Marriage in Middlemarch: The Becoming Effect of Gaining Outward Perspective

January 4, 2022 by Essay Writer

George Eliot writes that a marriage is either a “gradual conquest or irremediable loss of union” (Eliot 832). In other words, marriage is a joint venture that has the goal of eventually culminating into the union of two separate persons. In Middlemarch, the “gradual” advancement towards union can be seen in the marriage of Mary Garth and Fred Vincy that only occurs when Mary forces Fred to become sufficiently developed as a person and chose a career that suits him. If either participant refuses to add to the functioning of the marriage, the marriage will become one of mutual enmity such as that of Lydgate and Rosamond Vincy. In this novel, a happy marriage can be said to encompass a perspective that is broad enough to know what another feels and a willingness to work together. The couples who are still together and happy at the end of the novel are the success stories, such as Fred Vincy and Mary Garth and Ladislaw and Dorothea-all of whom have matured enough to thoroughly know both themselves and their partners. Through the novel’s couples, Eliot shows that marriage is an endeavor requiring a perspective that is inclusive of one’s partner and provides adequate knowledge of the self.To begin, Dorothea Brooke and Casaubon are a study in opposites as Dorothea loses grip of herself in order to more completely serve Casaubon while Casaubon acts with little regard to Dorothea’s own desires. Dorothea’s feelings for Casaubon are influenced by his supposed wisdom and her hopes that it will allow her to become more educated and have a higher purpose in life. She desires to be of constant usefulness to the weak and aging Casuabon by lending him her nineteen year old eyes for reading. But this preoccupation with Casaubon’s wishes lead Dorothea to make the unwise decision to completely lose herself with Casaubon. Instead of continuing to pursue her pet project of building more adequate housing for farm workers, Dorothea wishes to become merely Casaubon’s assistant. She in turn makes herself entirely dependent on him for her happiness and self-worth. When Casaubon chooses to exclude Dorothea, she is left with nothing to live for.After her marriage, Dorothea is frequently characterized as ruminating on her regrettable decision. She falls into a state of bewilderment and self-catechism asking herself, “Is he worth living for?” (426). Formerly, she had an individual drive to better the world through the construction of more suitable cottages. Dorothea needs the consent of a man to construct these cottages as men hold the money and the land. Ironically, if Dorothea had married Sir Chettam his willingness to cooperate with his partner may have made the cottage project a success. Casaubon is so adamant about his own pursuits that he neglects his union with Dorothea. Casaubon is “buried in books” (Eliot 447), and wishes to exclude Dorothea from his studies to the point where he neglects her on their honeymoon. Their marriage had a short courtship and thus a weak foundation for marriage. Eliot is disposed to think of short courtships as providing an unsteady foundation for the later marriage: “A fellow mortal with whose nature you are acquainted with solely through the brief entrances and exits of a few imaginative weeks called courtship, may, when seen in the continuity of married companionship, be disclosed as something better or worse than what you have preconceived, but will certainly not appear altogether the same” (Eliot 195). One needs time to learn the other before endeavoring to be united within them for a lifetime. The marriage of Casaubon and Dorothea is of course a failure. Instead of face to face mediation, their marriage is cemented through letters. Casaubon ruminates on how the acquisition of Dorothea, however prized, does not make him happy, “his surprise that though he had won a lovely and noble-hearted girl he had not won delight” (Eliot 85). Likewise, Dorothea is miserable and often ruminates on her unhappiness. Their meetings however short are strained because of their mutual displeasure. In their first attempt at conversation, the hostility is highly evident. Dorothea claims that Casaubon speaks to her “as if [she] were something [he] had to contend with” (Eliot 282). Despite that Dorothea addresses the animosity between them, Casaubon’s only reply is to ignore the obvious contention in his marriage in favor of again pursuing his own self-interests, saying that he has, “neither the leisure nor energy for this kind of debate” (Eliot 282). In this instance, “this kind of debate” would refer to Casaubon paying any mind to Dorothea’s stature or personal needs within the union. The author’s query of “but why always Dorothea? Was her point of view the only possible one with regard to this marriage?” may be answered by the fact that Casaubon’s silence on marital subjects means he is less proactive in attempting to gain insight into his wife’s personality. The reader gets more of her perspective because her perspective is not stagnated and is less concentrated on herself alone. In the same way that Casaubon views Dorothy as an ornament, both Lydgate and Rosamond view each other as luxury items to acquire and not so much as people. Lydgate does not acknowledge that Rosamond is a person with personal whims. He views Rosamond as a plant, and by “marrying her, he could give her a much-needed transplantation” (Eliot 350). He takes it for granted that her only desire in life will be to facilitate her union with him. However, Rosamond is entirely concerned with how financial circumstances affect her and her alone. Lydgate’s lack of devotion to his own dreams leads him to eventually believe that he was a “failure: he had not done what he meant to do” (Eliot 835). Similarly, Rosamond views Lydgate not as a person but as more like an object. Rosamond wishes to meet and later marry Lydgate because he is a novelty she wishes to acquire, “She was tired of the faces and figures she had always been use to — the various irregular profiles and gaits and turns of phrase distinguishing those Middlemarch young men whom she had always known as boys” (Eliot 97). Their refusal to view one another as anything but objects forecasts their eventual inhumane treatment of one another. Rosamond and Lydgate’s poor opinions of one another create an environment in which Lydgate ridicules Rosamond, and she withdraws from him. Though very savvy and persuasive, Rosamond never manages to gain respect from her husband. She purges her feelings of her own negligible existence within her marriage to Dorothea, claiming, “Tertius is so angry and impatient if I say anything” (Eliot 796). Rosamond becomes practiced at “inwardly wrapping her soul in cold reserve” against any attempts at what she perceives as criticism (Eliot 792). Rosamond’s happiness deteriorates as she is not allowed to express herself without insult. Lydgate is also unable to express himself as others think, “him enviable to have so charming a wife” and he chooses to speak in superior terms to intentionally ridicule and perplex Rosamond (Eliot 835). Shortly before his death, Lydgate calls Rosamond, “his basil plant,” and when she asks for an explanation does not explain the reference’s origin but only says it flourishes “wonderfully on a murdered man’s brains” (Eliot 835). It is evident that Lydgate thinks of Rosamond as something that kills his intellectual advancement. Upon being remarried, Rosamond, “often spoke of her happiness as ‘a reward’-she did not say for what, but probably she meant that it was a reward for her patience with Tertius” (Eliot 835). Thus Lydgate’s lack of respect for Rosamond as a person causes her unhappiness.Through their insufficient courting and mutual resolution not to attempt to understand one another, Lydgate and Rosamond doom their marriage to perpetual unhappiness. Both refuse to re-analyze their situation and to attempt to find relate to one another. Lydgate does not view Rosamond as an intelligent creature and as this perspective is never adjusted she withdraws from him. Their failure to value one another’s strength leads to strife within the marriage. Lydgate and Rosamond fail to work together to solve the financial dilemma that causes a rift in their marriage. Their mutually negative views of each other cause Rosamond and Lydgate to become progressively unhappy. Unlike the marriage of Rosamond and Lydgate, Dorothea and Ladislaw’s marriage is based on a lengthy, well-developed courtship that has many trials. Their first meeting is one of complete misunderstanding of the meaning of each others’ speech. Dorothea meets Ladislaw whilst he is painting and comments that paintings are like a “Greek sentence…which means nothing to me” (Eliot 79). Upon hearing this statement, the infrequently wise Mr. Brooke exclaims, “Bless me, now, how different people are!” (Eliot 80). Mr. Brooke, having lived with his niece for several years, knows that this is a simple comment on Dorothea’s self. But her statement on her ignorance of art is taken by Ladislaw as “a covert judgment” and “was certain that she thought his sketch detestable” (Eliot 80). At present both Ladislaw and Dorothea have an infantile perspective of the world, discerning all events and others’ thoughts as strictly relating to themselves. They are married after a suitably long period of acquaintance and after both parties have been given adequate time to weigh the consequences of their relationship.An important part of what makes the marriage of Dorothea and Ladislaw contented is that Dorothea is allowed to broaden her perspective before marrying Ladislaw. She has always desired to do well for the world but she changes charitable causes from the ostentatious construction of cottages to becoming an unknown benefactor of the New Hospital. For Dorothea, at least, charity is something one does to make one’s self feel good, not so much for the sake of others. She first dwells on a portrait and then looks out of windows realizing the life that exists outside her self. After surprising Ladislaw and Rosamond, Dorothea has a night of woe but then, “began to live through yesterday morning deliberately again, forcing herself to dwell on every detail and its possible meaning” (Eliot 787). Dorothea is becoming a better reader of people and taking into account their perspectives, asking herself, “Was she alone in that scene? Was it her event only?” (Eliot 787). Empirically, of course, the answer is no, she is not alone and this self-remonstration is evidence of Dorothea overcoming her former view that it was her world. She now acknowledges the desires of others and that events affect all involved. Her newly adjusted perspective allows Dorothea to acknowledge Ladislaw’s own motives and relationships outside of the connection they have. Dorothea and Ladislaw have a more successful marriage than others due to their coordinated efforts and acceptance of each others’ self prior to the marriage itself. Dorothea’s wish to aid humanity fails not because of Ladislaw’s hindering her, but rather because of the construction of patriarchal authority and Casaubon’s will which makes her choose between love and the funds to grant charitable wishes. While it is true that “there was always something better which she might have done,” her inefficiency to complete her dreams is not due to self-neglect but rather a product of this period which restricted women from endeavoring to have both a home life and dreams (Eliot 835). Ladislaw is concerned about Dorothea’s possible regret of their union. Ladislaw allows Dorothea to be self-oriented and has concerns of his own such as his writing. They both willingly lose status and wealth to move to a house in London. Their devotion to one another is unquestionable. Dorothea gives up the money and the becoming effect of outward propriety and assent of public opinion. Will Ladislaw makes public proclamations of his love for her, such as “No other woman exists by the side of her,” a sentiment that the by nature inwardly focused Dorothea (Eliot 778). He proves his love by depriving himself of his hometown for sake of her happiness and fulfillment of her own wants. A like capacity for willful deprivation is seen in the marriage of the Bulstrodes, a couple whose relationship is not chronicled but that demonstrates an uncanny ability to perceive and empathize with others. Both Bulstrodes appear to be consummate interpreters of public opinion and the effect of external forces. At the town meeting subsequent to Mr. Raffle’s death, Bulstrode “since the first mention of his name, had been going through a crisis of feeling” proof that he is highly aware of that he is in low estimate by others in the room (Eliot 726). Mrs. Bulstrode is not foretold of the negative opinion her husband now holds in the community and characterized as an “imperfectly taught woman; she learns of it by communicating with Mrs. Hackbutt (Eliot 749). Though her husband is marked by scandal and public opinion means to ostracize him, Mrs. Bulstode stands by him, uttering the simple words, “Look up, Nicholas,” to him when he is in the deepest trenches of despair. The scandal is too ugly for Mr. Bulstrode or Mrs. Bulstrode and both “shrank from the words which would have expressed their mutual conscienceness” but through a well-developed understanding of one another they communicate and sympathize with one another.A similar knowledge of both the self and of one’s marriage partner is what makes the marriage of Mary and Fred different. Mary has worked to develop a distinct self-knowledge. Through self-examination, Mary has come to important conclusions on what is suitable for her, such as when she acknowledges she would not make a good school master. Mary Garth works to maintain her personal happiness before her wedding. When faced with burning Featherstone’s will, Mary acts out of self-preservation and her belief in what is proper. She acts righteously despite the promise of more than enough wealth to settle her family’s debt brought on by Fred. Mary’s strength and knowledge of both herself and Fred create the circumstances that allow them to have a happy marriage. She refuses to marry Fred until he has an occupation which suits him, because she realizes that pursuing the wrong career endangers not only his happiness but her own. Instead of giving way to despair, Fred’s respect for Mary inspires him to work harder. He finds a new sense of self and takes more pride in who he is. His newly developed faith in himself and enables Fred to stand up to his father and conventional thought, decreeing that, “I think I can be quite as much of a gentleman at the work I have undertaken, as if I had been a curate” (Eliot 568). Fred, though ignorant of the idea that Farebrother may admire Mary, recognizes the value of using him to address Mary on a subject that he is too timid to speak to her about. Mary, despite Fred being considered by most to be screw-up, does not ridicule her partner to submission, but develops the tactic of recognizing the forces outside her and her husband which they must both contend with together. Instead of finding fault in her husband, Mary blames forces outside of him, for example when Fred purchases a bad horse it “was of course the fault of the horse, not of Fred’s judgment” (Eliot 833). By not blaming Fred, as Lydgate blames Rosamond for her imperfections, it frees her to love him and him to receive love, not shame. By means of Mary’s guidance, Fred obtains a vocation and a girl that makes him happy. The marriage of Fred Vincy and Mary Garth is the antithesis of the unhappy marriages of the Lydgates and Casaubons. Their marriage is the exemplar of good. They are described as having, “achieved a solid mutual happiness” (Eliot 832). Their long courtship spans almost their entire lives. They have a thorough knowledge of one another. They both have some pursuit to occupy themselves. Both take up writing. Unlike the normative proscribed roles of masculinity and femininity, it is remarked by the townspeople of Middlemarch that in their home both can be and write however they wish, hence the controversy over the authorial rights to Fred’s Cultivation of Green Crops and the Economy of Cattle-Feeding and Mary’s supposed children’s book, Stories of Great Men, taken from Plutarch (Eliot 832). The freedom from typically proscribed gender roles within the marriage is a hard test. Breaking from traditional roles could mean ostracism from the rest of the town, but Mary and Fred are so accepting of one another that they have seemingly allowed one another the praise for the other’s work.The author of Middlemarch smartly advocates that acknowledgement of external forces is pertinent to the happiness of one’s self. Eliot proclaims that a human being needs to take notice that every person is subject to external forces and other people, writing that “there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it” (Eliot 838). The notion that the partners in a marriage should respect one another is a distinctly feminist viewpoint. Middlemarch, though subtle in its proclamations, does contend that the female perspective should be addressed and that society is faulty in its exclusion of females, “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” (Eliot 279). The personal pursuits and career efforts of Middlemarch’s citizens must be obtained in order for a person to be happy in his or her marriage. An effort at cooperation and acknowledgement of the other member in the union must be made for a marriage to be a happy one. Eliot, George. Middlemarch. Penguin Group. New York. 1994.

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