Aarti: I also really like Mary. I hope that we get to see her interact with Fred more as I think those two would have very fun conversations. I also have a feeling there may be some romance brewing between Dorothea and Ladislaw, do you? The way he was introduced and their first thoughts toward each other make it seem very likely, in my mind.
Zibilee: I liked Mary too. She seems sensible and also very pragmatic and candid, which I like because she’s sort of the opposite of Dorthea in some ways. I do hope that there is some interaction between Fred and Mary as well. They both seem like they have a similar approach to the world, you know? I know it's specifically stated that they won't marry, but I sort of hoped that they would discover they were in love, or something like that!
Aarti: WHAT? But I want one between them! I will respectfully continue to hope for it, even if it’s not going to happen :-)
Zibilee: And yes! I do think that there will be some sort of relationship between Dorthea and Ladislaw. It just seems like Eliot is setting them up for that. I actually like Ladislaw but think he’s a little smug. Every time I see his name, my mind thinks coleslaw! The names in this book are sort of weird!
Aarti: I was also really drawn to the amazing turn for metaphor and simile that Eliot has. Some examples:
“…the remark lay in his mind as lightly as the broken wing of an insect among all the other fragments there, and a chance current had sent it alighting on her.”
“the frigid rhetoric at the end was as sincere as the bark of a dog, or the cawing of an amorous rook.” (Oh, I love the idea of an amorous rook!)
“the text, whether of prophet or of poet, expands for whatever we can put into it, and even his bad grammar is sublime.” (So true, people read so much into things)
“He has got no good red blood in his body,” said Sir James.
“No. Somebody put a drop under a magnifying-glass and it was all semicolons and parentheses,” said Mrs. Cadwallader. (So witty!)
Zibilee: I have to say that some of the metaphors and similes are rather inventive, but some of them I haven't appreciated as much as you have. I love the one about the blood and the semicolons, and a few others have stuck in my mind, but I sometimes overlook those refinements of narrative when I’m reading a lengthy book. I tried to highlight a few of the ones that I liked, but it was a little difficult on the Kindle so I stopped doing it, and now I can't remember them! I also liked the one about the insect wings. I wish I could remember more of them!
Aarti: Really, I think what is going to keep me engaged in this book is how spot-on Eliot is in her description of people and their feelings (or lack thereof, in Casaubon’s case). I generally dislike long paragraphs of narrator descriptions, but in these cases, I really appreciate Eliot’s insights into a character’s thoughts and motivations. She understands and knows people so well, and it’s fascinating to read about them from her point of view. In particular, her long passage on Casaubon and how disappointed he is that he does not feel very happy about his engagement, and does not have great bursts of feeling, is wonderful. I felt so bad for the man (and terrified of him, quite honestly) because of the way he reacts. I unfortunately didn’t mark the passage I want to refer to, but there is a line that says Casaubon had read the great depths of feelings that poets confessed when they were in love, and decided that they were lying or over exaggerating because he, who had stored up so much happiness for his future and was marrying such a perfect specimen of a girl, did not feel those great depths of emotion upon his engagement, and therefore they didn’t really exist. I felt bad for him because I can in many ways understand the sentiment- there is obviously a feeling of, “I deserve this because I’ve waited so long for it.” But I was scared of him because it seems like he has no empathy in him- if he doesn’t feel something, he can’t conceive of someone else feeling it.
Zibilee: I also like the way she portrays her characters and think that she does a great job of delving deeply into their minds and getting to the very heart of what makes them tick. It's a little unusual but very very interesting. Casaubon's plight is really what I think a lot of people are like in some ways. Society has this driving force that sort of tells people that marriage and procreation are nonnegotiable facts of life, when the reality is that for many, it's not as simple as that, and sometimes it's even unwanted!
Aarti: YES. I know that you and I have had many detailed discussions on this very topic, but you voice it so well here. People have this feeling of inevitability about marriage- as though it’s bound to happen to everyone, and it’s going to be perfect, and all will be well if you finally have a ring on your finger. But you’re right- it’s so often very complicated and difficult and I’m so glad that Eliot respects that and delves into life after marriage, instead of ending with the “happily ever after” part.
Zibilee: I think in his case, he wants a wife to be a helpmeet to him and is marrying without passion, which is going to totally backfire. But it's hard to say, because Dorthea seems to know exactly what she’s getting into and is looking to be his helper and student. What I find irritating about him is that he’s pretending to feel all these nobler emotions and is feigning the softer feelings. Like you, I believe that could make him dangerous if certain things play out in a specific way. I think Dorthea will eventually have a passionate awakening and suddenly her marriage will be seen as the sham that it is. I’m intrigued and can’t wait to read further!
Aarti: Also, the characters seem to refer to a political situation a lot, so I did some digging and found this to describe the Reform Act as it relates to Middlemarch, with some good external links. Hopefully you find that helpful to you, too!
Zibilee: That did help, thanks! I have no idea what's going on in the political sections of this story, so reading that sort of gives me a little more of an inkling of what's going on.
Aarti: Well, that was a very detailed look at Book 1 of this novel! I’m so glad we’re reading this together - already, I feel like having the discussion has made me think more about the themes and characters than I otherwise would have. Looking forward to the rest of it, too!