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Book 2: Old and Young

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message 1: by Kathy (new)

Kathy (klzeepsbcglobalnet) | 43 comments Mod
Even though our schedule moves us on to Book 2 this week, all of the discussions will remain open, so if you fall behind, no worries. We'll keep dipping back into the earlier book discussions as comments are posted.

Some background: While we should be wary of putting too much stock in a writer's biography, which can lead us to drawing simplistic conclusions, it's interesting to know something more about George Eliot herself, and now that we've gotten a dose of her interest in writing about politics, art and marriage, it might be a good time to consider who she was. Here's a brief but informative bio:

A tip for reading Book 2: It's easy to get bogged down in at least two particular ways in this book. The first, as I see it, is the plot line about who will be given the hospital chaplaincy: Farebrother or Tyke. A lot of characters and their opinions are brought in here, and I find it hard to be invested in the outcome (though this time through, I'm noticing Mr. Farebrother more and finding him amusing). What's really important in this section is not so much all of the characters and the details of their opinions about one candidate or the other, but rather the ways in which this debate is indicative of how the town of Middlemarch operates and what Lydgate is learning about it. The second opportunity for getting waylaid or discouraged as a reader, I think, is in the details of scholarship and art. If you have an annotated version (I'm using the Oxford World's Classics, which has notes in the back), you'll be able to easily look up all the allusions, but it's not necessary. I actually made a note at the bottom of one page that Eliot can sometimes be a little bit "show-offy" about her own knowledge. Just think about the views being aired about scholarship and art--and the fact that we're also reading a work of art (a little meta-level).

A few questions to play with:
If you read Eliot's biographical info, did it give you any possible insights into this novel?
Where do you find comments on the Middlemarchers, or people of this time in general, that still ring true today?
What does Eliot seem to be setting up here in the relationship between Lydgate and Bulstrode? How about between Dorothea and Will Ladislaw?
Any favorite passages?

message 2: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Richardson | 2 comments I missed the first week 's comments about the book, but I'm greatly enjoying this as a summer reading project.

George Eliot very subtly allows our perception of her characters to evolve. In the first book, we are presented to a Miss Dorothea Brooke who is somber in her dress, serious in her ideas, and pious in her religion, being compared to the "Blessed Virgin." There are a few hints dropped that she only received a superficial education, such as when she tries to master the Greek alphabet. She doesn't know what she doesn't know, and, in her arrogance, ignores the advice and opinions of those around her. Her sister Cecilia, on the other hand, has more common sense and knows what she doesn't know.

Dorothea is attracted to Rev. Casaubon because, in her scorn of superficialities, he is presented as someone with a high intellect and the most serious of goals. I've heard that there is online dating site that matches people by what they don't like rather than by what they like. This site might have matched Miss Brooke and Rev. Casaubon.

We see Dorothea against the backdrop of Rome in the second book, where it is shown how entirely unsophisticated and unschooled she is. Eliot frequently describes her in this book as a "girl," a word that was never (or rarely?) used in the first book. Dorothea is also miserable having quickly discovered that, in her naiveté, she has condemned herself to a miserable marriage.

I love Eliot's writing in this part. Almost the entirety of Chapter 20 is the narrator's description of what is happening in Dorothea's life, with the narrator occasionally dipping into the first person. Eliot's own scorn of the superficiality of the world is evident, such as when she describes "the red drapery which was being hung for Christmas spreading itself everywhere like a disease of the retina."

Just as Dorothea's character is gradually revealed, so is the theme of money, class, and power in Middlemarch life. Rosamond Vincy is described as being equal in beauty to Dorothea Brooke, but she is far below her in status and would never have been invited to dine at the home of Mr. Brooke. Fred Vincy is desperate for money and kowtows to Mr. Featherstone whose fortune he hopes to inherit. Mr. Featherstone plays those about him like puppets in the power that he holds over them because of his wealth.

We see the town and its inhabitants through the newcomer Lydgate's eyes, and I guess we'll see how he evolves in his dealings with the townspeople. He capitulates to the wishes of the narrow-minded Mr. Bulstrode, who, again, is someone with power because of status as a banker.

The meeting between Dorothea and Will Ladislaw is electric and passionate and I'm sure foreshadows more to come.

message 3: by Kathy (new)

Kathy (klzeepsbcglobalnet) | 43 comments Mod
Valerie, I'm glad you're enjoying the reading! And I'm also glad you mentioned the places where the narrator enters the narrative in the first person because I've been marking a lot of those as well. They're sometimes odd, intrusive passages, but they add another layer to the story--probably Eliot's own opinions, though we can't say for certain, since she may be playing with a fictional persona even here. Has anyone else noticed particular places where the narrator's voice plays a notable role?

message 4: by Bernice (new)

Bernice | 4 comments I am enjoying the reading so far, and feel as though I have returned to a more serious "study" of literature, as in my long ago college days as an English major, shich didn't include reading Middlemarch. I have enjoyed some comments in the text which I am quite certain reflect Eliot's point of view, such as "A woman dictates before marriage in order that she may have an appetite for submission afterwards." And we see Dorothea making one of many "mistakes" to come!

message 5: by Susan (new)

Susan Rerat | 3 comments I found reading George Elliot's bio very helpful as I knew nothing of her background. Knowing that she developed psychological analysis in modern fiction made Book 2 even more interesting given all the new character additions and plot developments. Also, now knowing her own puritanical religious upbringing (and later rejection of it), her vast scholarly interests and the fact that Casaubon is based on someone she knew added new dimensions to my reading.

Kathy, I found your two tips very useful. In the hospital chaplaincy debate, I was struck by how both Bulstrode and Lydgate arrived as outsiders to Middlemarch. Bulstrode married well and has achieved money, social standing and power which he clearly enjoys. Lydgate is set-up as a younger, more modern man who is self-made and taking his new profession seriously. Town politics do not interest him. And, as we see later in Book 2, he is quite naive in both medical politics and his budding romance with Rosemond.

Although it was a slow read for me, reading about scholarship/art when the Book turned to Rome, I did love the section about the intellectual/emotion tensions between Dorothea and Casaubon. Everything foreshadowed in Book 1 comes to a head as they are so incompatible. With Casaubon representing a total Rational personality devoid of emotion, Will Ladislaw is the complete opposite. He is such a Romantic and full of life. Looking forward to seeing where this triangle and plot line goes.

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