these chapters. So far the themes I see are political (Mr. Brooke's viewpoint being changeable, and will he run or not run), what is a good woman, the role of women, what makes a good marriage, and self-absorption.

message 8: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4417 comments Mod
I have a question for all of you. What did you think of the line:

A woman dictates changes in her future home before marriage so she will be comfortable being submissive afterwards.

Is this a "bone" given to appease a woman? A bait and switch tactic?

message 9: by Emma (new)

Emma (emmalaybourn) | 298 comments I think it means she is allowed to make cosmetic changes to her circumstances, but in anything that matters is expected to cowtow to her husband once she is married. So I suppose that yes, it's a bone to appease the bride.

Actually I feel rather sorry for Mr Casaubon, who is well-meaning in his narrow-minded way. Certainly the images George Eliot draws of him and his house (with its "sombre yews" and "autumnal decline") do have a touch of the crypt. But it is rather unfair of Sir James to label him as "no better than a mummy" - that's the disappointed reaction of a man who has health and youth against a rival who has neither.

message 10: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4417 comments Mod
It's interesting to see a different viewpoint on Casaubon. I think he's a pompous jerk. I do see some good intentions, but I'm not yet sure they are sincere or is it just what he thinks he is supposed to do. I didn't see Sir James' remark as disappointment. Instead, I saw it as a reference to his cloister-like existence and the vast age difference between Dorothea and Casaubon.

message 11: by Hedi (last edited May 04, 2014 01:31PM) (new)

Hedi | 923 comments It is interesting to how many different types of people we get introduced in this first book.

Deborah, you mentioned the different types of women and I would add Mary Garth as a fourth one who grew up in proximity to Ms Rosamond Vincy.

Besides that we also get acquainted to different types of men like:

- Mr. Lydgate - the "noble" stranger in town

- Mr. Brooke - elder bachelor and guardian over his two nieces

- Mr. Casaubon - a (possibly) wannabe learned, who speaks a lot about his work without really achieving it, he also seems to marry more for the purpose of having someone to care for him than for true feelings (in this case it is not even money) shown by the description of his feelings when the wedding day was approaching.
I think the following describes him very well:
" It is true that he knew all the classical passages implying the contrary; but knowing classical passages, we find, is a mode of motion, which explains why they leave so little extra force for their personal application."

- Sir James Chettam - the young gentleman with probably conservative background, but as already described with an open mind to new things

- Fred Vincy - the irresponsible lad building up debts, disappointing his father

- Will Ladislaw - the dependent relative (offspring of the black sheep of the family)

George Eliot is an observer of different characters (which reminds me a little of Charles Dickens, who had read her first published stories in the Blackwood Magazine and recommended them highly) and she is giving us a lot of insight into their emotions and experiences. I really like her ability to capture different thoughts and emotions into words. What do you think about the narrator's remarks here and there, e.g. mentioning that she feels sadder for Mr. Casaubon than for Sir James?

And what do you think of the introductory quotes/ poems and of the prelude (I am not sure whether these are included in all the editions - mine is based on the first single-volume edition of 1873)?

I also think that this novel might be about the transition of times, moving from a more feudalist, agricultural and clerical social system to a more industrialized, scientific and open-minded/ possibly equal society. However, this will have to be proven in the following books.

I must admit I have already read on (and, unfortunately, without making a lot of notes) so that I have to be careful about possible spoilers.

Xan Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 101 comments Isn't Eliot a wonderful writer? Crisp, precise, and witty. I don't just love the stories she weaves; I love her writing. Anyone think of any modern authors whose writings are as crisp, precise, and witty as hers?

message 13: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 747 comments I think the 'woman dictates' line is more than George Elliot being droll. There's a spike to it, coming from a female author, especially one who took a male pen name to be taken seriously in her time.

Also, Casaubon wouldn't bother me if he stuck to his books and left Dorothea alone. He has been happily eccentric, scholarly enough to enjoy deference in society, and solitary in his behaviors. But then he decides to take a hot, young bride because she appeals to his ego and his declining faculties. Blech!

And Dorothea makes me crazy! She's such an innocent. She has such high standards for herself and good intentions, but such little self esteem. I truly sympathize with her thirst for knowledge, but am so pained by the way she has decided to attain it. Eliot says a mouthful when she suggests that Dorothea's constant deference is no way to teach her husband to respect her. She thinks she has bargained for a fatherly teacher, whom she can look up to and learn from, and work beside. But, I don't think she has been clear in her expectations. Casaubon only hears how happy she will be to serve him. What a huge temptation! Yet, I think a better man would have given SOME thought to what his bride should gain from the marriage, especially when the bride is so young and inexperienced.

message 14: by Hedi (new)

Hedi | 923 comments Renee wrote: "I think the 'woman dictates' line is more than George Elliot being droll. There's a spike to it, coming from a female author, especially one who took a male pen name to be taken seriously in her ti..."

Dorothea seems almost like the beautiful trophy wife, I was just5 surprised that Casaubon felt so absolutely unemotional/ not positively emotional about this wedding.
Dorothea is so naïve expecting a certain type of life even though she should have been wiser especially when receiving hints from others (Celia, her uncle). However, she seems to be a person of principles and I assume she will somehow bear the consequences of her doings, but who wishes this to such a young girl.

message 15: by Emma (new)

Emma (emmalaybourn) | 298 comments Hedi, you asked what we make of the introductory quotes to each chapter. I've just noticed that according to my old Penguin edition, any quotes that aren't credited to an author are assumed to be by George Eliot herself. So apparently she was making up pseudo-literary quotes to match her themes, which seems a little odd to me. I admit I've tended to skip through them, but maybe I'd better start paying them more attention...

message 16: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4417 comments Mod
Renee wrote: "I think the 'woman dictates' line is more than George Elliot being droll. There's a spike to it, coming from a female author, especially one who took a male pen name to be taken seriously in her ti..."

I couldn't agree with you more Renee.

message 17: by Hedi (last edited May 05, 2014 10:55AM) (new)

Hedi | 923 comments Emma wrote: "Hedi, you asked what we make of the introductory quotes to each chapter. I've just noticed that according to my old Penguin edition, any quotes that aren't credited to an author are assumed to be b..."

That is interesting, Emma. I have not read the introduction of my Everyman's Library edition. Therefore, I did not have a real clue about this. I have read them here and there, but have not always been able to make the connections. Now I will definitely pay more attention to them, especially those who do not have an explicit author. :-)

message 18: by Lily (last edited May 05, 2014 12:53PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments I noted that Dorothea and Celia are orphans, albeit as young adults. It has been remarked that authors often choose orphans as protagonists, giving them more "freedom" and less relationship guidance that they might have had as daughters or sons.

Am I the only person in the world who considers that Eliot paints Dorothea as a bit of an opinionated prig, accustomed to having her own way regardless of the hints of those around her? The divvying up the jewels has always gotten to me -- I'm not interested,...well..., okay, now that you insist, just the emeralds and diamonds. (Never mind that their value might well have outstripped that of all the other jewels.) I'll just act a little dog-faced for back-tracking a bit on my original position of none at all -- all yours.

From the text: (view spoiler)

Xan Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 101 comments I agree, Lilly. She is self-absorbed and a little too sure of her opinions. She has little tolerance for those who disagree with her and can be short with them. She is also a religious ascetic -- at least she pretends to be -- who is marrying a man who is equally self-absorbed and emotionally distant. Was it common back then to propose by letter?

I'm not partial to Dorothea, but she is young -- very young -- and has a lot of growing up to do.

The reader can see the pending disaster: She will be stuck with an old, hard man, who expects her to take care of him. But who is Dorothea right for? She may be pretty, but she is no prize.

Dorothea knows more things, but Celia is wiser, kinder, and more thoughtful. These sisters are polar opposites.

message 20: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 747 comments I agree that Dorothea, as she is, would be a prickly partner for most men. It's almost as if she developed her ideas about life in a vacuum. She needs the tempering of life experience or travel or variety of reading/study. Unfortunately, she has locked herself into a choice that she cannot help but regret in time.

message 21: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4417 comments Mod
I attributed Dorothea's prickliness to her being young. I like her, but she frustrates me. Celia also has a bit of a sly side. She plans and waits patiently so she can the response she wants from Dorothea. However, it does seem as if Celia sees the world more clearly. At this at this point.

message 22: by Susan from MD (last edited Jun 20, 2014 09:28AM) (new)

Susan from MD | 11 comments Deborah wrote: "I attributed Dorothea's prickliness to her being young. I like her, but she frustrates me. Celia also has a bit of a sly side. She plans and waits patiently so she can the response she wants from D..."

I've read through chapter 10 and hope to make more progress this weekend. I like the various sides to the characters - it makes them seem more real and less archetypal. Most of us are complex and have inconsistencies in our personalities and interactions with people.

I like that Dorothea is prickly and stubborn, but also that she, at least sometimes, realizes that she has gone too far and tries to make amends. She is an interesting character - she wants to attain this ideal she has in her head, but sometimes gets distracted (as with the jewels), she wants to be "smarter" but also is so willing to defer to Casaubon that she will compromise quickly, she wants to be independent but also to tie herself to someone who will dictate her life.

I like Celia, too. She has more going on than it appears on the outside! I look forward to seeing her evolve and to more of her interactions with her sister and uncle.

The other characters, too, all have elements that I either like or understand and seem reasonable to me - not so much characterizations as actual personalities. I can see these people in my head.

More later, but I've enjoyed reading the comments so far and look forward to popping back.

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