Thursday, 18 June 2015

Middlemarch: taking a wife

Chapter 36:
"... Lydgate thought that after all his wild mistakes and absurd credulity, he had found perfect womanhood—felt as if already breathed upon by exquisite wedded affection such as would be bestowed by an accomplished creature who venerated his high musings and momentous labours and would never interfere with them; who would create order in the home and accounts with still magic, yet keep her fingers ready to touch the lute and transform life into romance at any moment; who was instructed to the true womanly limit and not a hair's-breadth beyonddocile, therefore, and ready to carry out behests which came from that limit. It was plainer now than ever that his notion of remaining much longer a bachelor had been a mistake: marriage would not be an obstruction but a furtherance..."
It's reminiscent of a passage from chapter 29:
"In spite of the blinking eyes and white moles objectionable to Celia, and the want of muscular curve which was morally painful to Sir James, Mr. Casaubon had an intense consciousness within him, and was spiritually a-hungered like the rest of us. He had done nothing exceptional in marrying—nothing but what society sanctions, and considers an occasion for wreaths and bouquets. It had occurred to him that he must not any longer defer his intention of matrimony, and he had reflected that in taking a wife, a man of good position should expect and carefully choose a blooming young lady—the younger the better, because more educable and submissive—of a rank equal to his own, of religious principles, virtuous disposition, and good understanding. On such a young lady he would make handsome settlements, and he would neglect no arrangement for her happiness: in return, he should receive family pleasures and leave behind him that copy of himself which seemed so urgently required of a man—to the sonneteers of the sixteenth century. Times had altered since then, and no sonneteer had insisted on Mr. Casaubon's leaving a copy of himself; moreover, he had not yet succeeded in issuing copies of his mythological key; but he had always intended to acquit himself by marriage, and the sense that he was fast leaving the years behind him, that the world was getting dimmer and that he felt lonely, was a reason to him for losing no more time in overtaking domestic delights before they too were left behind by the years.
And when he had seen Dorothea he believed that he had found even more than he demanded: she might really be such a helpmate to him as would enable him to dispense with a hired secretary, an aid which Mr. Casaubon had never yet employed and had a suspicious dread of. (Mr. Casaubon was nervously conscious that he was expected to manifest a powerful mind.) Providence, in its kindness, had supplied him with the wife he needed. A wife, a modest young lady, with the purely appreciative, unambitious abilities of her sex, is sure to think her husband's mind powerful. Whether Providence had taken equal care of Miss Brooke in presenting her with Mr. Casaubon was an idea which could hardly occur to him. Society never made the preposterous demand that a man should think as much about his own qualifications for making a charming girl happy as he thinks of hers for making himself happy. As if a man could choose not only his wife but his wife's husband! Or as if he were bound to provide charms for his posterity in his own person!— When Dorothea accepted him with effusion, that was only natural; and Mr. Casaubon believed that his happiness was going to begin..." 
It becomes clearer at this point that George Eliot does want the Lydgate- Rosamond relationship to parallel the Casaubon- Dorothea relationship. There is love in the former- chapter 31 is marvellous, especially the tête-à-tête between Rosamond and her aunt Mrs Bulstrode, and the meeting between Rosamond and Lydgate when, the moment their eyes meet, Lydgate realises that flirtation has turned into love. In personality, world view, aspirations, longings... the 2 men differ, as the 2 women differ. However, through these couples, George Eliot demonstrates the inequalities and injustices in society, the consequences of the lack of opportunities for women, and the condescending view men have on women at the time. If Jane Austen critiques the patriarchal society through focusing on courtship, George Eliot carries the point further by also writing about marriage. Both Lydgate and Casaubon think mostly of themselves when contemplating marriage, and expect women to be inferior, docile, submissive. In both couples, the man and the woman have different ideas and expectations about marriage. The author stresses the parallels even more strongly when making Lydgate choose a period of 6 weeks for courtship and preparation of marriage, which is the same amount of time Casaubon has earlier chosen. 
Nevertheless, it may be too easy to say. Maybe the one to suffer now will be Lydgate, not Rosamond. Maybe he will see his dreams and aspirations thwarted as Dorothea does. This is not even half of the novel.

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