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Book 6: The Widow and the Wife

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message 1: by Kathy (new)

Kathy (klzeepsbcglobalnet) | 43 comments Mod
Hi, All. I'm heading out for a few days and won't be able to make my regular Sunday post, but I'll be back with you on Wednesday and will make a starter post for Book 6 then. In the meantime, I hope you'll leave us some food for thought on Book 5! Enjoy!

message 2: by Kathy (new)

Kathy (klzeepsbcglobalnet) | 43 comments Mod
So, better late than never, it's on to Book 6!

If you're like me, you'll find the interwoven family plot in this book hard to follow at first. Eliot obscures some details as if to leave us in suspense, but what it may leave us in is confusion. Be patient; all will be revealed. And again, you might want to take some family tree notes to keep track of what's happening.

By this point, we know a great deal about Will Ladislaw, so it might be a good time to bring in this not uncommon criticism of his character. In a review of Middlemarch around the time of its publication, the novelist Henry James wrote:

The figure of Will Ladislaw is a beautiful attempt, with many finely-completed points; but on the whole it seems to us a failure. It is the only eminent failure in the book, and its defects are therefore the more striking. It lacks sharpness of outline and depth of color; we have not found ourselves believing in Ladislaw as we believe in Dorothea, in Mary Garth, in Rosamond, in Lydgate, in Mr. Brooke and Mr. Casaubon. He is meant, indeed, to be a light creature... and a light creature certainly should not be heavily drawn. The author, who is evidently very fond of him, has found for him here and there some charming and eloquent touches; but in spite of these he remains vague and impalpable to the end. He is, we may say, the one figure which a masculine intellect of the same power as George Eliot's would not have conceived with the same complacency...

Though we have yet to see the end of the story as far as Ladislaw is concerned, what do you think about James's criticism of him thus far?

Caleb Garth's character gets some further definition in this book as well. What do you think of him? Is he full of sage advice, or gullible? Likeable, or a fool? Or, as the narrator asks us directly after telling us that Mrs. Garth both supports him and has herself a good, private cry over his actions, "Which would turn out to have the more foresight in it--her rationality or Caleb's ardent generosity?"

And what of Lydgate and Rosamond's marriage?

message 3: by Anna (new)

Anna Colligan | 1 comments Hello! I just finished listening to the wonderful audiobook of this generous, compassionate novel - how lucky you have organized this book club this summer! I am throwing some of my ideas and questions in here, hopefully others can make me think more about it.

Sneaking Superiority Complexes Lead to Folly
Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate, both gifted and idealistic young people, both fall short of their ideals because of their own unwise prejudices. Dorothea because of her naive belief in the exaltedness of intellectual pursuits thinks Edward Casuabon must be a deep soul and a great man, and Tertius because of his male chauvinism thinks Rosamund Vincy will be a complementary ornament to his life, without a will of her own.

Will the Boy Toy
Will Ladislaw doesn't seem fully formed I think because Eliot has created him as a kind of boy-toy for Dorothea - not only a willing, pleasant, handsome, 100% devoted young man, but what Eliot wishes for her character on a symbolic level - If Dorothea is idealistic above all else, near angelic in her striving to do good and be good, to act only in the Divine spirit, who else could she wind up with but someone who represents Truth and Integrity above all else.. Usually it is a female character who suffers under these authorial machinations - it must have been unusual and jarring to contemporary critics to see a male character contorted this way.

Hapless Tertius
Dorothea manages to barely escape the dead end of pure academic intellectualism when she hesitates to promise to carry on Edward's work. Tertius is not so lucky in escaping his demons - his life is near ruined, succumbing to social impression and expectation - represented in character by Rosamund, the living epitome of fulfilled social ideals, and plot-wise by gossip and innuendo following the fall of Nicholas Bulstrode. It's interesting to think about his little back-story - where he believed in the innocence of the beautiful singer, who then turned out to be a cold blooded sociopath. He seems completely helpless to do anything except survive in heartbroken form.

Question One
I wondered throughout why Eliot didn't match up Tertius and Dorothea - they could have become something like the Curies! Or the Salters Passionate partners in science, medicine and human development. But the question never even comes up. Tertius and Dorothea are too similar maybe as they are both Seekers-of-truth, and wind up with more passive mates - seek-ees.

Question Two
Who is the Saint Theresa referred to in the first pages?

Question Three
Is social impression and expectation such a powerful force these days? Is anyone's life really ruined by it today the way Tertius' was?

message 4: by Carla (new)

Carla | 5 comments As a character, Ladislaw is a bit flat and this is particularly evident in the end of this Book in the scene between Will and Dorothea and its absence of palpable passion. Not sure where Eliot is going with their connection (is it truly over?). (I did find it funny that 'the will said no Will' and that could require willpower. I also found it amusing that in Book 5 Eliot used the word combo "trash talked" in reference to Middlemarch's buzz about Lydgate.)

Caleb Garth seems to be a good-natured dreamer (with a soft heart) - wanting to help all, being creative in his work solutions, and not paying enough mind to the business end (see below). He also seems to be led by a valuable compass - 1) love your work and 2) not be ashamed of your work - which seems countercultural because a lot of the thinking in Middlemarch is based on where you come from and what you have made of yourself, position- or wealth-wise . That doesn't mean that Caleb wouldn't be frustrating to individuals with a different outlook including his wife.

Regarding Tertius and Rosamond's marriage - there's a mix of passion and distance which is a likely combo for the era especially when a man is working, trying to break into a community, and establishing a medical practice with an unconventional bend. Again, not unexpected but horrifying to know just how much Lydgate allowed himself to sink into debt due to both his professional and personal life. No big surprise. Doctors today are still not typically trained to lead the business end of a medical practice - are skills in the two arenas considered conflicting?

That saint is Theresa of Avila who lived in the 1500s and died at age 67 which for many saints and people of that time is a miracle in and of itself. Raised a pious Christian, she remarkable left home at age 7 with brother in tow to seek martyrdom which foreshadowed her life's path which was steady if not spectacular. She was a contemplative, a writer, and a reformer of the Carmelite order.

I have thought about 'social impression and expectation' causing ruin - then and now. I believe that that force still exists BUT people are more mobile and more flexible in what they can do and are willing to do (leaving a job, leaving a community, etc.) and, therefore, more protected and resilient. That said, consider how the Internet and social media has made "ruining people" far worse and consider young people who are driven to harming themselves because of unrelenting negative and hateful attention. All of this is worth further consideration and discussion.

message 5: by Kathy (last edited Aug 19, 2018 05:36PM) (new)

Kathy (klzeepsbcglobalnet) | 43 comments Mod
Glad you could join us, Anna! I was especially interested to learn about Ada Salter--thanks for that.

I've thought about Tertius and Dorothea as well, but I don't think either of them has any interest in the other. Tertius (foolishly) is looking for his ideal of a wife--pretty, charming, submissive. Not at all like Dorothea. It would be easier to imagine her interest in him because he's an idealist like Ladislaw. However, they're of different social classes, which does matter. Even Will has upper class ties. He's ultimately a man of leisure, if not wealth, whereas Lydgate has a profession. Rosamond imagines she's marrying up with him but finds out she's quite mistaken. Even so, the fact that Dorothea and Lydgate have mutual respect for one another is interesting and, I imagine, unusual between an unrelated man and woman of that time. It actually might have been less interesting if there were a love interest between them.

Hopefully we can sink our teeth into some of these questions even more in the final book club discussion. I'm especially interested in what Carla pointed out about social media. It makes me wonder whether our world isn't more like Middlemarch now than it was a generation ago...

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