A moving moment . . .
For me the most moving moment in Middlemarch is not the climax of the novel, when Dorothea and Will are united. To tell the truth, I am not terribly interested in this romance, and find Will rather tiresome – all that shaking his ringlets and what about that flirting with Rosamund Vincy? I am far more touched by this: Harriet Bulstrode has learned from her brother what her female friends have been unable to tell her: her husband is disgraced. She goes home and shuts herself in her room. She is a woman proud of her position in town, fond of fripperies and finery, but also, George Eliot tells us, her ‘honest ostentatious nature made the sharing of a merited dishonour as bitter as it could be to any mortal.
‘But this imperfectly-taught woman, whose phrases and habits were an odd patchwork, had a loyal spirit within her. The man whose prosperity she had shared through half a life, and who had unvaringly cherished her – now that punishment had befallen him it was not possible to her in any sense to forsake him . . . She took off all her ornments and put on a plain black gown, and instead of wearing her much-adorned cap and two bows of hair, she brushed her hair down and put on a plain bonnet cap . . .
Meanwhile her husband, guessing what she has discovered, waits in anguish for her reaction. ‘He sat with his eyes bent down, and as she went towards him she thought he looked smaller – he seemed so withered and shrunken. A movement of new compassion and old tenderness went through her like a great wave, and putting one hand on his which rested on the arm of the chair, and other on his shoulder, she said, solemnly but kindly. “Look up, Nicholas.”‘
Wonderful . . . Did I admire this as much when I was twenty as I do now? I can’t remember.
This is my last post about Middlemarch. I’ll write about something else next time.