One of the central themes that runs through Middlemarch is that of marriage. Indeed, it has been argued that Middlemarch can be construed as a treatise in favor of divorce. I do not think that this is the case, although there are a number of obviously unsuitable marriages. If it had been Elliot’s intention to write about such a controversial subject, I believe she would not have resorted to veiling it in a novel.
She illustrates the different stages of relationships that her characters undergo, from courtship through to marriage, George Eliot had pondered enough about the position nd the portrayal of women in Victorian society, and the various responses different types of women elicit. Probably this had enabled Eliot to sketch and embed in her novel, charming characters such as Dorothea and Rosamond, two very different women who reflected in them the different tunes of the times. Their ideas would be echoed and supported in the works of other writers in this era.
Up until this time, marriage had been thought and been written about to be a method for men to control women and allow them to be dependent and subservient rather than to search for love. To highlight the cause of women, Eliot made a rather calculated move and brought in marriage as a very important theme in Middlemarch. Marriage, central to the lives of women in Victorian society becomes the canvas on which her two characters bloom. Thus, she illustrates the different stages of relationships that her characters undergo, from courtship through to marriage.
A fellow mortal with whose nature you are acquainted with solely through the brief entrances and exits of a few imaginative weeks called courtship, may, when seen in the continuity of married companionship, be disclosed as something better or worse han what you have preconceived, but will certainly not appear altogether the same. (Eliot, 193) She not only includes the new couples (Fred and Mary, Celia and Chettam), but also the older ones (the Garths and the Cadwalladers and the Bulstrodes), as well as widowhood (Dorothea).
But because of the strength, depth and diversity in Dorothea and Rosamond, they remain brightest even as the story unfolds a nuptial kaleidoscope through various couples. The marriage that would seem most in need of a divorce was that between Dorothea and Casaubon- which ironically, is the ne that would last the longest if divorce had been available. Dorothea would not, indeed could not divorce Casaubon because of her honesty and the strength of her idealism. Despite the fact that Casaubon is clearly unsuitable, she still goes ahead with the marriage.
It can be said that Dorothea represents the antithesis of Casaubon, where he his cold and severe, she is warm and friendly. Indeed, they are portrayed in clearly different ways: Dorothea represents light and life, while Casaubon is darkness and death. To Mr. Brooke, Casaubon is “buried in books,” to Sir James he seems a “mummy’ who has “not a drop of red blood in him (Eliot, 447). ” The very thought that Dorothea has come to be engaged to him causes Celia to start to grieve.
Everything about Casaubon issues from this basic metaphor. His appearance – a pa id complexion, deep eye sockets, iron-grey hair, makes his head look like a skull. Indeed, his proposal to Dorothea, in which his affection is introduced in parenthesis, shows that he is emotionally dead. Eliot could not have been precise on such matters, but he may be sexually impotent, for Dorothea is found “sobbing bitterly’ on her oneymoon in Rome, and it may not simply be his deficiencies as a scholar that account for her disappointment.
It is not love that attracts Dorothea to the corpse-like Casaubon, but rather her sense of duty; her desire to be like one of Milton’s daughters. Dorothea, orphaned at a young age, would seem to long for a husband who can fill the role of the father she lost. In this era, there was a lot of pressure for women to act in order to please the father of the family. In this case Dorothea shares this desire to obey what she believes her father’s wishes would be in order to be a good daughter.
Just as Eliot is stating a satirical example on the concept of pleasing patriarchal fgures, this idea was touched upon in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women in which Wollstonecraft wrote, “obeying a parent only on account of his being a parent, shackles the mind, and prepares it for a slavish submission to any power but reason (153). ” In this segment, Mary is trying to emphasize that teaching children to obey without question will cause a blindness as they reach adulthood that will prevent them from making decisions that are better off for their happiness in life.
This can be seen in Dorothea’s choice in marrying Casaubon. Casaubon’s age is no deterrence; indeed she would rather marry a teacher / father fgure than a romantic person at the beginning of the novel. She learns, though, that this is a bad idea, and so finds herself attracted to Ladislaw. She is so possessed with the idea of contributing to the good of humanity through the assistance she can offer Casaubon, she does not even notice how patronizing and self-centered he is.
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