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.
I’m back from holiday now. My reading challenge was the book that my book group has chosen as an optional big read: Middlemarch. It was wonderful reading it when I was able to immerse myself in it in a way that’s difficult among the distractions of home (and the internt). I got through it in a week or so. It was hugely satisfying – and so interesting rereading it at this stage in my life.
I must have been around the same age as Dorothea when I first read it in my late teens and reading it now, when I am so much older, gave me new insights. It is of course a book about marriage. but this time round I found myself also thinking about the parents, or those standing in for them. What was Mr Brooke thinking of, allowing Dorothea to marry Casaubon, when he could have made her wait at least until she came of age?
And then there is Rosamund Vincy, whose blonde perfection, narcissim, and ignorance has troubled me in the past. I’ve wondered if George Eliot was a little hard on her. She is the polar opposite of the kind of woman that George Eliot was. This time round I thought about the way Rosamond had been educated – or rather not educated – and the way she had been brought up. Both she and Fred had been very indulged, spoilt even by their parents. At the beginning of the novel Fred is hanging around, hoping to be saved from having to work by a timely inheritance, and really is saved by the love of a good woman. Rosamund goes into marriage knowing nothing of her own responsibilites, expecting only to be petted and to have her own way in everything as she had with her parents. Eliot traces the impact of this with chilling precision.
There’s more I want to say, especially about Mr Casaubon, but that can wait for next time. What a pleasure it has been, encountering this book again,