Analysis of Major Characters
Dorothea is an exceptional woman: she is smart, pious, and beautiful, and the governing principle of her character is her desire to help the needy, seen in her interest in redesigning the local farmers’ cottages. By giving money to Lydgate’s hospital, she is able to help the less fortunate, and by giving money directly Lydgate, she frees him from his debt to Bulstrode. Her philanthropic impulse indicates her essential goodness.
Dorothea is also stubborn and strong-willed, going against common advice to wed Casaubon, a much older man. Her marriage to him is driven by her desire to be taught by him, and she devotes herself to him entirely—and is appropriately devastated when he dies. Unfortunately, Casaubon doesn’t trust her unmitigated devotion, either to his work or in loving him. When Dorothea learns of a clause in his will that forbids her to marry his cousin Will Ladislaw, Dorothea’s devotion to her deceased husband shifts. She feels betrayed by his insinuation that she was unfaithful. In response, Dorothea refuses to finish Casaubon’s work, an indication that she is returning to her independent, pre-marriage self. When Dorothea does marry Ladislaw, she reveals her growth as a person. This marriage is a mutual understanding and partnership, and both members are equals. This marriage required Dorothea to flout convention and forgo her inherited wealth, and her willingness to do so show that she has regained her earlier rebellious energy but with a newfound maturity.
Lydgate enters Middlemarch as the bright, cutting-edge handsome new doctor. Although he is of high birth, Lydgate wants to be a country doctor. Lydgate’s desire is not entirely selfless, but he is genuinely interested in helping others. He is motivated by the desire to reform medical practices, and he symbolizes change and reform coming to Middlemarch. At first, things go well for Lydgate. His practice grows, he starts a new hospital, and he gains a reputation as a good doctor with patients of high social and financial standing. But when he abruptly falls in love with Rosamond, things begin to go downhill rapidly. Marriage ruins Lydgate, both financially and idealistically. As he gets further and further into debt, his personality changes, vacillating between coddling and soothing Rosamond and feeling intense bitterness toward her. The financial burden of marriage comes between him and his desire to reform the provincial medical practices of the neighborhood. In addition to his debts, the scandal of Raffles death marks him as an accomplice to murder.
Rosamond is the most genteel character in Middlemarch. Her interests are not serious; she is concerned with social niceties, upward mobility, and living well. While Dorothea is beautiful, Rosamond is stunning and swanlike, a model of perfection. Although Rosamond comes from a middle-class background, her education lifts her to a higher social circle. She represents the ability to change social status through conduct, but in the end her education ruins her marriage and happiness.
Rosamond’s primary motivation is social advancement, which fuels her desire to wed Dr. Lydgate. Initially Rosamond seems to genuinely love Lydgate, but when he loses his money, Rosamond loses interest in him. Their marriage fails as Rosamond struggles to keep her house and her possessions and becomes petulant and manipulative in the process.
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