We’re one week into our Middlemarch readalong, and I’m already a little bit behind (but not by much). I actually like reading long books at a fairly fast pace, as otherwise I tend to let them drag out forever and they lose some of their impact. This is my second reading of Middlemarch, and so far I remember very little from the first time I read it.
The setting of the story is rural Victorian England and the village of Middlemarch in particular. Within the context of that village we see the typical preoccupations of country society–family and community relations, political and religious positioning, and plenty of gossip about all of the above. There are quite a few characters introduced in Book One, perhaps the most notable being Dorothea Brooke.
Dorothea is a young woman with a great thirst for knowledge and a desire to be useful. Early on, she sets her cap at Mr. Casaubon, a local minister whom she sees as being someone who can teach her and give her an outlet for her bottled up intellectual and spiritual passions. When he proposes, she accepts with alacrity and envisions a wonderful future by his side. Despite the fact that he is thirty years her senior and she is warned against the match by several friends and relations, to Dorothea he is “the most interesting man she had ever seen” and she marries him.
In the character of Dorothea, Eliot seems to be introducing the ‘woman question’. Here is a bright, young woman with so much potential, and yet her only vision of the future is one in which she basically lies at the feet of an older man and hopes to find fulfillment through whatever opportunities he may provide. It’s tragic, and yet the world of Middlemarch seems to be an accurate representation of the choices available to women in this time and place. The only options are marriage or work as a governess, companion, or servant, none of which seem particularly appealing as they are presented through the female characters in the novel.
I haven’t gotten to the part in Book Two in which we see Dorothea again as a married woman, but I’m interested (though not particularly hopeful) to see how things have turned out. I’m also looking forward to reading more about her sister, Celia, the unlucky-in-love Sir James, local lazy boy Fred and his unrequited love for Mary Garth, and the other characters who populate the world of Middlemarch.
If you’re reading along with me, I hope you’re enjoying the book so far and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Books One and Two. If you’ve written a check-in post for this week and you don’t see it listed below, please let me know and I will add it to the list. If you haven’t been reading with us so far but want to join in, it’s not too late! We’re also chatting about Middlemarch on twitter using the hashtag #middlemarch13.
Other Thoughts on Books One and Two: