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Middlemarch is a highly unusual novel.
Although it is primarily a Victorian novel, it has many characteristics
typical to modern novels. Critical reaction to Eliot's masterpiece
work was mixed. A common accusation leveled against it was its morbid,
depressing tone. Many critics did not like Eliot's habit of scattering
obscure literary and scientific allusions throughout the book. In
their opinion a woman writer should not be so intellectual. Eliot
hated the "silly, women novelists." In the Victorian era, women
writers were generally confined to writing the stereotypical fantasies
of the conventional romance fiction. Not only did Eliot dislike
the constraints imposed on women's writing, she disliked the stories
they were expected to produce. Her disdain for the tropes of conventional romance
is apparent in her treatment of marriage between Rosamond and Lydgate.
Both and Rosamond and Lydgate think of courtship and romance in
terms of ideals taken directly from conventional romance. Another
problem with such fiction is that marriage marks the end of the
novel. Eliot goes through great effort to depict the realities of
Moreover, Eliot's many critics found Middlemarch to
be too depressing for a woman writer. Eliot refused to bow to the
conventions of a happy ending. An ill-advised marriage between two
people who are inherently incompatible never becomes completely harmonious.
In fact, it becomes a yoke. Such is the case in the marriages of
Lydgate and Dorothea. Dorothea was saved from living with her mistake
for her whole life because her elderly husband dies of a heart attack.
Lydgate and Rosamond, on the other hand, married young.
Two major life choices govern the narrative of Middlemarch. One
is marriage and the other is vocation. Eliot takes both choices very
seriously. Short, romantic courtships lead to trouble, because both
parties entertain unrealistic ideals of each other. They marry without
getting to know one another. Marriages based on compatibility work
better. Moreover, marriages in which women have a greater say also
work better, such as the marriage between Fred and Mary. She tells
him she will not marry if he becomes a clergyman. Her condition
saves Fred from an unhappy entrapment in an occupation he doesn't
like. Dorothea and Casaubon struggle continually because Casaubon
attempts to make her submit to his control. The same applies in
the marriage between Lydgate and Rosamond.
The choice of an occupation by which one earns a living
is also an important element in the book. Eliot illustrates the
consequences of making the wrong choice. She also details at great
length the consequences of confining women to the domestic sphere
alone. Dorothea's passionate ambition for social reform is never
realized. She ends with a happy marriage, but there is some sense
that her end as merely a wife and mother is a waste. Rosamond's
shrewd capabilities degenerate into vanity and manipulation. She
is restless within the domestic sphere, and her stifled ambitions
only result in unhappiness for herself and her husband.
Eliot's refusal to conform to happy endings demonstrates
the fact that Middlemarch is not meant to be entertainment.
She wants to deal with real-life issues, not the fantasy world to
which women writers were often confined. Her ambition was to create
a portrait of the complexity of ordinary human life: quiet tragedies,
petty character failings, small triumphs, and quiet moments of dignity.
The complexity of her portrait of provincial society is reflected
in the complexity of individual characters. The contradictions in
the character of the individual person are evident in the shifting
sympathies of the reader. One moment, we pity Casaubon, the next
we judge him critically.
Middlemarch stubbornly refuses to behave
like a typical novel. The novel is a collection of relationships
between several major players in the drama, but no single one person
occupies the center of the action. No one person can represent provincial
life. It is necessary to include multiple people. Eliot's book is
fairly experimental for its time in form and content, particularly
because she was a woman writer.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Middlemarch!