Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Middlemarch: paintings and miniatures

1/ Dorothea, looking at some paintings, says: 
"I am no judge of these things. You know, uncle, I never see the beauty of those pictures which you say are so much praised. They are a language I do not understand. I suppose there is some relation between pictures and nature which I am too ignorant to feel—just as you see what a Greek sentence stands for which means nothing to me." 
Later, to Will, she says: 
"I never could see any beauty in the pictures which my uncle told me all judges thought very fine. And I have gone about with just the same ignorance in Rome. There are comparatively few paintings that I can really enjoy. At first when I enter a room where the walls are covered with frescos, or with rare pictures, I feel a kind of awe—like a child present at great ceremonies where there are grand robes and processions; I feel myself in the presence of some higher life than my own. But when I begin to examine the pictures one by one the life goes out of them, or else is something violent and strange to me. It must be my own dullness. I am seeing so much all at once, and not understanding half of it. That always makes one feel stupid. It is painful to be told that anything is very fine and not be able to feel that it is fine—something like being blind, while people talk of the sky." 
Then Will tells Naumann: 
"Your painting and Plastik are poor stuff after all. They perturb and dull conceptions instead of raising them. Language is a finer medium."
He elaborates: 
"Language gives a fuller image, which is all the better for beings vague. After all, the true seeing is within; and painting stares at you with an insistent imperfection. I feel that especially about representations of women. As if a woman were a mere colored superficies! You must wait for movement and tone. There is a difference in their very breathing: they change from moment to moment.—This woman whom you have just seen, for example: how would you paint her voice, pray? But her voice is much diviner than anything you have seen of her." 
My notes:  
- In Dorothea's case, the talk about paintings is to show her ignorance, her sense of stupidity and uselessness. 
- In Will's case, the talk is to let the readers and Will himself realise how he feels about Mrs Casaubon. This tool George Eliot uses again in Daniel Deronda
- Combined together, the comments on art manifest the similarities, or the kinship, between Dorothea and Will Ladislaw, and perhaps also reveal the author's view on the limitations of a painting. 

2/ Dorothea looks at the miniature of Mr Casaubon's aunt Julia, who had "an unfortunate marriage", and identifies with her. 
This is similar to some scenes in Shirley: Caroline Helstone, when feeling lonely, neglected and useless, identifies with her dead aunt Mary Helstone, née Cave. I believe there's a painting of the aunt in the house, near that of her mother. 

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