George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)
(1819 - 1880)
‘Many Theresas have been born…ill-matched with the meanness of opportunity.” Eliot starts and ends her book on the rueful note that even women like Dorothea are condemned to fall short of greatness. In your assessment, does Dorothea manifest the potential for ‘greatness’, regardless of circumstances?
‘A woman dictates before marriage in order that she may have an appetite for submission afterwards.’ Considering the many marital relationships portrayed in ‘Middlemarch’, do you find this statement ironic at all in any way?
How many youthful mistakes are due to our inexperience of life? And what part is due to our lack of self-awareness when we’re young?
On the same note (and keeping in mind Eliot’s dismay at ‘the pilulous smallness…of pre-matrimonial acquaintanceship’), do you think if Dorothea had met Ladislaw before Casaubon; or, if Lydgate had got to know Dorothea before he met Rosamond, they would have made different choices?
Eliot creates a vibrant image of town life in ‘Middlemarch’. Discuss the social dynamics that define the community.
Lydgate married Rosamond because she was beautiful, and he imagined that she would be docile and supportive of him in all matters. He comes to a rude awakening shortly after his marriage. Like Dorothea, he too fails to realize his full potential. Do you think that Eliot is implying that the right choice of spouse can make all the difference to the success that one may achieve in life?
One common feature of the female characters in this novel is that they are all ‘good women’ who stand by their men in their time of trial. The only exception to this is Rosamond Vincy/Lydgate. Do you sympathize with Rosamond’s situation? Do you find her reactions justifiable?
Middlemarch has that outstanding trait of small towns – the tendency of rumor to spread like wildfire. Dorothea says that, “…people are almost always better than their neighbors think they are.” The people in Middlemarch seem willing and eager to believe the worst of one another. Those who learn this all too well are Will, Lydgate, Bulstrode, and Dorothea herself. Can character ever withstand malicious gossip?
Bulstrode is one individual who aspires to dominate others with his moral superiority. His fall from grace is therefore even more ignominious. Hypocrisy was a favorite theme of Victorian writers. Do you think society has advanced to the extent that we may say that we live in a less hypocritical age? Why does religious hypocrisy rankle more than any other kind?
Eliot made a very earnest attempt to differentiate herself from the more trivial writings of her female contemporaries by talking of ‘serious’ topics. Do you think the discussions of the politics and medical sciences of the 1830s have been to the novel’s advantage? What did you take away from her literary style?