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Archived Group Reads 2016 > Middlemarch, Book I: Miss Brooke: October 15-21

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Frances (francesab) | 304 comments In the opening book we are introduced to the various residents of Middlemarch. We have 2 potential heroines who, while both young and beautiful, are very different. Dorothea Brooke, the ascetic, aspiring scholar, has entered into marriage with Mr Casaubon with a view to assisting him in his great work of scholarship. Rosamond Vincy has a much more traditional view of life ahead of her, and is desperate to meet someone better than the current group of young men within her social circle. Rounding out the group of young women with futures to arrange are Celia Brooke and Mary Garth who both seem to be hidden in the shadow of their more beautiful sister and friend.

As for the men, we are presented with the contrasting Mr. Casaubon and Sir James Chettam as suitors for Dorothea, with Fred Vincy who appears, if not an open suitor, to have a decided interest in Mary Garth, as well as the enigmatic Will Ladislaw and the new arrival, Dr Lydgate.

These characters play out their stories against the ever-present issues of money, social standing and family relationships, all of which seem to be in a state of flux.

How does the author portray the relationship between the newly married couple? Several characters speculate on how long Dorothea will be happy-what do you think?

What other potential relationships do you see for the young people we have met? Where does their current social status or income place them in the "marriage market" and do you see any room for movement?

For those of you who are rereading, are there new things that you pick up on in this section that you didn't see before, which you can divulge without giving away the plot?

We seem to be about split between newcomers to the novel and people who are rereading. Please be careful about spoilers when discussing.


Jane Greensmith (janegs) | 149 comments There are a lot of characters, and even though I am rereading for the nth time, I had to make a mental map to keep all the relationships straight in my head. Particularly the connections between the Vincys, Bulstrodes, and Featherstone, and Garth families.

I absolutely love Dorothea Brooke, for many of the same reasons that I love Emma Woodhouse. Despite her many flaws, she has a large and generous heart and sincerely wants to do good in the world. She is also very young and without the benefit of a strong parent to guide her impulses.

I like Mr. Brooke more on this reading--he is a bumbling fool, but at least he is interested in the world around him.

I love Eliot's way of describing her characters, particularly Causubon's wintry smile.


Frances (francesab) | 304 comments I was struck by how often Casaubon was described as being "dry". It absolutely gives a sense of someone with no feelings, no warmth. My favourite was
"He has got no good red blood in his body," said Sir James.

"No. Somebody put a drop under a magnifying-glass and it was all semicolons and parentheses," said Mrs. Cadwallader.



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Everyman | 2531 comments One feature of Middlemarch is that it may be the only book which is named after, and is centered around, a place. (Northanger Abbey is the only book I can think of offhand which is also named after a location, but it isn't really about the Abbey.)

The subtitle of Middlemarch is, I think, to be taken quite seriously: A Study of Provincial Life. It is not just a novel, but is a study. While it works through characters, of course, it is also, as I see it, a book about what life in a small town was like during a tumultuous period in English life.*

Eliot did extensive research into the period of the novel, delving into, for example, the status of medicine and the changes happening in that field. Here, for example, is a link to the first page of an article titled "George Eliot's Scrupulous Research: the Facts behind Eliot's Use of the "Keepsake in Middlemarch." Those with access to JSTOR can presumably retrieve the full article, but just this page is sufficient to show how meticulous her research could be. Warning: there are some mild spoilers here for first time readers of Middlemarch.
https://www.jstor.org/stable/20082642...

Let's keep aware as we read not only of the lives of the characters and what they are doing and living through, but of what the events of the book have to say about life in an English town (usually considered loosely based on Coventry, where Eliot lived with her father from age 21 to 30) during the 1830s.



*A good look at some of the changes in English society during this time can be found in the marvelous BBC series Full Steam Ahead, available on Youtube, first episode at
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cioGo...
many of the most extraordinary and not often recognized changes the railroad revolution brought about were happening just at the time in which Middlemarch is set.


Peter Frances wrote: "I was struck by how often Casaubon was described as being "dry". It absolutely gives a sense of someone with no feelings, no warmth. My favourite was
"He has got no good red blood in his body," sa..."


I agree. Casaubon is "dry" with "iron-grey hair." I see this dryness and rigidity as being his defining characteristics. His interest is in the past, primarily the ancient, dead past. Books that very few care about any more, and fewer people read.

Eliot uses Casaubon's dull dryness to contrast with the current, and what might be the future. Mr Brooke also looks to the past in terms of agricultural techniques. Dorothea, on the other hand, asks if it "is not a sin to make yourself poor in performing experiments for the good of all." This first section establishes a clear pattern.


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JJ | 52 comments Hello, I'm new here and I was disappointed to have missed out on the group reading of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I loved his Woman in White! I am happy about getting to be a part of this group reading. It's my first time reading this book and I'm really enjoying it.

Dorothea will probably be miserable before they even get back from their wedding travels. All she really has for him is great respect (not love). I hope Mr. Casaubon does not turn out abusive or mean to Dorothea. Once her married life sinks in she will hopefully have a more realistic view of things. I can see her running off with Will Ladislaw or becoming a widow. Although that's all mere speculation.

Mary Garth is my favorite character so far. Rosamond is self-centred and would not be nearly as interested in Mr. Lydgate if she knew about his finances and poor relations. In my opinion, Mary Garth and Mr. Lydgate would be a good match. However, it's obvious that Fred has feelings for Mary Garth. Because of the status gap between the two, I doubt Fred will be able to marry her. His parents would prefer him to marry someone like Celia. They would also prefer Rosamond to marry someone like Sir James because of his social standing.

The sibling relationship between Mrs. Waule and Mr. Featherstone is comical. I liked the part near the end when he asked her to leave.

"Even those neighbors...had ever accused him of being insincerely polite, and his sister was quite used to the peculiar absence of ceremony...Indeed, she herself was accustomed to think that entire freedom from the necessity of behaving agreeably was included in the Almighty's intentions about families."


Jane Greensmith (janegs) | 149 comments Everyman wrote: "Eliot did extensive research into the period of the novel, delving into, for example, the status of medicine and the changes happening in that field..."

When is the timeframe of the novel versus when Eliot wrote it?


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Bharathi (bharathi14) | 158 comments The novel was published in 1871. So probably George Eliot was writing it in the 1860s. It is set during the time of the 1st Reform Act which would be in the late 1820s or early 1830s.
Here is a Wikipedia link
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middl...


Jane Greensmith (janegs) | 149 comments So that would be like writing about the 1970s today. Having lived through them, I wouldn't feel the need to do too much research. Do you think the mechanics of life changed more between 1830 and 1870, or between 1970 and 2010?


Everyman | 2531 comments Jane wrote: "So that would be like writing about the 1970s today. Having lived through them, I wouldn't feel the need to do too much research. ."

But we have a much more information based society today. Eliot, for example, read issues of the Lancet medical journal to get a better flavor of the timing, rapidity, and acceptance of changes in medicine. Even though I also lived through the 1970s, if I were writing a novel about a scientific community, for example, I would need to do a lot of research on what was going on when.


Everyman | 2531 comments Started re-reading last night. I had forgotten how superb Eliot's writing is. Her hand is so light that sometimes it takes a bit to really dig out all the social commentary (contrary to Dickens, for example, who shoves it into your face).

The role of women in the society, for example, is clearly an important issue in the early pages, but she never specifically addresses it as such, but brings it up through the choices the characters are making. The difference between Dorothea and Celia regarding the jewels, for example, shows the influence of changing religious doctrines on personal lifestyle decisions.

The issue of marriage comes up early, of course, but is given such a rich treatment in just a few pages. "And how should Dorothea not marry?—a girl so handsome and with such prospects? Nothing could hinder it but her love of extremes, and her insistence on regulating life according to notions which might cause a wary man to hesitate before he made her an offer,..."

A wary man would perhaps not have the confidence that Chettam has that he could manage a woman: "As to the excessive religiousness alleged against Miss Brooke, he had a very indefinite notion of what it consisted in, and thought that it would die out with marriage." And his overt sexism, which I think we are to consider widespread at the time: "A man's mind—what there is of it—has always the advantage of being masculine,—as the smallest birch-tree is of a higher kind than the most soaring palm,—and even his ignorance is of a sounder quality. "

All that, and so much more, in just the first few pages!

And that women were starting to get a right to manage their own


Everyman | 2531 comments All the epigraphs that Eliot includes are beautifully chosen, but particularly that for Chapter 2, from Don Quixote:

"'Seest thou not yon cavalier who cometh toward us on a dapple-gray steed, and weareth a golden helmet?' 'What I see,' answered Sancho, 'is nothing but a man on a gray ass like my own, who carries something shiny on his head.' 'Just so,' answered Don Quixote: 'and that resplendent object is the helmet of Mambrino.'"

What a perfect assessment of Dorothea's first view of Casaubon. Like Don Quixote, she sees what she wants to, while Celia, being the Sancho to her DQ, sees much more accurately what is actually there. But she won't believe Celia any more than DQ believed Sancho. And like DQ, her inability to see what is there rather than what she wants to see will bring her grief.

It is a marvelously chosen epigraph.


Vanessa Winn | 61 comments The prelude is very ominous, with its description of women like Saint Teresa, who instead live lives of "mistakes, the offspring of a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness or opportunity." The parallel with Dorothea comes quickly in the first paragraph of the novel, with her plain dress, comparison to the 'Blessed Virgin' and biblical quotes, and religious idealism. When Casaubon praises her for her 'self-sacrificing affection', and talks of flowers withering in his hand, things look pretty gloomy for Dorothea...


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Jane Greensmith (janegs) | 149 comments Vanessa wrote: "The prelude is very ominous, with its description of women like Saint Teresa, who instead live lives of "mistakes, the offspring of a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness or opp..."

A friend of mine once described Middlemarch as being about disappointment. I'm not altogether sure that's all it's about, but it is about life and the choices people make and the consequences of those choices.


Peter Jane wrote: "Vanessa wrote: "The prelude is very ominous, with its description of women like Saint Teresa, who instead live lives of "mistakes, the offspring of a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the..."

Yes. I would say if one wanted an over-riding motif then the word disappointment would fit just fine.


Peter Vanessa wrote: "The prelude is very ominous, with its description of women like Saint Teresa, who instead live lives of "mistakes, the offspring of a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness or opp..."

Hi Vanessa

Was it good timing or fate that placed your post just before that of Jane?

The prelude does send clouds over the landscape. That, with Everyman's post #12, and his comments about the epigraph, all lean towards a general feeling of disappointment. Of course, one could argue that Don Quixote is about faith, belief and vision, but I think Eliot's lens looks differently from Cervantes.


Everyman | 2531 comments Peter wrote: "Yes. I would say if one wanted an over-riding motif then the word disappointment would fit just fine. "

Hmmm. I would perhaps not go with disappointment, but with -- I'm going put the rest in spoiler quotes, since while I don't allude to any specific events of the novel, I am talking about the overall motif of the novel as a whole, which really should be held back for later chapters, but the issue got raised here. (view spoiler)


Everyman | 2531 comments Dorothea is painted as the heroine of the story, the one who reads deep books and thinks deep thoughts, her life getting much more attention than Celia's. But isn't it true that Celia is in fact the wiser one, certainly when it comes to clearness of understanding?

She sees, which Dorothea can't, that Causabon will not make her happy. She sees quite clearly, what Dorothea is blind to, that Chettam's interest in the houses has little to do with the houses and all to do with planning to propose to Dorothea. She may be overshadowed by Dorothea (Chettam is blinded by his interest in Dorothea and doesn't really see her until he is faced with Dorothea's acceptance of Causabon, and then suddenly he realizes that the real jewel has been hiding beneath Dorothea's basket. Aren't we pretty sure that Celia will make Chettam a much better wife than Dorothea ever would have?


Everyman | 2531 comments Dorothea's ignorance of Chettam's feelings and reasons for interest in her building plans and her insistence that his real interest must be for Celia reminds me powerfully of Emma's ignorance of Mr. Elton's feelings and reasons for interest in her drawing and quizzing and her insistence that his real interest must be in Miss Smith.


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Lynne Pennington (bluemoonladylynne) | 243 comments Mod
Getting ready to go out-of-town for a few days so will comment even though I am not quite through with Book 1. This is my first ever reading not only of Middlemarch, but also of Eliot. By the middle of Book 1 I was hooked. Though Dorothea seems to be the main female character, I cannot imagine any man preferring her to Celia. Celia would definitely make the more "fun date". Even in the Victorian era, I would think. Dorothea may be well-read and more thoughtful, but she is much less wise than Celia. I was very surprised to find so much tongue-in-cheek humor, or am I misreading something? There were comments that made me "smile out loud", if you know what I mean. Just got to the introduction of all the other characters, so will be taking my Kindle along to the "Mother Earth News Fair". Bees, goat husbandry, solar power---working my way toward being a true Victorian country farmer!


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Jane Greensmith (janegs) | 149 comments Everyman wrote: "Dorothea's ignorance of Chettam's feelings and reasons for interest in her building plans and her insistence that his real interest must be for Celia reminds me powerfully of Emma's ignorance of Mr..."

Yes, Dorothea's misreading of Chettam's interest is definitely reminiscent of Emma's misreading of Mr. Elton's interest--both see what they want to see.


Vanessa Winn | 61 comments Peter wrote: "Vanessa wrote: "The prelude is very ominous, with its description of women like Saint Teresa, who instead live lives of "mistakes, the offspring of a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the..."

Not sure about my post, but there does seems to be a developing theme of fate, or at least limited opportunities, shaping the lives of people. I agree with Jane's suggestion about an undercurrent of disappointment as well. In taking another look at these chapters, I noticed that Eliot touches on disappointment at the end of Chap 6, generalizing from Sir Jame's resilience in paying a visit to the Grange, so soon after learning of Dorothea's engagement. I quite liked him for it, despite his amusingly quick transfer of affection to Celia.

Celia might also be similar to Sancho in providing some comic relief to her sister. I found Dorothea quite condescending toward her, especially pinching her like a cherub, "hardly more in need of salvation than a squirrel." I loved the part where Celia provokes her about Casaubon, despite her fear after she had hurled a "light javelin." Some very funny lines!


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JJ | 52 comments Lynne wrote: "Getting ready to go out-of-town for a few days so will comment even though I am not quite through with Book 1. This is my first ever reading not only of Middlemarch, but also of Eliot. By the middl..."

Yes, I agree with you. It would seem that Celia should have more appeal than Dorothea. Dorothea is strict about her conduct in regards to her religious beliefs; which Celia points out how easy it is to be hypocritical over such strictness. For example, when they were dividing their mother's jewelry and Dorothea decides she wants to keep a dazzling ring and bracelet after all.
"They are lovely said Dorothea, slipping the ring and bracelet on her finely-turned finger and wrist...All the while her thought was trying to justify her delight in colours by merging them in her mystic religious joy." Again when Sir. James wants to let her use one of his fine horses to go riding on, Dorothea refuses and says she wants to give up riding because of her religion. As I continue to read, Elliot shows interesting conflicts of religion in social settings. As it is used to either assimilate or isolate based solely upon one's own conviction.

Mrs. Cadwallader did approve of the match to Sir James (even prearranged their marriage when the Brooke girls first moved to Middlemarch). She was hoping that with age Dodo would come to her senses. It could be that Sir. James was so drawn to Dorothea because of some influences from Mrs. Cadwallader. After all, he did (quickly) start to think of Celia the better option after the suggestion made from Mrs. Cadwallader.

Hope you have a good time at the Mother Earth News Fair! The solar power part sounds fun and interesting.


LindaH | 499 comments Everyman mentions earlier the exchange between the Brooke sisters over the jewelry. I actually had to read the text several times to see Dorothea's complete insensitivity to Celia's feelings. (It didn't jump out at me on the audio, and I'm sure I never caught the dynamic years ago.)

The emeralds are the most valuable jewels in the casket. Eliot tells us:

“the finest that was obvious at first being a necklace of purple amethysts"

After denigrating the wearing of jewels and insisting that Celia have the amethysts, Dorothea claims the suddenly-visible emeralds. Oblivious to Celia, she slips them on, as if in an act of penance.

"All the while her thought was trying to justify her delight in the colors by merging them in her mystic religious joy.”

It is clear Celia would have wanted the emeralds.

“You would [italicized] like those, Dorothea," said Celia, rather falteringly, beginning to think with wonder that her sister showed some weakness, and also that emeralds would suit her own complexion even better than purple amethysts”

Dorothea misses that Celia offers her an alternative, and then disparages the gems as merchandise. Celia hopes this means the emeralds are hers by default, but no...Dorothea decides to keep them...and perhaps even wear them.

“Perhaps," she said, rather haughtily. "I cannot tell to what level I may sink."

There is this wonderful little riposte, though unuttered, from Celia.

"I am sure—at least, I trust," thought Celia, "that the wearing of a necklace will not interfere with my prayers”


Everyman | 2531 comments Lynne wrote: "I was very surprised to find so much tongue-in-cheek humor, or am I misreading something?.."

You are absolutely not misreading things. Eliot has a sense of humor that is sometimes even more subtle than Austen, and that's saying a lot. It's humor that requires attention and intelligence to appreciate.


Everyman | 2531 comments JJ wrote: "Lynne wrote: "It could be that Sir. James was so drawn to Dorothea because of some influences from Mrs. Cadwallader.."

That plus, I think, the prospect that Dorothea's male child would inherit Mr. Brooke's substantial property which adjoined Chettam's, so that there would be a considerably larger estate. Property was one of the reasons to marry in those days, and a good prospect would make it easier to fall in love even with a Dorothea.


Everyman | 2531 comments Linda wrote: "Everyman mentions earlier the exchange between the Brooke sisters over the jewelry. I actually had to read the text several times to see Dorothea's complete insensitivity to Celia's feelings. (It d..."

Nice analysis and comment. Yes, Dorothea is, as you say, insensitive to Celia's feelings -- and Celia can hardly ask for the Emeralds too when she's getting everything else.

There is another element to note in that conversation (well, many others, but this is one). Celia noticed that it was inconsistent of Dorothea to renounce gems yet choose to take the emeralds. After which Celia thinks "... But Dorothea is not always consistent."

Here is another point at which Celia understands Dorothea perhaps better than she understands herself.


Everyman | 2531 comments Painting and art were a great interest of Eliot, and they pervade this book, though sometimes in subtle ways. In the second sentence of this book she says that "she could wear sleeves not less bare of style than those in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Italian painters."

The description of the jewels is focuses greatly on aspects of them, the color, the light, that a painter painting them would focus on.

Then down in Chapter 12, she says of Mary Garth that " Rembrandt would have painted her with pleasure, and would have made her broad features look out of the canvas with intelligent honesty." Again, as with Dorothea, she looks at her characters in the way a painter would.

This is not, I think, a coincidence, as I think we'll see as the book moves forward.


Janice (JG) It's interesting that the common opinion about Dorothea and Celia in this thread is similar to Eliot's "rural opinion":
"The rural opinion about the new young ladies, even among the cottagers, was generally in favor of Celia, as being so amiable and innocent-looking, while Miss Brooke's large eyes seemed, like her religion, too unusual and striking. Poor Dorothea! compared with her, the innocent-looking Celia was knowing and worldly-wise; so much subtler is a human mind than the outside tissues which make a sort of blazonry or clock-face for it."
Someone mentioned Dorothea's choosing not to ride because of her religious feelings, and I love this reasoning that Eliot gives her:
"Riding was an indulgence which she allowed herself in spite of conscientious qualms; she felt that she enjoyed it in a pagan sensuous way, and always looked forward to renouncing it."
I think that while Celia is much more grounded than Dorothea, I kept getting the feeling that if I looked closely enough at Dorothea I would find shadings of Eliot herself, and I wondered how much Dorothea resembled Eliot's secret self. Dorothea is complicated, and while right now she has almost childish religious fervor, there is something deeper that she is seeking, that is calling to her.


Janice (JG) Everyman wrote: "The role of women in the society, for example, is clearly an important issue in the early pages, but she never specifically addresses it as such, but brings it up through the choices the characters are making...."

There's a very interesting dialogue between Fred and Mr. Featherstone. Fred wants to bring more books for Mary to read because "She is very fond of reading," and Mr. Featherstone objects, "A little too fond... She was reading when she sat with me. But I put a stop to that... I can't abide to see her reading to herself."

I have this wonderful book, Women Who Read Are Dangerous, that is a collection of paintings over the centuries of women who are reading, and each painting is accompanied by commentary about it. There are many paintings of women reading, many more than would seem logical, especially since literacy and the availability of books has been denied women historically.

But it turns out that what fascinates painters about women reading is the possibility of women capable of living secret lives. As Karen Joe Fowler says in the Forward:
"Should women be permitted to have secret lives? Should they be permitted, even within the confines of their own imaginations, to be unchaste? Can they be allowed imagine themselves as men? Is reading, in its inextricable essence, a combative act, the woman so engaged being temporarily self-interested and independent rather than other-directed in an appropriately womanly way?"
Woman Reading(1668-70) by Pieter Janssens Elinga




Janice (JG) Everyman wrote: "Painting and art were a great interest of Eliot, and they pervade this book, though sometimes in subtle ways. In the second sentence of this book she says that "she could wear sleeves not less bare..."

I loved Eliot's description of the paintings Mr. Brooke's had in his home and how Dorothea saw them, "To poor Dorothea these severe classical nudities and smirking Renaissance-Correggiosities were painfully inexplicable..."

Correggiosities! I just love saying it over and over.


Janice (JG) I am especially enjoying Eliot's keen insights into our human flaws and follies....

"And certainly, the mistakes that we male and female mortals make when we have our own way might fairly raise some wonder that we are so fond of it."

"One can begin so many things with a new person! -- even begin to be a better man."


LindaH | 499 comments Janice wrote "...shadings of Eliot herself..."

Despite how badly Dorothea comes off in this first section, she does seem the character who most resembles the young intellectual Eliot who has strong emotional attachments to men in publishing, men who take her ideas seriously. I am drawn to Dorothea for this reason. She lives in her head and is very unattractive compared to Celia. She is stupid about Casuabon. I have to wonder, what is Eliot up to?


LindaH | 499 comments Thanks, Janice, for posting the painting and commentary from Women Who Read..., and EVeryman, for suggesting Eliot writes through painter's eyes. The art connection and the inner secret world connection are both fascinating to me as I reread Eliot.


Everyman | 2531 comments Another instance of Eliot's painter's eye is in Dorothea's view of Causabon: ""Celia! He is one of the most distinguished-looking men I ever saw. He is remarkably like the portrait of Locke. He has the same deep eye-sockets." "


message 36: by Lynne, In Memoriam (last edited Oct 24, 2016 11:48AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lynne Pennington (bluemoonladylynne) | 243 comments Mod
Janice(JG) wrote: "Everyman wrote: "The role of women in the society, for example, is clearly an important issue in the early pages, but she never specifically addresses it as such, but brings it up through the choic..."

Love the mention about "women who read". It is a book I will definitely seek out! Politics aside, there is a photo of Hillary Clinton that went viral that shows her all alone in a drab room on a folding chair----reading. Just thought it was a very modern version of the painting posted. Quite similar. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Middlemarch, like so many other Victorian novels, is elegant in its portrayal of women who are more than ornamental---generally thanks to reading and education. Are the Victorian female authors typical or atypical of their times? I am not particularly well-schooled in female Victorian authors, other than to enjoy their writing. I am trying to read Eliot just to enjoy the novel, but am finding it difficult because it provokes so many questions. Should I be writing them down and posting them here? Thanks for all input.


Frances (francesab) | 304 comments I haven't done any formal studies of Victorian lit, but would assume that published women writers from that time would have had to be pretty atypical-likely better read, more independent and probably less inclined to socialize (you would have had to protect a lot of time to do all that reading and writing).


Janice (JG) Frances wrote: "I haven't done any formal studies of Victorian lit, but would assume that published women writers from that time would have had to be pretty atypical-likely better read, more independent and probab..."

I was thinking about this while reading Eliot, and thinking about Austen, who was writing (and being read) even earlier. It's easy enough to enjoy the perspective from 2016, which lends humor and amusement (and bemusement) to these women authors and their works, but when I try to put myself in their eras with the reality of the truly desperate and cold common criteria of the circumstances of marriage at that time, then I can get a little bit of a grasp on just how dangerous Austin and Eliot must have seemed to the status quo of the time.

How wonderful and scary it must have been to be them, then. And more than ever, it makes me think Austen really died of a broken heart, no matter what the doctors diagnosed.


Everyman | 2531 comments Frances wrote: "I haven't done any formal studies of Victorian lit, but would assume that published women writers from that time would have had to be pretty atypical-likely better read, more independent and probab..."

Also relevant is that many of them who are well known today published under male pen names -- George Eliot for one, the Brontes, at least originally for others. It wasn't accepted, as I see it, that women could write serious work; only romances and such, such as Radcliffe.


LindaH | 499 comments Frances: well-read, independent, less socializing

Your assumptions are particularly true of Eliot. Her father gave her a classical education. As a young woman She worked her way into publishing and quickly became an editor at a prestigious journal. She had an unconventional relationship with a married man; they considered themselves married and lived openly, despite social disapproval.


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Lynne Pennington (bluemoonladylynne) | 243 comments Mod
All very relevant and helpful comments for me. Many thanks! Yes it is hard to evaluate from our milieu versus what it must have been like to live in the 1800's. I try to put myself in their position, but it is so very hard to do, especially with a limited knowledge of what it was like---or knowledge limited to fiction reading and tv or movies. Looking forward to the next section of reading---am I the only one who keeps a "cheat sheet" handy for the extra people and relationships?


Everyman | 2531 comments Lynne wrote: "am I the only one who keeps a "cheat sheet" handy for the extra people and relationships? ."

Not at all. Even after multiple readings I need help keeping track of some of the details, especially the exact family relationships as we get deeper into the book. I can never remember who .. but no, that would be a spoiler. Can't say it here!!!


Evelina | AvalinahsBooks (avalinahsbooks) | 89 comments I am so excited to talk about Middlemarch with you guys, but I'm so late on the schedule. Still not done with Book 1, but I should be soon. Can't wait till I do!


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Lynne Pennington (bluemoonladylynne) | 243 comments Mod
I just finished Book 1, so you are not so far behind as you may think. The breakfast scene had me in stitches! I think any girl who had a brother who was the "fair-haired boy" could certainly relate. The new characters, the descriptions of them are sterling! Too many to quote, but many worth a second perusal as I create my genealogical chart to keep the extended family straight. On to Book 2!


Evelina | AvalinahsBooks (avalinahsbooks) | 89 comments I think Dorothea is an all-round lovely character, although she is manic about her religion. However, I do think she might be happy in her marriage, because although it's unconventional, who are we to say everyone has to be the same? It seems like it is what she wants.
Although when it comes to Mr Casaubon, it seems he's in too many doubts. But even if it is going to be a dysfunctional marriage, it seems both of the people want what the other can give. One can't quite say that about most marriages, to be fair.

As for Miss Vincy, Book 1 does a very small introduction to her. I'm surprised Book 1 didn't just end with Miss Brooke, because the little that is told about Miss Vincy seems out of place. Maybe it worked as a sort of interlude between the books. But I shall see when I read on.
All I can say is that I don't like Mr Lydgate too much. He is so judgemental, isn't he? At least he seemed that way for me.

Oh, but I loved Mrs Cadwallader, didn't you? She's such a remarkable character for a book (although, in all fairness, I would probably hate her in real life, what with her meddling and all that)

There's more about the character in my blog post that I just wrote, if you are interested. Not a whole lot more though:
http://avalinahsbooks.space/middlemar...

Oh, and I think I do like Mr Chettam. He's foolish and steteotypically self-confident, but he does have a heart. Give a person like that several years to mature and he'll produce a wonderful human being, I think.

Everyman - Villete is also named after a place. Although I guess it's not about the place so much either, huh. Very interesting information you present about the time frame. Indeed, I did not know that it was the railroad revolution time!

Unfortunately I have to run right now, but I'll be back to read all your posts and reply again!


message 46: by Lynne, In Memoriam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lynne Pennington (bluemoonladylynne) | 243 comments Mod
AvalinahsBooks | Evelina wrote: "I think Dorothea is an all-round lovely character, although she is manic about her religion. However, I do think she might be happy in her marriage, because although it's unconventional, who are we..."

I also like Mrs Cadwallader. There hasn't been much comment on her here, but she is truly a character. Meddling and matchmaking have been a fact of life forever---I am thinking of "Sense and Sensibility" on one level, and my mother on another! My husband loves what he calls "the village" ladies in the BBC/PBS stories, and Mrs C certainly fits the type.

Very little about Chettam here so far also, though he is hard not to like. I think I would call him basically unobjectionable so far.


message 47: by Cindy, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cindy Newton | 295 comments Mod
Dorothea seems to see Causabon more as a symbol of knowledge than a real person, and as such, she has imbued him with qualities he doesn't actually possess. Although he is surprised that his proposal to Dorothea doesn't immediately cause him to fall madly in love with her, his betrothed doesn't seem to even consider or expect this type of feeling for him. Her passion seems to be confined to his knowledge, her wifely support of it, and the future possibilities of the transfer of some of it to herself. There is no hint of romance in her perception of him; he merely represents the path to the knowledge that she so hungers for.


Everyman | 2531 comments AvalinahsBooks | Evelina wrote: "Oh, but I loved Mrs Cadwallader, didn't you? She's such a remarkable character for a book (although, in all fairness, I would probably hate her in real life, what with her meddling and all that)."

I also love her, but I see what you mean about not really wanting her involved in your real-life life. I love it when she says of her husband "He will even speak well of the bishop, though I tell him it is unnatural in a beneficed clergyman; what can one do with a husband who attends so little to the decencies? I hide it as well as I can by abusing everybody myself."

And I was greatly amused when Brooke snuck out rather than telling her about Casaubon, leaving that to Celia, who was quite happy to break the news.


Everyman | 2531 comments I really like the way Eliot slips in little homilies here and there. Such as the one at the end of Chapter 6: "We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, "Oh, nothing!" Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts—not to hurt others. "


Evelina | AvalinahsBooks (avalinahsbooks) | 89 comments Everyman, the parallel you draw between Don Quixote and Sancho Pansa and the girls is really good. I am amazed how it completely eluded me.
Even before this was pointed out, I had already been slightly worried about Dorothea's happiness in marriage because of what Eliot has hinted at. But I do agree, her hints are just so subtle you're not always picking up on them.
But when you think about it, who of us has avoided such mistakes at age 20? The whole problem is that Dorothea simply has no experience. All of us make such mistakes when we're young, when we're teens. We're just allowed more freedom to realize the cause and effect in this century than the people in the past were. Especially young noble/rich girls.

I also agree with Everyman that Celia is the wiser one here. In fact, Eliot states that herself, although with her usual subtlety - she says that if perhaps Dorothea is more philosophical between the two, Celia has more common sense. Which I believe really means she has more wisdom.

Everyman - your input in this thread is unbelievable. Thank you for such good thoughts!

Lynne - how would anyone prefer Dorothea over Celia, you ask? Well, it's quite plain for me. Don't forget that Dorothea was exceptionally beautiful, and beauty was the bigger part of the whole image of a woman back then. Personality sat on the back seat, as much as I gather. A woman was an ornament to the house for some of the men. Aside from that, Celia is really much less outspoken and much more thoughtful than Dorothea, as well as being younger. People simply don't notice her as much.

I wouldn't agree though that Chettam would make a better match to Dorothea. I'm sure he wouldn't. Even if she will be unhappy with Casaubon, I think she would have been even less happy with Chettam, cause there is absolutely nothing they share. Those two people live in separate worlds.

That bit about not letting women read. That was quite hard to work through, for me. Taking that away would be horrid. When you rob the person of everything they can be, you will even try to rob them of an inner dimension. Absolutely unimaginable and very sad.

I'm guessing female authors must have been atypical at the time, because take even the fact that Eliot chose a male pen name. That already says something. Then also keeping in mind everything Jane Austen had to go through, I'm imagining it was not very common for women to write. Or be allowed to write. Funny though that quite a bit of Victorian literature that survives is written by women. I find that quite interesting as well.

As for the treatment of men and women, I also found it very telling how Mrs Vincy treats her son and daughter. How she completely disregards any fault that her son has, even though he has let down the entire family, and won't let her daughter criticize him at all, but will let him criticize her. It might be just a particularity of a single family, ones that like exist now too, but I feel like Eliot was trying to show a more general picture here.

I have also marked quite a few passages from the book. When I am done with the book, I should write a blog post about all those nice quotes or something. Eliot sure has some gems about life.


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