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Archived Group Reads 2016 > Middlemarch, Book II: Old and Young: October 22-28

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Frances (francesab) | 313 comments Book II, Old and Young, introduces us to a wider range of characters in Middlemarch, and shows us how several of the relationships of our characters are evolving.

Of the many relationships and family stories currently playing out, which ones draw you in particularly? We have Fred and Mary Garth, Rosamond and Lydgate, Dorothea and Mr Casaubon (and possibly a triangle involving Will Ladislaw), as well as some which remain out of sight in this section-Celia and Chettam.

There is also much discussion and illustration of various professional and social positions. We see the clash between traditional and "modern" practitioners of medicine. We learn more of Mr Lydgate, the new surgeon who hopes to run a rural practice while still contributing to the development of Medical Science. We meet the Rev. Farebrother, who is supporting three female relatives, is an enthusiastic Naturalist/collector and who perhaps has to make some extra income by playing at cards and billiards. We see the social jockeying of the men of the town around the question of paying a chaplain to the hospital, work that Rev. Farebrother has been doing for free up to this time, and watch Lydgate struggle over whether or not to let down his friend to preserve his relationship with Mr. Bulstrode, who might be able to assist him in his own career.

Again, which characters or story lines interest you in particular?

There are many characters which are sympathetic and/or likeable-has Eliot painted any true villains in her book? Are there any characters that you dislike?

Please share your thoughts about this second book.


Everyman | 2507 comments Those who have access to a university library can probably access this journal article on Eliot's "Scrupulous Research" for Middlemarch.

They may also have a copy of, or access to the Middlemarch Notebooks; the edited transcription by Pratt and Neufeldt runs 305 pages, indicating the extent of the research she did for the novel.

It is generally considered not "merely" a novel but a quite accurate historical novel.


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Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
I was thinking, as I read this section,


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Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
... About how much I like this book. (Slippery fingers hit the Post too soon). I love the way the relationships are treated throughout. The characters themselves are wonderful, but it's the way Elliot treats the relationships that really moves me. Each one is like a character unto itself. The different kinds of romance, including the marriages. The different family relations. All so realistic. And the lovely lovely language.


message 5: by JJ (last edited Oct 24, 2016 08:59AM) (new)

JJ | 52 comments My assumption was right. Dorothea is miserable before they return home from their travels. She was very emotional and Mr. Casaubon is not able to give her the emotional support that she needs. He is more concerned with his business and is completely neglecting Dorothea. Mr. Casaubon is oblivious to the undertone of irony in his comment " See Rome and die": but in your case I would propose an emendation and say, See Rome as a bride, and live henceforth a happy wife." Dorothea cannot live as a happy wife because of the death of her girlhood delusions.

I was surprised at how quickly Will Ladislaw came on to her. He is the only one in the book that Dorothea is able to confide. She did rather openly, but in an almost ignorant way admitted her doubts of Mr. Casaubon to Will. Will and Dorothea complement each other rather well. However, she is oblivious to Will's feelings just as she was to Sir. James. Will was not mentioned much in the first book. He is the most humorous of all the characters. For example when he first visits Dorothea and recalls the first time they met. He can see the humor in things.


Everyman | 2507 comments Renee wrote: "The different kinds of romance, including the marriages. The different family relations. All so realistic. And the lovely lovely language. ."

Well said. It takes talent to write so realistically about so many very different marriages. We tend, I think, to think of Victorian marriages, particularly in the middle and upper classes, in monotone, as though they were all cut out of the same mold, all thinking the same things about the obligations the standardized wedding vows required. But Eliot can create such very different but in each case very realistic marriage relationships.


Everyman | 2507 comments JJ wrote: "I was surprised at how quickly Will Ladislaw came on to her."

And, in my opinion, how improperly. He was frankly courting another man's wife, and not only that but a man on whose favor and money he was dependent. It was pretty low down, in my opinion. I've never liked Will, even though I think I'm supposed to.


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Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
Haha! I know what you mean! I was quite surprised to find him so on my first reading is Middlemarch. (So difficult to reconcile the written Will with the beauteous Pre-Raphaelite-faced Rufus Sewell. Lol.) Perhaps his conduct, unschooled by propriety, is one of the reasons Eliot gave him a foreign background? So that British readers might excuse infractions to their social code?


message 9: by JJ (last edited Oct 25, 2016 06:46AM) (new)

JJ | 52 comments In book II we are also given more information on Mr. Lydgate's background/history. As soon as he moved to Middlemarch he was labeled without his knowledge.

"At present I have to make the new settler Lydgate better known to any one interested in him since his arrival in Middlemarch. For surely all must admit that a man may be puffed and belauded, envied, ridiculed, counted upon as a tool and fallen in love with, or at least selected as a future husband, and yet remain virtually unknown-known merely as a cluster of signs for his neighbors' false suppositions."

I find this quote funny and could delve into it deeper, but I want to draw upon is his opinion of marriage. Mr. Lydgate claims that he has no prospect marrying until five years into the future. Even though he clearly thinks about Rosamond and takes considerable interest in her. Mr. Lydgate thinks he is complimenting Rosamond by taking interest and being agreeable with her. He is unaware that Rosamond is interpreting his kindness differently than what he intended. It's like he's playing with fire without realizing it. Lydgate is not thinking about pursuing a serious relationship with her. Whereas Rosamond has made up her mind that Lydgate is in love with her. Part of her reasoning is because so many men in Middlemarch are/were in love with her. Rosamond is young and has little experience outside of her sphere in Middlemarch to think otherwise about Lydgate.

I personally find it amusing that there is one consistency in history that everyone can relate to regardless of what era you are born. Let me explain further. The phycology of men and women in regards to relationships has not changed over all of these years. Its the typical "men are from mars and women are from venus" saying. His perspective and train of thought against her perspective and assumptions. Ah romance, the timeless classic.


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Jane Greensmith (janegs) | 149 comments Everyman wrote: "JJ wrote: "I was surprised at how quickly Will Ladislaw came on to her."

I've never liked Will, even though I think I'm supposed to. ..."


There we shall disagree! I've always liked Will Ladislaw, and thought Rufus Sewell played him perfectly in the miniseries.

I finally made it to Rome last year, and really enjoyed rereading the bit about Dorothea in the Vatican museums because now I can really see her there as Will and Naumann did. The part that has always made me cringe is when they get Dorothea and Causubon to Naumann's studio and take his portrait only as a means to take Dorothea's. There's a deception there that grates on me because Dorothea is so vulnerable. I would say of all the female characters she is the most vulnerable--Mary Garth knows what's what, Rosamund is artful, Celia is wise to how society works, but Dorothea is a babe in the woods.


Everyman | 2507 comments JJ wrote: "Mr. Lydgate thinks he is complimenting Rosamond by taking interest and being agreeable with her. He is unaware that Rosamond is interpreting his kindness differently than what he intended. ."

Good point. And isn't that a major theme of the novel -- all over the place characters are misunderstanding each other's interest in them or their activities, and/or misunderstanding their own interest. The only person so far who seems to see with even reasonable clarity people's thinking or misthinking about each other is Celia, isn't she?


Everyman | 2507 comments Jane wrote: "There we shall disagree! I've always liked Will Ladislaw, .."

I suspect that's what Eliot wants you to think. But personally would be quite upset if somebody I had befriended and supported tried to steal my wife's attention and emotional connectedness away from me. Maybe I'm not the world's greatest husband (just being modest there, in fact of course I really am in fact!!) but that just strikes me as very much not cricket.

How do other married people here feel? Is what Will does kosher? Responsible? Respectable? Appropriate?


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Frances (francesab) | 313 comments Everyman wrote: "Jane wrote: "There we shall disagree! I've always liked Will Ladislaw, .."

I suspect that's what Eliot wants you to think. But personally would be quite upset if somebody I had befriended and supp..."


We have an unfortunate situation here of a passionate (I don't particularly mean in the physical sense, only in wanting so much to have an important and intellectually stimulating role in life) young woman who has recently married someone who himself is almost without passions, who is not interested in nurturing or educating or entertaining her (and certainly not in helping her to find the sort of occupation she craves). She has been left on her own (on her honeymoon, no less!) in one of the most artistically and intellectually interesting cities in the world and is now unhappy, disappointed and looking ahead to an empty and lonely life. She is also very beautiful. A handsome, interesting and talented young man sees her and is more than willing to speak with her, spend time with her, show her around Rome. Yes, there is clearly the potential for trouble ahead, but under the circumstances I find it very hard to feel that Casaubon is being ill-treated-he is simply reaping what his lack of attention to and interest in his wife has sown.


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Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
I feel a bit sorry for Causabon this time around. He's just so frickin clueless! He should never have gotten married in the first place. And especially not to a woman so much younger and so vulnerable. But he's a dusty, bookish goof who has shut himself up with his dusty books all his life. I think he was totally sucked into the fact that this beautiful, hugely complimentary girl threw pretty much threw herself at him, promising to worship him and his work beyond all considerations of her own. He was wrong to marry her, but, I don't think he would have pursued her with the object of subjugating her to be his work drone. I think he is just as naive as she is in his own way. I think she stroked his ego, his inflated self-assessment and offered free secretarial work to a man who recognizes that he would rather not be bored with the tedious parts of compiling research. She is so horrifyingly taken with the idea of finding a "thinking" man that she's equally horrifyingly diffident and complimentary. And He's just such a big, hopeless nerd. I don't think either of them is going to be happy in the long run.


Janice (JG) Everyman wrote: "Good point. And isn't that a major theme of the novel -- all over the place characters are misunderstanding each other's interest in them or their activities, and/or misunderstanding their own interest ..."

Sounds Shakespearean.


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Jane Greensmith (janegs) | 149 comments Renee wrote: "I feel a bit sorry for Causabon this time around. He's just so frickin clueless! He should never have gotten married in the first place. And especially not to a woman so much younger and so vulnera..."

You are so kind! I think his biggest failing is vanity--he was flattered by her attention, as you say, and yet didn't want to get married. Eliot makes it clear that he doesn't love her or appreciate her company, he was simply flattered.


Everyman | 2507 comments Frances wrote: "under the circumstances I find it very hard to feel that Casaubon is being ill-treated-he is simply reaping what his lack of attention to and interest in his wife has sown. ."

I agree that Casaubon is neglecting his wife. But he had warned her of this, and had wanted Celia to accompany them to provide her companionship.

"I still regret that your sister is not to accompany us," he said one morning, some time after it had been ascertained that Celia objected to go, and that Dorothea did not wish for her companionship. "You will have many lonely hours, Dorothea, for I shall be constrained to make the utmost use of my time during our stay in Rome, and I should feel more at liberty if you had a companion."

Examining the manuscripts in the Vatican is important to Casaubon's work, and it was that work that attracted Dorothea to him, so she should be happy, or at least accepting, that he spends so much time on this research which, in the absence of modern communications he could never do from his home.

And Dorothea does seem to accept this:
"Pray do not be anxious about me. I shall have so much to think of when I am alone. And Tantripp will be a sufficient companion, just to take care of me.

And it is Ladislaw who decides to make Dorothea's acquaintance and basically presses himself on her, knowing she is married to his cousin. And then criticizes Casaubon to Dorothea quite strongly -- what respectable man spends so much time criticizing and putting down a woman's new husband -- a husband on whose money he is living and without whose money he would never have been in Rome in the first place?

I agree that Casaubon is not a model honeymooner. But I don't think that justifies Ladislaw taking his money, ripping his intellectual integrity, and taking over his wife.

If you think that he is justified in that, well, as a husband who might not always be perfect, I don't!!


Everyman | 2507 comments Renee wrote: "I think he was totally sucked into the fact that this beautiful, hugely complimentary girl threw pretty much threw herself at him, promising to worship him and his work beyond all considerations of her own. "

Perhaps a bit overstated, but not by much. Would Casaubon have thought of Dorothea as a prospective wife if she hadn't paid such enthusiastic attention to him? I do agree with you (or with what I imply from your comment) that she is the one who roused his interest in herself, and not he who had the original idea of pursuing her. She got what she asked for, but as they say, be careful what you wish for, your wish may come true.


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Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
I suspect they both are getting what they asked for and yet not what they expected. I think things would be going better if he included her in his research, brought her with him to take notes as he translated... really anything that constituted a sharing or a teaching so she felt connected to his life's work. He never intended to marry and is unable to share his solitary pursuits. She fell for her vision of him as a great scholar and a place for herself, learning from him and working at his side.
It's funny and tragic at the same time.


LindaH | 499 comments Good points about Casaubon and Dorothea, Renee. I have no sympathy for either one at this point. Casaubon also saw Dorothea as a future nurse when he became infirm, and he selfishly chose the honeymoon site to further his studies. I go back to that moment when he first noticed Dorothea's intelligence at the dinner party. Given her attractions of intellect if not beauty, he, by appreciating neither, seems a disaster as a husband.


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Lynne Pennington (bluemoonladylynne) | 243 comments Mod
So far, everyone seems to have preconceived notions of their ideal mate, and since I haven't read the whole book yet, I am suspecting that most may be disabused of their idealistic notions. Rosamund certainly has her ideas of Lydgate before she even sets eyes on him. At least Dodo (flightless bird that she is!) had seen and spent some time with Casaubon and married him anyway. I think Eliot would be pleased that her observations on society would hold true clear into the 21st century. How many of us have done the same thing---seeing what we want to see in someone, ignoring the warning signs, ignoring what seems so obvious to those around us. Which has got to be one of the reasons so many of the classics remain timeless---they are spot on when writing about the human condition.


Everyman | 2507 comments Lynne wrote: "I think Eliot would be pleased that her observations on society would hold true clear into the 21st century. How many of us have done the same thing---seeing what we want to see in someone, ignoring the warning signs, ignoring what seems so obvious to those around us.."

Hand raised.


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Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
Very good point, Lynne. It seems that we humans have been projecting those preconceptions for a very long time.
Do we learn from this experience?


Vanessa Winn | 61 comments Such a great plot twist that Fred is beholden to poor Mr. Garth, the father of his sweetheart, for security on his debt. It touches on the wider theme of obligation, duty, and dependency between many of the characters of different generations, suggested by the book's title of 'Old and Young.' Fred is of course also dependent on his uncle Featherstone for his 'expectations', as Mary is dependant on the old man for her living. Then there is the question of whether Featherstone has a duty to provide for his relatives, and which ones.

Paralleling (or contrasting?) Fred is Will Ladislaw, obliged to Casaubon for his education and means. But Casaubon admits that he has a duty (morally at least) to provide for his young cousin. Chettam tells us that Casaubon's wealth doubled due to his aunt's choice of marrying a poor man -- costing Will his inheritance. I can understand if Will resents his obligation to his older and richer cousin. If Dorothea has a son (as cringe-inducing as it is to imagine her conceiving one in her marriage), he will inherit Brooke's estate -- adding to the Casaubon wealth. All very intriguing and murky moral ground! I'm inclined to agree with Chettam that Mr. Brooke failed in his duty to his niece, in allowing her marriage without exposing her to more society.

Lydgate, though seemingly independent, finds himself obliged to Bulstrode for his role in the new hospital, and votes against his own feeling for the chaplain, to preserve his position. So much great material to develop a large cast of characters; to me, Eliot manages to make them all interesting.


Everyman | 2507 comments Vanessa wrote: "Lydgate, though seemingly independent, finds himself obliged to Bulstrode for his role in the new hospital, and votes against his own feeling for the chaplain, to preserve his position. ."

Dependence, or inter-dependence, is such a great theme here, isn't it? Dorothea and Celia are dependent on an uncle, their parents being gone. Ladislaw is dependent on Casaubon. Lydgate, as you note, is dependent on Bulstrode to keep his position. As you also note, Mary is dependent on Featherstone, and Fred intends to be dependent on his wealth when he dies, and is currently dependent on Garth. It's a web of inter-dependencies, which is so realistic in the real world though seldom this clear or extensive in novels.


message 26: by Everyman (last edited Oct 28, 2016 05:25PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Everyman | 2507 comments Discussing the prospect of marrying Mr. Casaubon with her uncle late in Chapter 4, Dorothea said ""I know that I must expect trials, uncle. Marriage is a state of higher duties.."

It seems that Ladislaw has caused her to change her view on this fairly soon in the marriage, doesn't it? The trial of being much left alone in Rome has quickly become overcome, and the higher duties of marriage seem easily cast aside.


Janice (JG) I don't see that Dorothea has cast aside her loyalty or affection for Casaubon even tho' Ladislaw is clearly pressing his case. I think Dorothea is as Lynne has observed - caught up in her naïve and inexperienced pictures of what she wanted to see in Casaubon, and which were certainly very romantic but unrealistic concepts. Besides, loving someone and learning to live with them are two entirely different animals - and not always friendly ones.

I think Dorothea is vulnerable to Ladislaw's friendly attention, she is young and innocent and so far only thinks of his attention as friendship. Ladislaw is young with all the directionless free spiritedness of youth (which is not a bad thing, but is socially condemned), and his attention has been captured by Dorothea... bringing him into focus, stirring up a desire to be worthy, imagining that she is being taken advantage of. He suddenly decides he wants to get a job, be a man of independent means, become someone who has merit, in short, be her knight in shining armor. He's fallen in love.

And then there's Casaubon. He lives in his head. He has been thoroughly trained in protocol and policy, he is polite at all costs, and he has never misrepresented himself. He was even honest enough to admit to himself that he didn't love Dorothea, but she had qualities that suited him. At one point I wondered if the poor man had ever had a childhood, if he'd ever played with other children, had run and screamed and laughed and gotten muddy... or if he'd ever even cried. He's a decent man, but he does not connect with his heart.

As for Lydgate... he could become a Casaubon if left alone to do so, but I think one of the women in this town is going to be his undoing. I think it may be Mary. Which would be Fred's undoing.


Everyman | 2507 comments We haven't mentioned Farebrother yet, other than in the opening post. He certainly isn't the sort of cleric that the Bishop of Canterbury would have approved of, is he? Supplementing his income with gambling.

We meet him first, interestingly, through the eyes of Bulstrode, who is hardly a fan of his. And one can understand Bulstrode's view, can't one, even if one doesn't agree with it? Farebrother hardly represents the best doctrines of the church, although I am quite persuaded that he would be a much more welcome hospital visitor to most patients than Tyke would. At least to patients who are not close to death; those might prefer a clergyman who more certainly believes in goodness of a Godly afterlife.


message 29: by Lynne, In Memoriam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lynne Pennington (bluemoonladylynne) | 243 comments Mod
Janice(JG) wrote: "I don't see that Dorothea has cast aside her loyalty or affection for Casaubon even tho' Ladislaw is clearly pressing his case. I think Dorothea is as Lynne has observed - caught up in her naïve an..."
Loving someone and living with them as two different animals! I love the image of it being not always friendly. It can be difficult now, when people have so many opportunities to get to know someone before marriage, live with them before marriage. In Victorian times there was so much less leeway for "acceptable" behavior. We should be surprised not at the number of unhappy marriages of the poor Victorians, but perhaps of the number of happy ones.
As for Casaubon's childhood, or lack of one, I cannot believe he ever had one. He is every bit as duty-bound as we normally think of the women as being, shackled to expectations of society. By many standards, I think Casaubon would have been considered an ideal husband for a certain type of woman, just not our Dodo.


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Lynne Pennington (bluemoonladylynne) | 243 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "We haven't mentioned Farebrother yet, other than in the opening post. He certainly isn't the sort of cleric that the Bishop of Canterbury would have approved of, is he? Supplementing his income wit..."

I am still forming an opinion of the other male animals on exhibit. I am having a really hard time with Ladislaw since there have been so many conflicting views of him here. Maybe that is Eliot's point with him---we feel sorry for Dorothea so are more tolerant of "the Lad", yet poor Casaubon is so good at his basic duty that we tend to see Lad as something of an ungrateful wretch. Stay tuned until my gut reaction! As for the other guys, I can't help but kinda like Farebrother. He would indeed be more welcome at the sickbed. I had an instant dislike of Bulstrode, but am willing to let him redeem himself. Fred seems like a rather devil-may-care roue, but I suspect there may be something deeper in there and he seems to genuinely love Mary, who seems sort of contrary to me, though she is in such a dependent, unenviable position that she can be somewhat allowed for. (Forgive the dangling participle.)
Overall, so far, I think Eliot really knew her stuff, and if living today would have made a wonderful psychologist!


Vanessa Winn | 61 comments Everyman wrote: "Dependence, or inter-dependence, is such a great theme here, isn't it?..."

Yes, it's a great theme which Eliot brilliantly weaves together. Also interesting to see different aspects of how the characters respond to their duty to dependents -- from Brooke's good-natured bumbling, to Featherstone's greedy enjoyment of his power over Fred (even not wishing him to become independent) and nastiness to Mary.

Farebrother, as Frances noted, also has dependent relatives, which makes his gambling more excusable. I'm enjoying all the moral ambiguity in this novel and its wonderfully-drawn characters.


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Cindy Newton | 296 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "How do other married people here feel? Is what Will does kosher? Responsible? Respectable? Appropriate? ..."

No, I don't think Will's advances to a married woman are appropriate. However, they don't completely turn me against him, either. I see them more as a result of his youth and impulsiveness; he's enchanted by Dorothea and acts on it without thinking. Also, he has thought of Causabon as a dried up old goat ever since he's known him. I think he has not yet been able to wrap his head around the reality of the situation. It seems incomprehensible to him that such a lovely young creature could actually be married to his boring old cousin; he can't comprehend that their relationship is real. How could she have actually chosen Causabon to share her life? Her bed? It defies comprehension! I think his inability to understand it affects his acceptance of it.

Finally, to me, his advances are more consistent with courtly love than anything else. I don't believe Will has given any thought to where he's going with his courtship. He doesn't seem to be actually planning to seduce Dorothea into an illicit affair; neither do I think he plans to run off with her and live in sin and scandal. At this point, the only endgame seems to be to win her approval. So, no, it's not an admirable course of action, and I disapprove of it, but I also don't think it makes him a dastard.

Of course, the fact that I think Dorothea's marriage a disaster could have some influence on my reasoning. I understand her hunger for knowledge and to have some meaningful purpose in life--what could be more natural? I think she would have been better served to have volunteered to act as Causabon's secretary than to have married him. Her belief in her own passion for him seems odd to me, but I guess it is actually pretty normal. How many girls get crushes on their college professors? I guess Ashton Kutcher was right--smart is sexy!


Everyman | 2507 comments Cindy wrote: " It seems incomprehensible to him [Ladislaw] that such a lovely young creature could actually be married to his boring old cousin; he can't comprehend that their relationship is real. How could she have actually chosen Causabon to share her life? Her bed? It defies comprehension! I think his inability to understand it affects his acceptance of it. ."

Nice observation.


message 34: by Frances (last edited Oct 30, 2016 07:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Frances (francesab) | 313 comments Cindy wrote: "Everyman wrote: "How do other married people here feel? Is what Will does kosher? Responsible? Respectable? Appropriate? ..."

No, I don't think Will's advances to a married woman are appropriate. ..."


I also didn't feel he was setting out to seduce her away from her husband-I think he found her attractive and intelligent and felt that he was doing her a service by keeping her company.

Everyman, in reply to your post #17, I'm pretty sure my post never said that Will was justified in taking his money, ripping his intellectual integrity, and taking over his wife. I do feel that, if Casaubon is not going to spend any time with his wife or allow her to participate in his researches (which was clearly HER understanding when she agreed to marry him) then he is risking losing her affection and her desire to serve him to someone who is going to interest her intellectually and provide her with an outlet for her intelligence and her thirst for learning and some sort of "higher purpose". That may not be right, but it is the reality of human relationships.


Everyman | 2507 comments Frances wrote: "I do feel that, if Casaubon is not going to spend any time with his wife or allow her to participate in his researches (which was clearly HER understanding when she agreed to marry him) then he is risking losing her affection and her desire to serve him...."

I would agree except that he warned her that she wouldn't have anything to do in Rome, that he needed to take all the time he could in the Vatican (which is quite understandable since what he didn't get on site he couldn't later get easily by Internet or fax or Xerox copy, but would have to have somebody on the ground write out and send to him). He urged her to take Celia to keep her company. Dorothea said that she understood this and wouldn't be bored. So she had no reasonable expectation that during this time he would be involving her in the research, but that wouldn't happen (if it did at all) until after they got back from the honeymoon.


Janice (JG) Everyman wrote: "I would agree except that he warned her that she wouldn't have anything to do in Rome, that he needed to take all the time he could in the Vatican (which is quite understandable since what he didn't get on site he couldn't later get easily by Internet or fax or Xerox copy, but would have to have somebody on the ground write out and send to him). He urged her to take Celia to keep her company. Dorothea said that she understood this and wouldn't be bored. So she had no reasonable expectation that during this time he would be involving her in the research, but that wouldn't happen (if it did at all) until after they got back from the honeymoon...."

She is very young, and has no experience other than her romantic ideals and things she's read in books. I don't think it is all just because he leaves her alone in Rome. What Eliot doesn't mention but what we all know is that the consummation of the marriage must have been a severe shock and disappointment to Dorothea... assuming it was consummated. I don't see Casaubon as a passionate lover, in fact, he is maddeningly distant and reserved even in casual conversation with his wife. Loneliness comes from feeling cut off, isolated, abandoned... not just from physical absence.


Everyman | 2507 comments Have been thinking more about the D&C marriage and how people seem down on Casaubon. But I don't think that's quite fair.

After all, Eliot does say that "Mr. Casaubon was as genuine a character as any ruminant animal, and he had not actively assisted in creating any illusions about himself." And even His letter to Dorothea didn't make great professions of love. He talked quite frankly of " a consciousness of need in my own life," and of her "eminent and perhaps exclusive fitness to supply that need." He does speak of affections, but no more than that, and indeed of "an affection hitherto unwasted," which I take it to make pretty clear that he's not a passionate fellow, and she shouldn't look to him for passion, but for intellect if that's her desire in a husband.

"Such, my dear Miss Brooke, is the accurate statement of my feelings." He makes no great claims of love, he does not speak of laying his heart at her feet, nor of making a happy home for her. If she chooses to read more into his profession than he puts into it, that's on her, not on him. He is candid and honest.

And, as I have noted before, he did warn her that he would leave her much alone in Rome, and urged her to bring Celia. And indeed, it was her rejection of that which led to the problems with Ladislaw; Casaubon had said "if you had a lady as your companion, I could put you both under the care of a cicerone," who would presumably have interfered with any attempted relationship between her and Ladislaw, at least to the quite improper, for a just-married lady, level that it reached.

I think, then, that Casaubon was quite clear and open about what he was looking for in a wife and what he thought would be the best course for her in Rome. She clearly didn't recognize the limitations of the first, and rejected the second. Hardly his fault, was it?


Janice (JG) Everyman wrote: "Have been thinking more about the D&C marriage and how people seem down on Casaubon. But I don't think that's quite fair.

I think, then, that Casaubon was quite clear and open about what he was looking for in a wife and what he thought would be the best course for her in Rome. She clearly didn't recognize the limitations of the first, and rejected the second. Hardly his fault, was it?..."


I agree. I'm not down on Casaubon at all, but I can see him clearly. I think Dorothea is only beginning to see through her filmy veil of delusion about who she thought he was to her (and her to him) because she has experienced many awakening shocks about her real world now, and it's becoming more clear to her who Casaubon truly is. I think Dorothea is capable of perceiving the truth, and I think it will eventually heighten her compassion and sympathy for her husband. But her delusions must die.


message 39: by Cindy, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cindy Newton | 296 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "He does speak of affections, but no more than that, and indeed of "an affection hitherto unwasted," which I take it to make pretty clear that he's not a passionate fellow, and she shouldn't look to him for passion, but for intellect if that's her desire in a husband...."

I don't think Causabon is a very likable character, but I acquit him of deception. I don't think he deliberately sets out to deceive Dorothea, but Dorothea is not the only one disappointed by his lack of affection. He, too, expected that the intellectual decision to marry would be followed by, if not passion, at least an emotional attachment to his bride. "He did not confess to himself, still less could he have breathed to another, his surprise that though he had won a lovely and noble-hearted girl he had not won delight . . . poor Mr. Causabon had imagined that his long studious bachelorhood had stored up for him a compound interest of enjoyment, and that large drafts on his affections would not fail to be honored . . . there was nothing external by which he could account for a certain blankness of sensibility which came over him just when his expectant gladness should have been most lively," (78-9). He evidently believes he can will himself into love, and is surprised to find this is not the case.

He is straightforward with Dorothea about her expectations for Rome. She is clearly at fault for not believing him. However, she is young, naive, and in love (or believes herself to be). What young bride, no matter the warnings, can seriously believe that her new husband will be so uninterested in her--on their honeymoon, at that? What young bride can believe that and still walk down the aisle with a smile and hope in her heart?

I can only speak for myself, but I don't think I'm down on Causabon. I just feel that the marriage is a terrible mistake for both of them; they are so frightfully mismatched, despite their common interest in his work. It's just not enough to make it work; Dorothea, having married in haste, will now have time to repent at leisure.


Everyman | 2507 comments Cindy wrote: " He evidently believes he can will himself into love, and is surprised to find this is not the case.."

Well said.


Everyman | 2507 comments Cindy wrote: "I can only speak for myself, but I don't think I'm down on Causabon. I just feel that the marriage is a terrible mistake for both of them; ."

I think they both had a serious misunderstanding of their own characters and real interests. They were both in a way deluded about themselves, which created delusions about the other and their union.


Frances (francesab) | 313 comments While I pity Casaubon, I do think that he should have known better than to marry Dorothea. His first reason for marrying her appeared to be to get a helpmate for his researches, and it doesn't appear as if he is giving her that opportunity. Even if, as Everyman states in message 37, he made it clear that all he is offering his wife is intellectual engagement and not passion, then he is neglecting even that on their honeymoon by leaving her so much alone. As someone who is at least twice her age and far more educated than she, if her married her for intellectual companionship and to share his life work, then it was his responsibility to make sure she was able to participate fully in this aspect of their life together.

So yes, the more we discuss it, the more I am "down on Casaubon".


message 43: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments Everyman wrote: "Jane wrote: "There we shall disagree! I've always liked Will Ladislaw, .."
I suspect that's what Eliot wants you to think. But personally would be quite upset if somebody I had befriended and supp..."


I love the discussion about these characters and it made me think about my own reactions to them.

Thus far, only a fraction of the way through the book I know, I find Dorothea's story the most captivating and I was waiting to return to it throughout the first section of this book. I found the absence of her from the narrative symbolic as she disappears into a marriage that Eliot has forewarned the reader she isn't prepared for.
Then when the reader is shown her again, she is viewed through the eyes of a side character describing her to Will and the focus is on her beauty, before the narrator allows us to see her inner emotional life again.
It seems significant that she is in Rome, so far away from the life of Middlemarch that the preceding chapters have been describing in political and social and religious detail. And Dorothea is lost as she doesn't understand the art, and she doesn't understand the city and, most importantly of all, she doesn't understand her marriage.

Regarding Will, I don't think Eliot necessarily wants you to like him, in my view she is one of the great novelists because she creates real flawed people, who make mistakes, and don't always act with the best motives. I think as an author she invites her readers to identify the best and worst of ourselves and our friends in the characters and situations she presents us with.

In chapter 19 Eliot juxtaposes Will's reaction to seeing Dorothea with the observation : 'There are characters which are continually creating collisions and nodes for themselves in dramas which nobody is prepared to act with them. Their susceptibilities will clash against objects that remain innocently quiet.'
I feel these lines set us up for Will throwing himself in Dorothea's way without having any moral quandries. And perhaps hints at Dorothea's total oblivion to how Will may think of her or manipulate her.
The title of this section being 'Old and Young' contrasted with the first book which is named after a maiden Dorothea, leads me to think Eliot wants the focus to be on how generations meld and clash with each other, Will's to youthful selfishness against his older cousin's propriety, Will's passion against Cassaubon's staidness. I think neither Will or Cassaubon react to each other as humans, instead seeing each other as things they are repulsed by and don't like.


message 44: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments On a side biographical note I find it strange reading about Cassaubon's unsuitable marriage to Dorothea with the knowledge that at the end of her life Eliot made a very odd marriage to a younger man. For anyone who doesn't know about it this review of a recent book about that portion of the author's life covers it quite well:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...


message 45: by Clarissa (last edited Nov 14, 2016 06:38AM) (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 535 comments Sorry to make another post, but I just wanted to say how powerful the writing is in this section. It is a thing of literary beauty how Eliot is able to present Dorothea as a woman seeking intelligence and knowledge who has made such a bad mistake, without making Dorothea seem weak, self-pitying, or just foolish.
Chapter 20 is so strong, I especially liked the section:

“Many souls in their young nudity are tumbled out among incongruities and left to ‘find their feet’ among them, while their elders go about their business. Nor can I suppose that when Mrs Casaubon is discovered in a fit of weeping six weeks after her wedding, the situation will be regarded as tragic. Some discouragement, some faintness of heart at the new real future which replaces the imaginary, is not unusual, and we do not expect people to be deeply moved by what is not unusual. That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.”

The references to everyday misery and its mundanity that take away its sense of grand tragedy mixed with the simile of hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, touched me profoundly. It made me think of how many people who we see casually are suffering from quiet but constant disappointment, but as it is seen as part of life it is never spoken about.


Frances (francesab) | 313 comments Clari, thanks for the link and for your interesting posts-don't apologize-they're a great addition to the discussion!

That's a great paragraph you've referenced and I agree that this seems to be one of the strengths of this novel-how Eliot portrays Dorothea's disappointment and disillusionment without making it a grand tragedy-reminds me of H.D. Thoreau's “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”


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

Renee M | 1933 comments Mod
And I love your observations on Dorothea's time in Italy!


Everyman | 2507 comments In Chapter 18, Eliot spends a lot of time on the vote on the chaplain for the hospital. I wondered a bit why. One answer, of course, is that it gives us insight into several of the characters and their inter-relationships in a somewhat strained situation, particularly Lydgate's relationship with Bulstrode. Bullies are bullies in every century, aren't they!

But I think maybe another reason is that this isn't just a novel of plot and characters, but "A Study of Provincial Life." This is exactly the sort of dispute that arises in small towns where the townspeople, at least those of influence, know each other well, have intertwined lives, and where what in a big city might be a relatively unimportant issue becomes in the small town an item of considerable debate and controversy. Having been involved myself in choosing people to serve small town organizations, I found myself in very familiar territory.


Everyman | 2507 comments Talking, as Clari was, about the extraordinary writing, I found this passage from Chapter 20 almost beyond belief for its power and depth:

To those who have looked at Rome with the quickening power of a knowledge which breathes a growing soul into all historic shapes, and traces out the suppressed transitions which unite all contrasts, Rome may still be the spiritual centre and interpreter of the world. But let them conceive one more historical contrast: the gigantic broken revelations of that Imperial and Papal city thrust abruptly on the notions of a girl who had been brought up in English and Swiss Puritanism, fed on meagre Protestant histories and on art chiefly of the hand-screen sort; a girl whose ardent nature turned all her small allowance of knowledge into principles, fusing her actions into their mould, and whose quick emotions gave the most abstract things the quality of a pleasure or a pain; a girl who had lately become a wife, and from the enthusiastic acceptance of untried duty found herself plunged in tumultuous preoccupation with her personal lot. The weight of unintelligible Rome might lie easily on bright nymphs to whom it formed a background for the brilliant picnic of Anglo-foreign society; but Dorothea had no such defence against deep impressions. Ruins and basilicas, palaces and colossi, set in the midst of a sordid present, where all that was living and warm-blooded seemed sunk in the deep degeneracy of a superstition divorced from reverence; the dimmer but yet eager Titanic life gazing and struggling on walls and ceilings; the long vistas of white forms whose marble eyes seemed to hold the monotonous light of an alien world: all this vast wreck of ambitious ideals, sensuous and spiritual, mixed confusedly with the signs of breathing forgetfulness and degradation, at first jarred her as with an electric shock, and then urged themselves on her with that ache belonging to a glut of confused ideas which check the flow of emotion. Forms both pale and glowing took possession of her young sense, and fixed themselves in her memory even when she was not thinking of them, preparing strange associations which remained through her after-years. Our moods are apt to bring with them images which succeed each other like the magic-lantern pictures of a doze; and in certain states of dull forlornness Dorothea all her life continued to see the vastness of St. Peter's, the huge bronze canopy, the excited intention in the attitudes and garments of the prophets and evangelists in the mosaics above, and the red drapery which was being hung for Christmas spreading itself everywhere like a disease of the retina.

Now that's writing!


Everyman | 2507 comments I had mentioned early the important theme of art in the novel. We, of course, get almost bludgeoned by art in this section of the book, not only with Rome itself but with the sitting for Naumann, and the discussions of art between him and Ladislaw.


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