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Discussion - Middlemarch > Prelude and Book 1

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Let's start the discussion!

The Prelude is sometimes skimmed over, but let's not. It may seem at first reading a bit strange to start a book on English village life this way. Why do you think Eliot started with this prelude? What might it suggest to you about the nature or purpose of the work or the way Eliot intends to go about telling her story?

Another thing to keep in mind is the sub-title of the work (which is omitted in some editions but in my opinion shouldn't be): A Study of Provincial Life. Eliot lays out her purpose right up front. How important is it that the book was, unusually, titled after the name of a town rather than a character or an attribute of the story or specific location (such as David Copperfield, or Great Expectations, or Bleak House)?


message 2: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Although the book was published in 1871-2, it was set about 40 years earlier, and covers just three years or so. The period Eliot chose was one of significant changes in society. Much of this we can develop in the background thread, but it may be valuable to know that Eliot did extensive research into the times, and her reporting of outside events and social trends is quite accurate for the period.


message 3: by MadgeUK (last edited Mar 17, 2010 12:39PM) (new)

MadgeUK The Prelude takes us far from the provincial England of the sub title and to 16C Spain and the ecstatic visions of Saint Theresa:-

http://www.wf-f.org/StTeresaAvila.html

In Middlemarch St Theresa seems to stand as a example of women who have aspired to transcend the limits of their circumstances to make a positive contribution to the world, as Dorothea strives to do. The Prelude also alludes to a repressive uniformity in women's fashions and tastes a la Wollstonecraft - 'coiffures' and 'love stories' - which can stifle the development of individual personality if taken to extremes.

The Prelude states that St Theresa benefited from a 'coherent social faith and order' which Eliot and her contemporaries thought had been lost to Victorian England and this is an oft repeated theme of the novel.

Eliot perhaps uses the word 'epic' to describe the Saint's passionate life in order to foreshadow the heroic, epic life of Dorothea 'a cygnet reared uneasily among the ducklings in the brown pond'...


message 4: by Silver (new)

Silver Everyman wrote: "Let's start the discussion!

The Prelude is sometimes skimmed over, but let's not. It may seem at first reading a bit strange to start a book on English village life this way. Why do you think ..."


It is funny now that mention it. I never really took the time to think about it before, but you are right, it is unusual and unique for a book out of this period of time to actually be named after a place. I think that particularly with the subtitle it is rather crucial to the book that it is named after the town. In a way I think it does imply that no one particular individual is meant to be the focal point of the story. It sets the stage the book will not revolve around a narrow scope of a specific individual or specific event but look at English life from a wider range in which all the characters in their own way make up equal parts in putting together the story, even if some of the characters seem to stick out about others, it is important for the readers to remember that it is not a story about them but rather they should be viewed in how they fit within the background of their environment.

In this way it perhaps also sets the book up as being rather ambitious in all that it seeks to accomplish and encompass. As mentioned previously a great deal of extensive research had to go into the writing of this book.


message 5: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 17, 2010 02:50PM) (new)

I loved the Prologue. Faced with 800 pages to read, I found it very encouraging to read a sentence crafted with the skill of this one:

"Out they toddled from rugged Avila,wide eyed and helpless looking as two fawns,but with human hearts already beating to a national idea; until domestic reality met them in the shape of uncles, and turned them back from their great resolve."

They don't walk, they toddle. Avila is not home, it is a rugged place. They may be metaphorically compared to fawns, but we can almost hear (anachronistically, I admit) Onward Christian Soldiers fueling that "national idea" beating in their hearts.

Although I can't figure out who the second fawn represents, we quickly understand that the Prologue is describing Dorothea; Eliot captures her perfectly as we learn in the ensuing few chapters.

But the best of all is that they are turned back by "uncles." Of course, we will soon learn that Dorothea lives with her own uncle, but at this moment I just laughed out loud because the banality of "uncles" contrasts perfectly with the youthful idealism of our aspiring moral warrior.

This kind of vivid writing is very encouraging to me.


message 6: by Tom (new)

Tom  | 8 comments My edition does not have the subtitle. Because the novel begins with Dorothea, I assume she will be the central focus of the novel. This idea is reinforced by the Prelude, which, as Zeke points out, seems to refer to Dorothea's most compelling characteristic - what you might call her "moral ambition" - as being similar to Theresa's. So, from the begining, I'm thinking this is going to be Dorothea's story.

Although the novel may examine a number of characters, Dorothea may still have a central place as a moral point of reference. She looks beyond the confines of her surroundings to a point above and beyond. As Mrs. Cadwallader says, she would have been requiring Chettem to "see the stars by daylight." Even though her outlook is naive, it is persistent and in earnest. The story needs a view to the outside - imaginary as well as real - to keep it from becoming claustrophobic.


message 7: by Silver (new)

Silver Tom wrote: "My edition does not have the subtitle. Because the novel begins with Dorothea, I assume she will be the central focus of the novel. This idea is reinforced by the Prelude, which, as Zeke points out..."

Yes I agree with that, though the novel features a vast array of characters and sometimes draws attention away from Dorothea to focus on other characters and differing storylines, there is something about her which seems to always remain the center of things, and a sort of focal point of the story, even if the story is about much more beyond and outside of her. There is something about her which seems to remain predominant above others.

The prelude does in a way help set this up, as it diverges from the English setting to draw a clear comparison specially to Dorothea, suggesting that though the story is about Middlemarch and English Life, Dorothea will play a particularly important and key role.


message 8: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK Zeke wrote: "I loved the Prologue. Faced with 800 pages to read, I found it very encouraging to read a sentence crafted with the skill of this one:

"Out they toddled from rugged Avila,wide eyed and helpless lo..."


Great post Zeke!


message 9: by Grace Tjan (last edited Mar 18, 2010 02:41AM) (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Warning : potential spoilers.



Because the story of St. Theresa provides a contrast to the ultimate fate of Dorothea Brooke --- an idealistic, intelligent woman who is denied the education and freedom that she needs to realize her true potential. Society's strictures compel her to enter into a loveless (and somewhat degrading) marriage to Casaubon for the sake of attaining knowledge and a meaningful life outside of the domestic sphere. Although she later found a somewhat useful occupation, she never achieved her true potential ---never lived an epic life as St. Theresa had.


message 10: by Grace Tjan (last edited Mar 18, 2010 02:47AM) (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Zeke wrote: "I loved the Prologue. Faced with 800 pages to read, I found it very encouraging to read a sentence crafted with the skill of this one:

"Out they toddled from rugged Avila,wide eyed an..."


Eliot's writing is incisive, precise in its choice of words --- and although Middlemarch deals with serious subjects, also quite funny in certain parts. I'll post some of the witty and humorous passages (a delightful, unexpected surprise) that I noted during my initial reading later.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Everyman: Another thing to keep in mind is the sub-title of the work (which is omitted in some editions but in my opinion shouldn't be): A Study of Provincial Life.

A.S. Byatt in the introduction to my edition, compares this feature of this book to War and Peace which, of course, Tolstoy famously said was not even a "novel." Although I agree with those who say that it seems we are intended to use Dorothea as our touchstone during our time in this village, I wonder how the choice of such an eccentric (and still not fully formed) perspective influences our reading.

Lastly, I stumbled across the following in my other reading last night.

There are few who would not rather be taken in adultery than in provincialism.

-Huxley, Aldous
Antic Hay, ch.10.



message 12: by Steven (new)

Steven The prelude raises the question "what happens to heroic people" when the ages of heroes is past. It works to be St. Teresa of Avila in 16th cent spain, but wouldn't work so well in Victorian Britain. It's similar to the question raised by "Don Quixote". Or from another angle (maybe) The Grand Inquisitor section of Brothers K.

On the question of titles, I've been trying to think of other books from the period named for a town and all I could come up with is "Cranford" by Elizabeth Gaskell. The challenge of the Eliot's title (and subtitle) is to follow it with a novel which feels like a unified whole rather than a disparate collection of sketches.
Can she do it? Time will tell :)


message 13: by Frances (new)

Frances | 36 comments Tom wrote: "My edition does not have the subtitle. Because the novel begins with Dorothea, I assume she will be the central focus of the novel. This idea is reinforced by the Prelude, which, as Zeke points out..."
My edition does not have a subtitle either--what is the subtitle (is that here somewhere and I missed it?).
I assumed this book would be about Dorothea as well, and I still wonder if the author meant her to be the main character. She definitely seems to be the most developed.
I've never read this book before, and I confess I'm having some problems with the geography (I'm in book 4). The first few chapters don't even mention Middlemarch! Who is in Middlemarch, who is in Freshitt (I have problems with that one, sorry), and who is in the third town--Tipton I think. Or is Middlemarch the County? I found this confusing at first, though I've since given up worrying about it.

On a totally different note, I know narration was used often in this period, but does anyone else find this device intrusive/distracting (for ex., "I am sorry to say that...")? What is the point of it?

Finally, and I hope no one minds, I am still finding the writing a bit rambly -- I've been married to a playwright for 18 years now, and he's drummed this mantra into my head: Never explain what you can show. This book seems the opposite of that, and I confess I am finding it frustrating.


message 14: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 148 comments Sandybanks had written of the ultimate fate of Dorothea Brooke --- an idealistic, intelligent woman who is denied the education and freedom that she needs to realize her true potential. Society's strictures compel her to enter into a [...:] marriage to Casaubon for the sake of attaining knowledge and a meaningful life outside of the domestic sphere


While I am inclined to give great weight to the influence of location/of the outside circumstances [Middlemarch:] on the characters, I cannot quite go so far as to agree that Dorothea was compelled to marry Casaubon.

When I read of Sir James's efforts to please Dorothea (the horse offer; trying to think what might please her, i.e., the little white dog; the active move towards Dorothea's cottages-plan, 'though it costs him money), it seems to me that Sir James would have continued to have indulged Dorothea should she have married him.

[Doesn't it seem probable that Dorothea, having lost her parents, was looking for a father figure? One she could look up to? (Therefore not her uncle.)

I notice that it is noted a number of times that Dorothea is "rash," "rash in embracing whatever seemed to her have those aspects [of intensity and greatness:]," "hasty" in her decisions...


message 15: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 148 comments Steven, regarding novels with location titles, I'm sure there are others, but Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio comes to mind.


message 16: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 148 comments Regarding Celia, Am I misjudging her? It strikes me that Celia wants the emeralds, thinks she herself should have them, and although she has all the rest of the jewels---"generously" offering Dodo the cross that Celia doesn't want anyway; tries to dissuade Dorothea from keeping the emeralds.

"Celia, rather falteringly, beginning to think with wonder that her sister showed some weakness, and also that the emeralds would suit her own complexion even better than purple amethysts.....'But see, these agates are very pretty---and quiet' ..." And Celia thinking that her sister SHOULD renounce the ornaments. "Shall you wear them in company?"


message 17: by Rachel (new)

Rachel (woman_roars) | 2 comments Adelle wrote: "Regarding Celia, Am I misjudging her? It strikes me that Celia wants the emeralds, thinks she herself should have them, and although she has all the rest of the jewels---"generously" offering D..."

Adelle, I read that as she wanted them to be used, to bring them out since they did belong to the two girls. I think she's also reacting to Dorothea's actions. It's a bit hypocritical: Dorothea acts like she doesn't want any of them, that it would be ostentatious and wouldn't fit with her own religious and moral views, but when actually confronted with the jewels, well, it turns out she'd actually want some after all, at least the emeralds (the nicest of them?).

I think it's a great moment of characterization: Dorothea, while having grand goals and a mission, is still young and might be prey to temptation, and Celia is a bit more insightful into her sister's actions.


message 18: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK "Zeke wrote: "I loved the Prologue. Faced with 800 pages to read, I found it very encouraging to read a sentence crafted with the skill of this one:

"Out they toddled from rugged Av..."

I agree Zeke and of course Middlemarch is considered by many to be the greatest English novel. I love her fulsome descriptions of her characters, their dress, their psychology, their physical appearance and not only the cleverly crafted Prelude but the first lengthy paragraph of Chapter 1 gives us a delightful hint of what literary joys there are to come.


message 19: by Betty (last edited Mar 18, 2010 09:57AM) (new)

Betty (olderthan18) Everyman wrote: "...Why do you think Eliot started with this prelude? What might it suggest to you about the nature or purpose of the work or the way Eliot intends to go about telling her story?..."

The Prelude serves as an Epigraph to Dorothea's circumstances--a woman whose mind and problem-solving cannot freely flower in Middlemarch society in spite of her education, position, and prospects. As the book's heroine, she is presumably being compared with St. Theresa:
"Here and there is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heart-beats and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off and are dispersed among hindrances, instead of centring in some long- recognizable deed."
Then, the start of Book 1, titled Miss Brooke, quotes from 'The Maid's Tragedy'--"I can do no good because a woman". Further reading into Chapters 1 and 2 indicates that the feminist condition of the 'glass ceiling' may be exacerbated by the town's conservatism--
"Women were expected to have weak opinions; but the great safeguard of society and of domestic life was, that opinions were not acted on. Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.(1.1)"
Dorothea's beauty, cleverness, education, and prospects were more appreciated than her "Puritan energy" to understand "political economy" (1.2) and to interfere in manly affairs--
"...in his niece Dorothea it glowed alike through faults and virtues, turning sometimes into impatience of her uncle’s talk or his way of ‘letting things be’ on his estate..."(1.1).
Like St. Theresa, who attempted flight in the "child-pilgrimage", Dorthea feels escape in the idea of Casaubon's research--
"To reconstruct a past world, doubtless with a view to the highest purposes of truth—what a work to be in any way present at, to assist in, though only as a lamp-holder! This elevating thought lifted her above her annoyance at being twitted with her ignorance of political economy, that never-explained science which was thrust as an extinguisher over all her lights" (1.2).
Again, Dorothea doesn't easily accept the traditional feminine interests of her society: wearing jewelry (1.1), horseback riding (1.1-2), and "ladies' school literature" (1.3). In other words, Eliot describes Dorothea's strong character, her social circumstances, and her feeling when the two are disharmonious.


message 20: by Betty (last edited Mar 18, 2010 10:07AM) (new)

Betty (olderthan18) Adelle wrote: "...Doesn't it seem probable that Dorothea, having lost her parents, was looking for a father figure? One she could look up to? (Therefore not her uncle.) ..."

When Dorothea imagines how she might thrive in marriage and whom she might marry, her conclusion is--"The really delightful marriage must be that where your husband was a sort of father, and could teach you even Hebrew, if you wished it"(1.1).


message 21: by Frances (new)

Frances | 36 comments Adelle wrote: "Regarding Celia, Am I misjudging her? It strikes me that Celia wants the emeralds, thinks she herself should have them, and although she has all the rest of the jewels---"generously" offering D..."

I agree with Rachel, I think Celia figures, why shouldn't she have them if Dorothea is not going to use them (can't blame)? Also, I agree Dorothea is a bit of a hypocrite here, saying she doesn't want to wear them but then not wanting to let them go.
Actually, I think Dorothea's character shifts several times (first she's religious, then she's intellectual, then she's just sweet/pure as a lamb), as though the author changed her mind as the book progressed but didn't go back to the beginning to match them up.


message 22: by MadgeUK (last edited Mar 18, 2010 10:35AM) (new)

MadgeUK The epigrams at the beginning of each chapter are an important part of the novel and the one at the beginning of Chapter 1 shows concern with the restriction of opportunities for women to perform benevolent acts of real social importance. Dorothea's visit to an infant school that day and her wish to finish some plans she had been working on were thus overshadowed by her sister's more frivolous wish to look at their mother's jewellery.

From the outset Eliot contrasts the personalities of Dorothea and Celia, who seems lightweight beside her more earnest sister. Her keen interest in the jewels contrasts to Dorothea's 'puritanical' disinterest in clothes and personal adornment. Continuing the puritanical theme and references to St Theresa, Chettham remarks to Celia in Chapter 2 that her sister is given to 'self-mortification' and Celia agree that Dorothea 'likes giving up'.

In Chapter 2 we are introduced to the Victorian idea that women are inferior when Mr Brooke says that women are 'too flighty' to 'meddle' with serious documents and Celia compounds this idea by being more concerned about the great philosopher Locke's mole and Mr Casaubon's 'sallow' complexion than in their ideas. But the epigram from Don Quixote at the head of Chapter 2 foreshadows Dorothea's idealised opinion of Casaubon. In Chapter 3 Casaubon present Dorothea with a lap dog, which again emphasises the view that women are mere embellishments adorning a world run by men whereas Dorothea prefers to walk the St Bernard, a working dog then used by the Swiss for mountain rescue.

The narrator refers to Dorothea's 'soul-hunger' which motivates her to ignore the trivial and aspire to great deeds. It is this hunger which drives her into thinking that the supposed scholarship of Casaubon will elevate her and give her something worthy to do with her life. In Chapter 4 we see that Chettham has already started the building project at Freshitt, signalling that he is in tune with Dorothea's ideas and that his aspirations are, in fact, more realistic (and more worthy) than the ideas in the learned pamphlets sent by Casaubon. But the die is cast...


message 23: by Silver (new)

Silver Frances wrote: Actually, I think Dorothea's character shifts several times...

Dorothea I do find to be one of the most complex characters within the book. As many of the other characters do tend to be more consistent, or at least have more clear views which they seem to hold throughout.

It is true that at times Dorothea does seem to be almost contradictory to herself, but than at the same time I think that it is realistic that the interests of people might seem to conflict with each other.

On the one hand Dorothea is very pious and takes her religion quite seriously, particularly compared to those around her, she has this almost martyr like or saintly image of herself yet at the same time she has strong intellectual ambitions which would seem to be at odds with her religious fervor.

In spite of her outwardly seeming to reject things of a materialistic value and ideas of vanity, she does not wear fanciful clothes and adorn herself in jewels, she is not exactly what I would call humble.

I have to say I was mot particularly impressed with her architectural ambitions, that seemed to be me to very forward thinking, to have a woman mapping out plans for cottages designs, that certainly did fly in the face of convention.

I think that part of what seemed to be the shifts in her personality come from the fact that in spite of her independent thinking, her unconventional ideas, and willfulness, she is still quite young and thus may not yet full know just who she is, and has not had the opportunity to completely develop her own identity for herself.

And then she gets married at a considerably young age, and I think that her own personal devolvement in finding herself was suppressed under her marriage to Casaubon.


message 24: by Frances (new)

Frances | 36 comments Silver wrote: "I think that part of what seemed to be the shifts in her personality come from the fact that in spite of her independent thinking, her unconventional ideas, and willfulness, she is still quite young and th
And then she gets married at a considerably young age, and I think that her own personal devolvement in finding herself was suppressed under her marriage to Casaubon.."

Hmm--well, I can see that a character (or a person) might shift or not be quite formed, but the shifts in Dorothea or just so broad--the two examples you cite are perfect: she's all independent and wants to do all this advanced stuff to build nice houses for the peasants, but she marries someone entirely focused on studies, with no practical interests at all. I don't actually think Casaubon suppresses her development, I think that's a choice she made, she picked him with the desire to totally devote herself to making his life easier, even to wanting to write out texts she didn't understand. When she thinks about marrying Casaubon, it's almost something out of Tolstoy.
I can't honestly say I find the different personalities coming together in a believable fashion.


message 25: by Silver (new)

Silver Frances wrote: "Silver wrote: "I think that part of what seemed to be the shifts in her personality come from the fact that in spite of her independent thinking, her unconventional ideas, and willfulness, she is s..."

I think part of the problem is she marries Casaubon when she does not quite know just what it is she wants, though she thinks she knows, she rather rushes into it, and what she is really "attracted" so is an ideal rather than Casabon as a flesh and blood man. She doesn't consider exactly what it will mean to be truly married to such a person.

She has her vision of Milton's blind daughters, that she often refers to, and it is this idea that she is drawn to. She believes she can use Casaubon to further her intellectual pursuits, to have accesses to a greater store of knowledge as well as putting herself in the position as being this almost martyr figure to a man whom will depend upon her devotion and aid.

But the reality turns out different than this and I do think that she matures through her experiences with being married to him, and in discovering that the reality of the marriage and the ideal she once held were completely different from each other I think she begins to reevaluate what it is she truly wants compared to hat she once believed she wanted.


message 26: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Steven wrote: On the question of titles, I've been trying to think of other books from the period named for a town and all I could come up with is "Cranford" by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Villette by Charlotte Bronte. I'm reading it now and kept wondering when I'd be introduced to the title character. Then when I was I found out that she was a town.


message 27: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 18, 2010 02:31PM) (new)

Some of you may have read British writer Pat Barker's remarkable trilogy about WWI. In The Ghost Road there is a description of a young minister's daughter who, as a child had roamed the fields with her brother, but now lives a stifled, scrutinized life at home while her brother has traveled the world as a ship's doctor.

A descriptive paragraph ends as one of my favorite passages in contemporary fiction: "...then, after her father's retirement, a small house in Ramsgate, deteriorating health, confinement to the house, then to the bedroom, then to the bed. And yet she was no more intrinsically neurasthenic than he was himself. But a good mind must have something to feed on, and hers, deprived of other nourishment, had fed on itself."

About eighty years earlier, Dorothea's situation is not strictly analagous. Still, her mind is clearly seeking nourishment and she turns to what she perceives as a source--Causabon.


message 28: by Tom (last edited Mar 18, 2010 07:53PM) (new)

Tom  | 8 comments Both the Prelude, and Book One's focus on Dorothea's high expectations and naivete may be used, in part, to create dramatic tension.

We have the sense that Dorothea is likely to encounter disapointment and this potential hangs over the early pages of the novel. Higher aims bring greater disappointments if they are not fulfilled.

I don't know Dorothea's ultimate fate - I haven't read that far - I am just suggesting that Eliot may be trying to heighten suspense by showing us that Dorothea, because of her character and expectations, is setting out on a difficult and uncertain journey and that the reader should expect more than a cozy and comfortable depiction of provincial life.

There's an interesting passage at the begining of Chapter XI. It's too long to quote the whole thing here. It begins: "Certainly nothing at present could seem much less important to Lydgate..."

It goes on to describe, from a distance (from the perspective of fate) the "subtle movements" of "old provincial society." The passage ends with the comment that "much the same sort of movement and mixture went on in Old England as we find in older Herodotus, who also, in telling what has been, thought it well to take a woman's lot for his starting point..."

Eliot's description of these "movements" and turns of fate are various enough to suggest that Middlemarch is meant to represent a microcosm - a miniature representation of the wider world. It seems that her approach will be to study this world from a microscopic as well as a wider (moral, philosophical, historic) perspective.

Maybe starting from a male point of view would create a narrower perspective? Dorothea may be the best introduction since she seems to embody what were considered "male" characteristics - the desire to participate in the world - with the "traditional" female characteristics of "feeling and sensitivity."


message 29: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Zeke wrote: "I loved the Prologue. Faced with 800 pages to read, I found it very encouraging to read a sentence crafted with the skill of this one:

"Out they toddled from rugged Avila,wide eyed and helpless lo..."

This kind of vivid writing is very encouraging to me.


That's one of the wonderful things I love about this book. Almost every sentence is worth reading not just for the way it may advance the story, but for its own sake. I find Eliot a subtle but marvelous writer.


message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

I think I recall advice that a writer should review his/her verbs and adverbs most carefully.


message 31: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments MadgeUK wrote: "In Middlemarch St Theresa seems to stand as a example of women who have aspired to transcend the limits of their circumstances to make a positive contribution to the world, as Dorothea strives to do. "

The issue of the opportunities and roles of women will be an important element of the book -- in my opinion, handled with more depth and sophistication than it is in most other Victorian novels.

Right away we get the contrast with a St. Theresa when Eliot says "And how should Dorthea not marry?" St. Theresa, of course, didn't marry. So right away Eliot offers us the dichotomy not only of different nations and different ages but of different expectations (in her teens Theresa was already being educated in a convent and considering her vocation).


message 32: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Tom wrote: "My edition does not have the subtitle. Because the novel begins with Dorothea, I assume she will be the central focus of the novel."

The novel actually started out as two different novels, one about Dorothea and another about -- well, about the story line as it will develop in future books, no spoilers here! At some point, Eliot decided to combine the two stories into one longer novel. As we get near the end we can discuss how successfully we think she integrated the two stories. So you (and Silver and maybe others, I haven't read past these yet) are right in one sense that the book, at least at the beginning, is about Dorothea. To what extent she remains the main character throughout time will tell. :)


message 33: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Asmah wrote: "Everyman wrote: "...Why do you think Eliot started with this prelude? What might it suggest to you about the nature or purpose of the work or the way Eliot intends to go about telling her story?......"

A really nice analysis, Asmah. A nicely chosen set of passages to show the gender constraints under which Eliot places her female protagonist. I also love that passage you quoted, "Women were expected to have weak opinions; but the great safeguard of society and of domestic life was, that opinions were not acted on." I take weak in this context not to mean not strong, but to mean not wise or intelligent.


message 34: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Steven wrote: "The prelude raises the question "what happens to heroic people" when the ages of heroes is past. "

Really nice comment. I hadn't thought about it that way, but I see your point.

In a way, don't many generations think that they come after an age of heroism? The Greeks certainly thought that the heroic age ended with the fall of Troy, and their lives were much more mundane than those that went before. Fast forward through many other examples, and we are looking back today to "The Greatest Generation" and a feeling that that sort of heroism is not longer part of our society.

But yes, I think that Eliot may be contrasting the age of religious heroism (Theresa, after all, was toddling off to be martyred by being beheaded by the Moors) against Dorothea who relies on reading Jeremy Taylor and making eschewing fashion represent her commitment to Christianity.


message 35: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Frances wrote: "I confess I'm having some problems with the geography (I'm in book 4). The first few chapters don't even mention Middlemarch! Who is in Middlemarch, who is in Freshitt (I have problems with that one, sorry), and who is in the third town--Tipton I think. Or is Middlemarch the County? I found this confusing at first, though I've since given up worrying about it."

Middlemarch is the large town in which most of the later action takes place -- if you're in Book 4, the doctor, the banker, etc. Tipton is the parish, apparently at least a hamlet of a few houses, where Mr. Brooke's estate is located -- he has one or more farms, and some property, I don't know how much. (speaking of country estates, not that I live on one, but I got up to get a book from the other room and noticed five deer on our front lawn area.) lives, and is a few miles outside of town -- I think GE mentions how many miles at some point, but I forget.

Freshitt is Sir Chettam's estate and is adjacent to Tipton . Rev. Cadwallader is resident in Freshitt and keeps a curate in Tipton. From this, I assume that the estates are of some size and that there is some sort of settlement in each beyond the two main houses. But none of this is made really clear, is it?

In her notes for Middlemarch (which have been published in a little pamphlet titled Quarry for Middlemarch which you may be able to borrow, as I did, on Interlibrary Loan) Eliot says that Lowick (which we will meet later) is 2 miles from Middlemarch (if her sketch is intended to be geographical, to the northwest), Tipton and Freshitt are 3 miles from Middlemarch in the opposite direction, and appear to be about a mile apart, but they are adjacent, giving some idea of the size of the estates and their farms. If you know England, you will know that little villages dot many areas of England sometimes only a mile or two apart.

Hope this helps!


message 36: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments rachel wrote: "I think it's [diving the jewels:] a great moment of characterization: Dorothea, while having grand goals and a mission, is still young and might be prey to temptation, and Celia is a bit more insightful into her sister's actions. "

Neat comment!


message 37: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments MadgeUK wrote: "The epigrams at the beginning of each chapter are an important part of the novel..."

I'm glad you brought that up. Sometimes their relevance to the chapter isn't immediately obvious, but you're right, they merit noticing and thinking about. Some of them are her own writing, by the way.


message 38: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Silver wrote: "Dorothea I do find to be one of the most complex characters within the book. As many of the other characters do tend..."

I think partly because she is still forming her character. I sometimes forget how young she actually is at the start of the book -- not yet 20.

Another aside: did anybody notice that somewhat strange phrase, that from twelve they were "educated on plans at once narrow and promiscuous..."? (Ch. 1) Promiscuous??? I've usually seen it used to refer to sexual licentiousness. But my OED tells me that its primary meaning is "Consisting of members or elements of of different kinds grouped or massed together without order; of mixed and disorderly composition or character..." Isn't this just the sort of education Mr. Brooke would arrange? And doesn't it help explain Dorothea's passion both for extending and wanting to bring order to her learning?


message 39: by Silver (new)

Silver Everyman wrote: "Silver wrote: "Dorothea I do find to be one of the most complex characters within the book. As many of the other characters do tend..."

I think partly because she is still forming her character. ..."


That is quite interesting, and I certainly agree that though does seem to aptly describe just the kind of education which I would see Mr. Brooke putting together.

As well I think in consideration of the discussion regarding Dorothea and what seems to be her own shifts in character and contradictions the word could be used in aptly to describing her.

There does seem to be something disorderly, and varied in her own personal ambitions and the pairing of her religion with her intellectual pursuits.


message 40: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Frances wrote: "On a totally different note, I know narration was used often in this period, but does anyone else find this device intrusive/distracting (for ex., "I am sorry to say that...")? What is the point of it?
"


Ah, I'm glad you brought this up. Eliot's role as narrator is frequently discussed in critical articles. She does it so often and in so many different ways (sometimes speaking directly to the reader, sometimes as you note a personal "I" comment, sometimes with a generic philosophical comment as at the end of Chapter 6 when she writes "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. "

Personally, I love all these narratorial interjections. It makes me feel more as though I'm having a conversation with Eliot in which she's telling me a story but making clear that it her telling the story, not just some story which appears to come out of nowhere.

I can't not love passages like that in Chapter 7 where she writes "And here I must vindicate a claim to philosophical reflectiveness, by remarking that Mr Brooke on this occasion little thought of the Radical speech which, at a later period, he was led to make on the incomes of the bishops. What elegant historian would neglect a striking opportunity for pointing out that his heroes did not foresee the history of the world, or even their own actions? -- For example, that Henry of Navarre, when a Protestant baby, little thought of being a Catholic monarch; or that Alfred the Great, when he measured his laborious nights with burning candles, had no idea of future gentlemen
page measuring their idle days with watches. Here is a mine of truth, which, however vigorously it may be worked, is likely to outlast our coal."

Without these flashes of Eliot speaking directly to us on this or that topic, passing on her insights and observations, the book would be much less interesting for me. As a simple story, I find it interesting enough but not gripping or fascinating. It's the way she tells it, and the way she interjects herself into the telling, that for me turn it from a good into a great novel.

But obviously, others may differ, which is fair enough!


message 41: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 19, 2010 09:18AM) (new)

I tend to side with Everyman on the way Eliot inserts her comments into the narrative. I find them witty and, sometimes, wise. One point I would add, however, is that by doing so, she makes herself subject to scrutiny as a character in the story. Does this make her less reliable as a narrator?

For example, in chapter ten, she informs us that "in the present stage of things," she feels more tenderly towards Casaubon in his success than "towards the disappointment of the amiable Sir James."

This challenges the reader to decide if we agree with her assessment. And why is she making it? It also lets us wonder if her opinion will change and, if so, what might cause the change. In short, it engages us in ways that a more remote narrative voice might not.

Also, on the book's subtitle: A Study in Provincial Life. I haven't read the book before, so I may be wrong. But my sense is that we are being given a very selective, limited view of the town. Left out are the people who actually live in the huts that Dorothea wants to rehabilitate.


message 42: by [deleted user] (new)

Steven wrote: "The prelude raises the question "what happens to heroic people" when the ages of heroes is past. "

Everyman wrote: Really nice comment. I hadn't thought about it that way, but I see your point.

In a way, don't many generations think that they come after an age of heroism? The Greeks certainly thought that the heroic age ended with the fall of Troy, and their lives were much more mundane than those that went before.


Living at about the same time, Ralph Waldo Emerson urges a very different view of history and heroes. As we saw in our reading of Self Reliance he urges that we become heroic ourselves, in our own way, rather than spend our lives in libraries reading about others. (Despite this, he was enormously well read and wrote a collection of essays titled Representative Men. However, in doing so he was trying to show that we can recreate their qualities in our own lives and in our own time.)

Emerson, like Thoreau, lived in a rather provincial village too. Indeed, Thoreau never felt a need to travel far, feeling that everything the world had to offer could be found at home. They both transcended their location in important ways. It will be interesting to see if the village of Middlemarch presents us with any characters with the drive to "invent" themselves. Dorothea might seem an early candidate, but she has already decided to subsume her life in service to Casaubon.


message 43: by MadgeUK (last edited Mar 19, 2010 05:41AM) (new)

MadgeUK I love Eliot's narrative insights. As an omniscient narrator she has created a device to complicate and enrich our responses. Her narrative voice has access to the character's thoughts and can report separate events occurring simultaneously whilst always implying the possibility of other points of view. In this sense it is unreliable.

Reading Middlemarch alongside Tess of the D'Urbevilles I am struck by Eliot's optimism as compared with Hardy's pessimism. George Eliot described herself as neither an optimist or a pessimist but as a 'meliorist'.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meliorism

She believed that humans were making progress towards a better, more equal society, and that the world could be improved through human action. She writes of Dorothea: 'The effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent upon unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who have lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs.' (Chapter 86.) Eliot also has Dorothea rephrase The Golden Rule: 'What do we live for if it is not to make life less difficult for each other'. (Chapter 72.)


message 44: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Zeke wrote: Living at about the same time, Ralph Waldo Emerson urges a very different view of history and heroes. As we saw in our reading of Self Reliance he urges that we become heroic ourselves, in our own way, rather than spend our lives in libraries reading about others. (Despite this, he was enormously well read and wrote a collection of essays titled Representative Men. However, in doing so he was trying to show that we can recreate their qualities in our own lives and in our own time.)

Emerson, like Thoreau, lived in a rather provincial village too. Indeed, Thoreau never felt a need to travel far, feeling that everything the world had to offer could be found at home. They both transcended their location in important ways. It will be interesting to see if the village of Middlemarch presents us with any characters with the drive to "invent" themselves. Dorothea might seem an early candidate, but she has already decided to subsume her life in service to Casaubon.


Good connection, Zeke. Dorothea seems to me to have caught Emerson's romantic view and desire to be a hero. Is she trying to lift herself too high in her impracticability?


message 45: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Frances wrote: Actually, I think Dorothea's character shifts several times (first she's religious, then she's intellectual, then she's just sweet/pure as a lamb), as though the author changed her mind as the book progressed but didn't go back to the beginning to match them up.

The three characteristics often inhabit the same character, Frances--I've known many pure and intelligent religious people in my lifetime.


message 46: by [deleted user] (new)

Frances wrote: Actually, I think Dorothea's character shifts several times (first she's religious, then she's intellectual, then she's just sweet/pure as a lamb), as though the author changed her mind as the book progressed but didn't go back to the beginning to match them up.

Laurele; The three characteristics often inhabit the same character, Frances--I've known many pure and intelligent religious people in my lifetime.


I agree with all of the above. However, Dorothea has another quality that hasn't been mentioned here. Eliot allows us to see Dorothea's tinge of disappointment at discovering that the villagers in Casaubon's parish are not as impoverished and miserable as she had hoped; they don't need her help. I think this humanized her.


message 47: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Zeke wrote: I agree with all of the above. However, Dorothea has another quality that hasn't been mentioned here. Eliot allows us to see Dorothea's tinge of disappointment at discovering that the villagers in Casaubon's parish are not as impoverished and miserable as she had hoped; they don't need her help. I think this humanized her.

Exactly. I think Dorothea does not know herself very well.


message 48: by Andreea (new)

Andreea (andyyy) I think Dorothea is more of a religious Emma Bovary than a saint. She is enamoured of intensity and greatness and rash to embrace whatever seemed to her to have those aspects, but while Emma Bovary has an affair, lives beyond her means and ultimately commits suicide to become a tragic hero, Dorothea, intoxicated with Pascal's Pensees and Jeremy Taylor, tries to be a martyr.


message 49: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Andreea wrote: "I think Dorothea is more of a religious Emma Bovary than a saint. She is enamoured of intensity and greatness and rash to embrace whatever seemed to her to have those aspects, but while Emma Bovary..."

Good points. And remember Anna Karenina in the train tiring of reading about Lady Mary or whoever and wanting to get into the book and be the heroine.


message 50: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Zeke wrote: "I tend to side with Everyman on the way Eliot inserts her comments into the narrative. I find them witty and, sometimes, wise. One point I would add, however, is that by doing so, she makes herself subject to scrutiny as a character in the story. Does this make her less reliable as a narrator?"

It certainly makes her subject to her own scrutiny. But rather than making her subject to scrutiny as a character, I think it makes her subject to scrutiny on the level of an essayist or philosopher interspersing a novel with elements of the essays she wrote as editor of and contributor to the Westminster Review, one of the better known and regarded quarterly reviews of the Victorian era. It seems that she just couldn't leave that role totally behind her!


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