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Discussion - Middlemarch > Book 8, Finale, whole work

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments We come now to the final book of Middlemarch.

Lydgate's position deteriorates as people suspect skulduggery in Raffles's death and a payoff from Bulstrode. Rosamond, free of the potential loss of home, decides to give a party, but nobody will come. Mrs. Bulstrode gets the whole story from her brother, but she stands by her man. Dorothea believes in Lydgate's innocence and brings him a check to pay back Bulstrode, but when she arrives at Lydgate's she once again finds Rosamond and Ladislaw in a position which doesn't support the idea that he is in love with her, Dorothea.

Through the auspices of Miss Noble, Dorothea and Ladislaw resolve their differences and become engaged. (Is this a bit too pat? Comments? Would the book had been stronger if their eventual fates had been left unresolved?)

Bulstrode, planning to leave Middlemarch, is persuaded by his wife to give Fred Vincy the management of Stone Court. With his income and position assured (in the same line of work as Eliot's father), he and Mary are able to marry.

But this is not all a happily-ever-after novel. Lydgate moves away from Middlemarch, and though he is able to make a comfortable life for himself and Rosamond, he considers himself a failure. And Dorothea settles down in her role as wife and mother, never fulfilling, at least as I see it, her early passions to devote herself to the welfare of the poor.


message 2: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments A few questions.

1. I have always viewed the Finale as a weak ending to the book, a sort of cop-out. What do others think of it? Good addition, or would have been better left off?

2. How does the Prelude wind up relating to the book -- or doesn't it?

3. Did Eliot succeed in presenting a study of provincial life?

4. Now that you've read the book, do you agree or disagree with the opinion that it is one of the greatest novels written in the English language? And why or why not?


message 3: by Michael (new)

Michael Staten (mstatenstuffandthings) | 67 comments 1. I enjoyed the book but I did feel that the ending was a bit too tidy. Dorothea, her good intentions, and her money solved too many problems too quickly. As a philanthropic widow, she seemed too different, like a whole other character. I think I would have enjoyed in a little more if there were more transition in her character, if the solutions weren't so facile, or if the challenges were less unsurmountable (requiring the deus ex machina).

3. Yes, although we didn't see too much of the lower classes.

4. I always shy away from these types of questions. I could never presume to answer it.


message 4: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1738 comments I am glad of the ending. I was dying to see Will and Dorothea together, Casaubon's ill will be damned. I say they will be happy. She had let an idea of Noble Virtue overcome common sense, and was searching for happiness in the wrong place. I've known women like this.


message 5: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK LOL Roger. Have you known any men like this?

Like Mike, I found the ending too tidy. I would have liked to have seen Dorothea remain a philanthropic widow and become a militant feminist:D.

It was perhaps weak on the lower classes because Eliot mainly mixed with the middle and upper-middle classes.

I agree that it is one of the greatest novels in the English language but there are so many contenders I would be hard put to it to name the greatest.


message 6: by Dianna (last edited May 13, 2010 11:04AM) (new)

Dianna | 393 comments 1. Yes, I thought the ending weak. In fact, I mentioned that in my summary of the book.

2. Well, I, for one, was disapointed that Featherstone's will wasn't used in some unexpected twist at the end... Oh Prelude...I would have to go back and read it again.

3. Yes, I do think Eliot succeded in presenting a study of provencial life in England. However, I much prefer Sinclair Lewis with his books Babbit and Main Street.

4. I disagree that it's one of the greatest novels written in the English language. It may be a great novel from England but I don't think I am a big fan of English Literature.


message 7: by Dianna (new)

Dianna | 393 comments Of course Babbit and Main Street were written about provincial life in America.


message 8: by Roger (last edited May 14, 2010 02:31PM) (new)

Roger Burk | 1738 comments Let's compare Jane Austen with George Eliot. Both wrote about middle-class English provincial life, at periods roughly a generation apart. A lot of the problems are the same: who will marry whom, who gets the fortune, who is amiable and who is foolish. To my surprise, both preserve the same firmly conventinal morality. Eliot has more shadows from the outside world, such as political events. She even moves the scene to Rome for a while. In Austen you would never know that Britain is locked in a death struggle with Napoleon while her characters exchange visits. There are colonels and captains, but they appear to have no worries about regiments or ships. The problems in Eliot seem deeper--I can't think of a parallel in Austen for Dorothea's religious devotion and the troubles it leads her into. Maybe Marianne's romanticism in _Sense and Sensibility_, but that's somehow a smaller thing. Bulstrode's secret sin is never expatiated, as Willoughby's is when he marries for money instead of love.


message 9: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Roger wrote: "Let's compare Jane Austen with George Eliot. Both wrote about middle-class English provincial life, at periods roughly a generation apart. "

Interesting. I love them both, but for totally different reasons. I see Austen as writing almost fantasy. Delightful, witty, but not realistic. As you note, she almost totally ignored the major, major world events going on, and few of her characters are really realistic; they most of them seem to me to be exaggerations for the sake of effect, like those drawings that used to (may still, for all I know) appear in the NY Review of Books. Austen was moving away from the extreme fantasy aspects of the Gothic Romances, but her books still, for me, are on the fringes of that genre.

Eliot was one of the early writers of realistic fiction. She almost created the genre. (In a full discussion Dickens would need to be discussed here, but I'm only talking Austen and Eliot.) Her characters interact with and are affected by events in the world, as 'real' people are. She didn't get quite all the way to pure realistic fiction, she still had to provide her heroine withe the requisite "happy ending," but still her world is one which we (or at least I) can imagine inhabiting, unlike the worlds of Austen which I can only admire from the outside.

This isn't a criticism of Austen -- I love her work -- but a comment on what I see as major differences between the two, since you raised the issue of comparison.


message 10: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Speaking of Austen, here's a piece my brother wrote about her the other day:

http://www.artscatter.com/general/whe...


message 11: by MadgeUK (last edited May 14, 2010 03:18AM) (new)

MadgeUK I like your brother's comment that Austen looked at her society 'with one of the slyest, keenest raised eyebrows in all of literature'. Just so, and as she said herself, she wrote with a 'fine brush on ivory'. Eliot worked with a much broader brush on a highly coloured palette. It is, as Everyman says, the difference between fantasy and realism.


message 12: by Grace Tjan (last edited May 13, 2010 10:47PM) (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments 1. I wonder why Eliot felt that she needed to provide Dorothea with a conventional romantic happy ending while she denied the same for the main female characters in The Mill on the Floss and Daniel Deronda. I thought that someone of Dorothea's temperament is better off single, but I could also see why she is attracted to Ladislaw --- she will be able to inject more purpose in her life by taking a part in Ladislaw's political activities, something that I assume was not open for women at that time (correct me if I'm wrong, Madge. : ) ). In a sense, her union with Ladislaw is another version of her marriage with Casaubon, albeit with the all important distinction that this time she picks a sympathetic man whose personality is compatible with her own.

2. Yes. Dorothea never lived an epic life as St. Theresa had, but within the limitations that she had to contend with, she is able to live a worthy, if unspectacular existence. Dorothea's story is a realistic, if rather world-weary, reflection on the loss of youthful hopes and ambitions, and their replacement by the more realistic (and inevitable) compromises of maturity. Which, Eliot says, rather poignantly, is not a bad thing in itself, as

"... the growing good of the world is partly dependent on 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 lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs".

3. Yes, within the limits of the society that she was familiar with. As others have noticed, unlike Dickens, Gaskell and others, she didn't write about the lower classes. She wrote about what she knew firsthand.

4. Yes. I agree that it is one of the greatest realist novels written in the English language. Her writing here is sharp (love the sly humor/social satire) and full of subtle insights into human nature. She is able to craft characters that are totally believable as human beings with all their strengths and foibles, without resorting into overt idealization or cloying sentimentality. The plotting is deft, virtually free of filler material. And most important of all, aside from the technical aspects, I also find it to be a genuinely moving experience.

Imho, nothing by Dickens or any other English Victorian author (at least those that I've managed to read) is comparable to it. However, I still think that the greatest realist novel of all is Russian. : )


message 13: by [deleted user] (last edited May 14, 2010 04:20PM) (new)

"I think that novels tend to fail not when the characters are not vivid or deep enough, but when the novel in question has failed to teach us how to adapt to its conventions, has failed to manage a specific hunger for its own characters, its own reality level."

James Wood
How Fiction Works


I gave up on Middlemarch after about 350 pages, though I continued to follow the discussion with interest. Obviously, it is a book that succeeds brilliantly with many intelligent readers. I may pick it up again at a different point in my life and find I enjoy it.

But once I found myself skimming the plot lines in search of the author's witty aphorisms, I realized I lacked the hunger for the characters that Woods mentions.

That leads me to a somewhat broader question about this book in particular and all novels in general. What is it about characters that generates that hunger?

Surely, we have all matured beyond a young reader's attraction to characters like him or her self. Nor do we require a character to be admirable to be compelling--think Richard III.

My guess is that they need to seem credible within their own created universe; this is probably why Woods links character with the novel's conventions.

How about others? Is there something that draws you to some characters, while others leave you cold?


message 14: by Roger (last edited May 14, 2010 02:31PM) (new)

Roger Burk | 1738 comments I've read _The Great Gatsby_ three times, trying to understand what makes so many people find it compelling. I just don't understand why I should be interested in these self-absorbed, pretentious people.


message 15: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Laurele wrote: "Speaking of Austen, here's a piece my brother wrote about her the other day:

Nice. I agree, I wouldn't have wanted to live in her world, but I love visiting there.

But as for modern native wit, can we do any better than Garrison Keillor and the Prairie Home Companion?


message 16: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Zeke wrote: "How about others? Is there something that draws you to some characters, while others leave you cold? "

That's a really great question. I've pondered it a bit, and I don't have an answer, but I have some characteristics I seem to favor.

One, I like my characters to be intelligent. Perhaps that's why I never cared for Jane Eyre -- she seems quite dull in the brains department.

Two, I like a bit of a sly rebel. Not a lot, but not straight and narrow, either. I like Mr. Bennett for that reason. I like Emma because she, too, is a bit of a rebel from the staid daughterly life she should traditionally have been leading. In Middlemarch I prefer Farebrother to Dorothea. On the modern front, I like Parker's Spenser. But I don't like weird, or characters who are too much out of the mainstream.

This isn't yet an answer, but a few random thoughts. I recognize that in most books there are one or a few characters that I really like to read about, characters whose lives and whose responses to life I find interesting. But I'm not sure I'm any further along on identifying why.


message 17: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Roger wrote: "I've read _The Great Gatsby_ three times, trying to understand what makes so many people find it compelling. I just don't understand why I should be interested in these self-absorbed, pretentious ..."

I'm with you there.


message 18: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments As I read the book, I see the two main characters in Middlemarch, or at least the two characters who Eliot intended as the main characters of the two partial books which she merged to make Middlemarch, Dorothea and Lydgate, as idealists who, in the end, both fail.

I see Dorothea dreaming of being the amanuensis of some great mind, Milton's daughter to a new Milton. She dreams of learning Greek, and Latin, and serving at the feet of a towering intellect. But in the end she winds up married to a fairly self-absorbed man who, in my opinion, is not worth of either her passion or her intellect, raising her brood of children and accomplishing virtually nothing to effect the great changes in the world she dreamed of.

Lydgate, it seems to me, dreams of reforming the world of medicine, of making great advances in health which will find the solutions to some of the diseases which have plagued mankind. But in the end he winds up married to a gold-digger whose only interest in him is what he can do for her comfort and luxury. His medical skill is devoted to the pampered rich, in London and the continental spa, his treatise on Gout addresses a rich man's condition which does little to advance the welfare of the ill and destitute.

I go back to the Prelude, and see these two as Theresa and her brother, venturing bravely out into the world with dreams and passions aflame, but turned back not by uncles but by unwise marriages (speaking mostly of Dorothea and Causabon), a total misunderstanding of the character and quality of the people they were marrying, and the relentless cloying of life. But whereas Theresa overcame the uncles and found a grand an glorious outlet for her dreams, neither Dorothea or Lydgate did.

In this, I see the novel as being very realistic. Most of us, in our youth, dream of doing great and grand things. Most of us wind up overcome by life, living happy (I hope) and modestly productive (I hope) lives, but in few cases ever achieving the great accomplishments of which we dreamed. There are many more Dorotheas and Lydgates than there are Theresas.

Which may be a good thing for the world?


message 19: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments "In this, I see the novel as being very realistic. Most of us, in our youth, dream of doing great and grand things. Most of us wind up overcome by life, living happy (I hope) and modestly productive (I hope) lives, but in few cases ever achieving the great accomplishments of which we dreamed. There are many more Dorotheas and Lydgates than there are Theresas.

Which may be a good thing for the world? "

Eliot seems to think so. I take that last paragraph to be a tribute to perfectly ordinary, average people who keep the world going.

Is this the reason why Virginia Woolf said that Middlemarch is "the magnificent book that, with all its imperfections, is one of the few English novels written for grown-up people"?


message 20: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4550 comments Roger wrote: "I've read _The Great Gatsby_ three times, trying to understand what makes so many people find it compelling. I just don't understand why I should be interested in these self-absorbed, pretentious ..."

I'm not a big fan of Gatsby either, but I gave up after the third part of Middlemarch for similar reasons. I don't question the literary value or intelligence of the work, but the social context just irritates me. I think the last scene I read was the one with Fred and Bulstrode, after which I heaved the book across the room. I think it's still there.


message 21: by MadgeUK (last edited May 15, 2010 01:03AM) (new)

MadgeUK Very true Everyman, that is the novel's 'realism'.


message 22: by Yrinsyde (new)

Yrinsyde Everyman wrote: "Zeke wrote: "How about others? Is there something that draws you to some characters, while others leave you cold? "
Great question indeed! As well as the traits of particular characters and how well they operate in the novel's setting, I think it also has something to do with what stage you are in life. I reread Austen after about 20 years and I had a completely different reaction to some of the characters to when I first read then as a teen.
Oh, and I loved the Prarie Home Companion.


message 23: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Judging from the different reactions here, it seems that there is hardly a middle ground; you either love Middlemarch or hate it so much that you're compelled to abandon it. I had a similar experience discussing it with several other reading groups.


message 24: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "I think the last scene I read was the one with Fred and Bulstrode, after which I heaved the book across the room. I think it's still there. "

:)

Will Paradise Lost enjoy a different fate?


message 25: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4550 comments Everyman wrote: "Will Paradise Lost enjoy a different fate?

I think it will avoid that fate, yes. I was just looking at my old Norton Critical edition that I read at St. John's. A bit yellowed but still serviceable!


message 26: by Dianna (last edited May 16, 2010 07:20PM) (new)

Dianna | 393 comments I didn't love the book or hate it. I think for me a book is a success if I am sad when it is over and also if I feel a connection to the author where certain passages of the book seem to have been written to help me understand some universal truth. Novelty is also good. For example, I liked Catch 22 even though it was very strange.

I think that I am just not a big fan of Victorian English literature. Sorry to be redundant about that.


message 27: by Susanna (new)

Susanna | 163 comments I haven't participated in the conversation thus far, but I have finished reading Middlemarch for the second time. I do believe it is one of the greatest English language novels.

I agree with Everyman that Dorothea and Lydgate are the two main characters.

I first read MM about 25 years ago, when I was just out of college. I identified very much with Dorothea, and the character of Causubon stuck in my mind.

This time around, I still liked Dorothea, but she is too young for me to identify with her anymore. This time, I was more interested in Lydgate. I found his character very believable. I liked the way Eliot told the story of the actress in his past to show that he had a weakness for women who weren't good for him.


message 28: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Susanna wrote: "I liked the way Eliot told the story of the actress in his past to show that he had a weakness for women who weren't good for him. "

That's a nice point. I hadn't picked up on that aspect of his history, but I think you're right on.


message 29: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1738 comments We've seen four couples matched: James and Celia, Will and Dorothea, Mary and Fred, Tertius and Rosamond. (Maybe more; I'm not sure I remember everything.) But none of these is quite satisfying. James and Celia seem happy and well-matched, but they are a bit dull to engage my sympathy. I am certainly glad to see Will and Dorothea together, but her prior unhappiness was only the result of her own pertinacious folly, and it's not so clear she really recongnizes that, so it's hard to feel that her happy fate was earned. Mary and Fred are better: Fred will surely work hard, lose his youthful fecklessness, and earn that noble woman--but they are relatively minor characters. And finally, the Lydgates settle for a tolerable life together--not the stuff to make one set down the book with a sigh of happiness.

I'll say that it's a great book, but not the greatest. The characters are real and engaging, and I'm sure I'd enjoy reading it again and discovering things I'd missed. But it does not make the soul soar.


message 30: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Roger wrote: "...it does not make the soul soar. ..."

True. But isn't that appropriate for a novel of 1930s realism describing the events of a provincial town? How realistic would it be if she presented a soul-stirring marriage?

I suggest that what we are shown is a portrait of the way life goes for the vast majority of provincial lives. We have our minor villains -- Raffles, Bulstrode, neither a master criminal but both showing what greed can do to people. We have Fred, our youth raised with too much money and too little guidance who lives too much by taking advantage of the goodness of others, but eventually finds out what it means to become a solid citizen. We have the dreamers, one amateur, one professional, who dream of what might be but are brought by life to realize that what might be usually turns out to be what life lets you have. We have the honest tradesman, Garth, plodding along, dealing with failure and success as Kipling (nearly a century later) told him to deal with these two impostors. We have the pedantic, somewhat vacuous older retiree living mostly in the past, claiming an intellectuality he never possessed. We have several young men who fall in love with the inappropriate woman -- Lydgate with his dancer and then with Rosamond, Chettam at first with Dorothea -- one of who gets to correct his mistake and make a wiser choice, the other of whom doesn't.

One thing I love about this novel is that while we have a wide range of human traits set before us, none of these people are stereotypes or caricatures. They are all real people, people we would not be surprised to run into at a friend's house or dinner party.


message 31: by Selina (new)

Selina (selinatng) | 62 comments I just finished Middlemarch. I love to move on to Richard II, but that will mean I can't start Paradise Lost and I'll end up behind for yet one more book.

I like the way Eliot described all characters and I am impressed with how she could connect all their lives in quite an orderly manner against a true historical setting. Still I find Middlemarch a somewhat tedious read mainly because of the language, though I enjoy the wit and the satire when I could spot them. While I don't find it a waste of time reading Middlemarch, I can't think of a good reason why anyone must read Middlemarch.


message 32: by Selina (new)

Selina (selinatng) | 62 comments There is one minor detail in Chapter 84, about two-third into the chapter, which I like to understand. Sir James Chettam had a prejudice against Ladislaw and "was convinced that the marriage was a fatal one for Dorothea". Besides not wanting Ladislaw as part of his extended family because Ladislaw is from a lower class, was Chettam against the marriage also because of some claim in property which is potentially against his interest ?

Another minor detail, in the Finale, the third last page for my Penguin Classics edition, Mr Brooke had continually ... been presupposing .. that the intention of cutting off the entail was still maintained; and the day on which his pen gave the daring invitation, he went to Freshitt expressly to intimate that he had a stronger sense than ever of the reasons for taking that energetic step as a precaution against any mixture of low blood in the heir of the Brookes". In the end, Mr Brooke was "relieved by the sense that he was not expected to do anything in particular". What is this whole business on the entail ?


message 33: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Selina wrote: "There is one minor detail in Chapter 84, about two-third into the chapter, which I like to understand. Sir James Chettam had a prejudice against Ladislaw and "was convinced that the marriage was a fatal one for Dorothea". Besides not wanting Ladislaw as part of his extended family because Ladislaw is from a lower class, was Chettam against the marriage also because of some claim in property which is potentially against his interest ? "

I don't think it would make a difference to Chettam's property issues who Dorothea married. I suspect that were three (at least) things at work besides the class issue. One is that Ladislaw was a liberal, and therefore much against Chettam's class. Two is that Dorothea would lose her interest in Casaubon's property, and property was a key reason for marriage in Chettam's mind, so losing a huge chunk of it would be a serious matter to him (also considering that Ladislaw had no property of his own). Third, keep in mind that Chettam himself wanted to marry Dorothea, and despite marrying Celia, I suspect that Chettam would have felt that any alternative to himself would be a fatal match.

But it's a nice question -- thanks for raising it.


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