AD's English Literature : George Eliot's Middlemarch: Psychological Novel and Study of Provincial Life and Characters

George Eliot's Middlemarch: Psychological Novel and Study of Provincial Life and Characters


"Middlemarch, the magnificent book which with all its imperfections is one of the few English novels for grown up people." -Virginia Woolf (1882 - 1941)


George Eliot’s Middlemarch which appeared in parts in 1871-72,   considered by many to have produced her greatest work, enchanted her public with a penetrating, psychological novel set in rural England during the early 19th century. Eliot carefully researched and meticulously detailed the social climate of the time, making the town of Middlemarch and its inhabitants seem true to life-A Study of Provincial Life.

George Eliot's masterpiece, Middlemarch  is an epic novel in every sense of the word. Dealing with English middle-class life in a provincial town, it is socially and politically relevant.  Eliot set the novel forty years earlier, in 1830 – just before the First Reform Bill was passed. Eliot believed that it takes time to understand historical events – it's impossible to understand all the consequences of something right after it takes place. The politics and societal changes were much more interesting in the book . We find ourselves imagining in the book  about medicine or building a railroad, Parliament and etc. It make   sensible to me as well to see it played out by words rather than just reading about it in social history book.

The story centers round Dorothea who  is a kind hearted and honest woman. She longs to find some way to improve the world. She thinks Casaubon is a great intellectual, but after she marries him, she quickly discovers that he is not passionate enough to make her happy. She also learns that she is not as submissive and sacrificing as she had previously thought. She draws plans for comfortable cottages to replace the ramshackle buildings on large estates. She helps Lydgate when he suffers for his connections with Bulstrode. She falls in love with Casaubon’s young cousin, Will Ladislaw. She defies Casubon’s machinations and marries Will even though it means losing her inheritance as Casubon’s widow. Sure, the scandal was tame compared to today, but these people were hapless. Whether it was Dorothea marrying that stick-in-the-mud, Casaubon or Rosamund and her spendthrifty ways, we were consistently flabbergasted, bored, and entertained through this epic novel.

In the whirlpool of incidents we find many immortal characters and  incidents in the novel. To cite few examples we find Brooke, Dorothea and Celia’s bachelor uncle. He is humbling man who can never stick to an opinion, always wanting to please everyone. He hires Will Ladislaw to write for his paper. He runs for a seat in Parliament on the Reform platform, but he let his own tenants live in poverty and squalor. The scandal resulting from his hypocrisy prompts him to improve conditions on his own estate, Tipton Grange. While Nicholas Bulstrode is a wealth Middlemarch banker. He is married to Walter Vincy’s sister, Bulstrode professes to be a deeply religious Evangelical Protestant, but  he has dark past: he made his fortune as a pawnbroker selling stolen goods. He married Will Ladislaw’s grandmother after her first husband died. Her daughter had run away years before, and she insisted that Bulstrode find her daughter before she re-married, because she wanted to leave her wealth to her only surviving child. Bulstrode protected the daughter and her child. Will Ladislaw, but he kept her existence a secret. He bribed the man he hired to find her, John raffles, to keep quiet. John raffles blackmails him with this information. When Raffles becomes ill, Bulstrode cares for him. However, he disobeys Lydgate’s medical advice, and Raffles dies as a result. When the scandal about his past and the circumstances of Raffle’s death become known, Bulstrode leaves Middlemarch is shame. He purchases Stone Court from Joshua Rigg Featherstone.

George Eliot
Another interesting point is brief character sketches. Harriet Bulstrode, Walter Vincy’s sister  is a kind, honest, religious woman. No one in Middlemarch blames her for her husband’s misdeeds. Interestingly, she resolves to stay with her husband even after she learns of his wrongdoing. There is Elinor Cadwallader  the wife of the Rector at Tipton Grange, Brooke’s estate. She was born to a good family, but she married down and angered her friends and families. She is a practical woman who is forever trying to play matchmaker to unmarried young people, including Dorothea, Celia, and Sir James. howevr,  Unlike his wife, Humphrey Cadwallader   doesn’t believe in meddling in other people’s affairs. Edward Casaubon - Edward Casaubon owns a large estate called Lowick. He is a scholarly clergyman. His lifelong ambition is to write the Key to all Mythologies, hut he is insecure and uncertain about his own abilities. He marries Dorothea because he thinks she is completely submissive and worshipful. Her stubborn independence frustrates him, and he mistakenly believes that she is constantly criticizing him. Casaubon is Will Ladislaw’s cousin. His mother’s sister was disowned by her family for running away to marry a man they don’t like. Her own daughter Will’s mother, also ran away to marry. Casaubon offers financial support to Will because he feels obligated to make amends for his aunt’s disinheritance. He becomes jealous of Will’s relationship with Dorothea. He includes an addendum in his will stating that Dorothea will loose his wealth and property if she ever marries Will Ladislaw. 

Interestingly, Sir James Chettam is a baronet. He owns a large estate called freshet. He courts Dorothea, but she chooses to marry Casaubon. He later marries her sister. He enacts Dorothea’s cottage plans on his own estate.  Camden Farebrother is a Vicar, but he does not consider himself to be a very good clergyman, though many people like his sensible sermons. He becomes fast friends with Lydgate and supports his mother, sister, and aunt on his small income. He must gamble to make ends meet and to pursue his scientific hobbies. He loses in the election for the chaplaincy at the New Hospital. Caleb Garth is a poor businessman. He earns his living managing large estates. He co-signs a debt for Fred Vincy. When Fred is unable to pay, Garth’s family suffers. He receives new business, overcomes the loss, and hires Fred Vincy to work for him. He declines to manage Stone Court for Bulstrode after Raffles reveals Bulstrode’s dark past. Susan Garth is Caleb Garth’s wife. She is a former schoolteacher. Mary Garth – is the daughter of Caleb and Susan Garth. She loves Fred, but she refuses to marry him if he becomes a clergyman and fails to find a steady occupation. Will Ladislaw – is the grandson of Casaubon’s disinherited aunt. Bulstrode tries to give him money to aton for hiding his existence from his grandmother. He refuses the money because he knows it came through thievery. He worships Dorothea. He does not care for money and loves everything that is beautiful. Tertius Lydgate is  the orphan son of a military man. He choose the medical profession at a young age, much to the chagrin of his wealthy, titled relatives. He comes to Middlernarch hoping to test new methods of treatment. He marries Rosamond Vincy, whose expensive habits get him into debt. He takes a loan from Bulstrode and becomes embroiled in Bulstrode’s scandal. Dorothea aids him in his darkest hour. He hopes to find the tissue that is the most basic building block for life. Sir Godwin Lydgate is Tertius Lydgate’s uncle. Captain Lydgate – Captain Lydgate is Tertius Lydgate foppish cousin. He takes Rosamond out riding. She suffers a miscarriage as a result of an accident on horseback. Naumann is Ladislaw’s painter friend in Rome. He uses Casaubon as a model for Thomas Aquinas as a ruse to draw a sketch of Dorothea. Miss Noble – Miss Noble is Mrs. Farebrother’s sister. She steals small items of food to give to the poor. She becomes fond of Will Ladislaw. Selina Plymdale - Selina Plymdale is a good friend of Harriet Bulstrode. Her son courts Rosamond Vincy, but he is rejected. Ned Plymdale courts Rosamond, but she refuses him. John Raffles – John Raffles is an old business partner of Bulsrode. Bulstrode bribed him to keep the existence of the daughter and grandchild of his first wife secret. He comes back to blackmail Bulstrode  He is Joshua Rigg Featherstone’s stepfather. He dies at Stone Court because Bulstrode interferes with Lydgate’s medical treatment. Joshua Rigg Featherstone is Peter Featherstone’s illegitimate son. John Raffles is his stepfather. He inherits Stone Court. He sells it to Bulstrode because he wants to become a moneychanger.

Borthrop Trumbell is an auctioneer in Middlemarch . Walter Tyke  - Walter Tyke  is an Evangelical Protestant minister. Bulstrode is a supporter of his. He wins the election for the chaplaincy at the New Hospital, beating out Farebrother.Rosamond Vincy is the daughter of Walter and Lucy Vincy. She grows up accustomed to an expensive lifestyle. She marries Lydgate because she thinks he he is rich and because he has titled relatives. She dreams of leaving Middlemarch and living an exciting, aristocratic lifestyle, but her expensive tastes get Lydgate deeply into debt.Fred Vincy is the oldest son Walter and Lucy Vincy. His father sends him to college because he wants Fred to become a clergyman, but Fred does not want to work in the Church. Etc gets himself into debt by gambling. He is accustomed to a lavish lifestyle. He causes financial difficulty for the Garths because he can not pay debt on which Caleb Garth co-signed his name. He wants to marry Mary Garth, but she won’t have him unless he finds a steady occupation other than the Church. He hopes to inherit Stone Court from his uncle, Peter Featherstone. These hopes are disappointed, so he works for Caleb Garth. Walter Vincy is a modestly well-off businessman in manufacturing. He is also mayor of Middlemarch. Fred and Rosamond’s expensive tastes infuriate him. He refuses to lend Rosamond and Lydgate money to pay Lydgate’s debt. He is Harriet Bulstrode’s brother. Lucy Vincy is Walter Vincy’s wife. She is the daughter of an innkeeper, much to Rosamond’s chagrin. She dotes on her son and doesn’t want him to marry Mary Garth. She is the sister of Featherstone’s second wife.

 

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