Monday, April 23, 2012

A and Z March through the Middle: Middlemarch Part 3

This year, Aarti and I have decided to wade deeply into a classic book of literature that we hadn’t been exposed to before. We thought it would be fun to break up our reading into sections and post a little bit of our conversation and reflections on what we’ve read. This is really different for me because I’ve never really shared a classic with anyone before, but I knew that if I had Aarti along for the ride, it would be much less intimidating and more of a full experience. So we have embarked on our read of Middlemarch by George Eliot with some eagerness, despite the fact that neither of us really knew what the book was about. I encourage you to hop on over to Aarti’s site today and see the third part of of our conversation, where we address some of the immediate perceptions that we had of the book. Please enjoy our thoughts on Section 3, shared here.



Aarti: Speaking of couples who don’t know each other well, there’s the Casaubons! Goodness, what an ill-assorted pair. Mr. Casaubon continues to be horrible and jealous and really unkind. I know in the narrative, George Eliot says that we should feel sorry for him- that he wanted so much from life, and didn’t get it, and so thinks everyone else must be wrong, not him. But it’s so hard to sympathize with someone who himself has no empathy for other people. He seems so upset any time Dorothea so much as voices as opinion of her own instead of agreeing always with him. And Dorothea is so disappointed that Casaubon isn’t this ridiculously perfect “great soul” that she wanted him to be. They both went into the marriage with unrealistic hopes and it seems like now, they just have less and less in common.

Zibilee: I felt like this marriage was an error from the beginning and that it was only a matter of time before it all began to fall apart. I think both parties had idealistic and unrealistic expectations of what their partnership would be like. I don’t have much sympathy for Casaubon, though Eliot wants us to! I think he just wanted a helpmeet but that is so not what Dorothea is. She has a mind and opinions of her own and I don’t think he likes that. I see him as somewhat of an overbearing ogre and he seems befuddled that she’s not doing what he thinks she should do, which is just sit by and copy texts for him. I know she tries to defend him and wouldn’t say anything bad about him to anybody else, but it’s clear that she is unhappy and I think she made a huge mistake in marrying him.

Aarti: And then there’s the whole scene with Featherstone! But I’ll let you voice your opinions on that first :-)

Zibilee: Oh, my gosh, this whole scene was just so crazy! The fact that Featherstone was dying and all these relatives come creeping out of the woodwork to be by his side so that they will be remembered in his will was just so…so…slimy! Where were these people when he was living his life? Where were they when he needed them? On the one hand Featherstone is a nasty piece of work, but on the other, who would want to leave money and property to these grasping and nefarious people?

Aarti: I know, it was really horrible. And Fred was there doing the same thing, too. It is hard for me to get back in the historic mindset of people just waiting around for others to die so that they could inherit money without working and that would be the “gentlemanly” thing to do. But even if that was preferable, I just can’t imagine giving someone else so much control of my life. And ALL of them sitting around doing it. In a way, it was just so much commentary on Featherstone himself, that no one really wanted to go up to visit him, but just waited around for him to die.

Zibilee: I didn’t like that they were fighting over his money before he was even gone, and he specifically asked them to leave, and they refused! The gall of that just really surprised me! Featherstone used his money to control people, there are no two ways about that, but man, those people all congregating around him when he was so ill was just upsetting. And they were all fighting about who deserved the money. I think Fred is going to be disappointed as well, because it seems that Featherstone likes to play games and I wouldn’t be surprised if Fred is counting on something that won’t eventually happen. I was just shocked by this whole section because there was no artifice to their scheming and no altruistic behavior going on there at all! He was angry that they all descended upon his house like a pack of vultures and they just wouldn’t leave and kept trying to insinuate themselves over and over again. I think Mary did the right thing by refusing to burn the will. Featherstone seems to be used to people compromising themselves for him and the advantages that his money and favors will bring, but I’m glad that Mary stood firm. I actually loved this section because it elicited such a strong emotional response from me. I read this with my eyes wide, and my mouth hanging open!

Aarti: Yes, Eliot was really masterful with the tension here, wasn’t she? I was really impressed, especially towards the end, when Mary was thwarting Featherstone’s plans, and you could feel how angry and frustrated he was, even though he could do nothing about it. It was an excellent scene because you could just see that the two had no relationship at all, even though she had been his caretaker for so long.



Part 3 was really interesting for me because it seemed like the book came alive and really delved into some button-pushing issues for me. It was, so far, my favorite section of the book and I’m looking forward to treading into Part 4 due to recent developments at the end of this section. Stay tuned for more of our thoughts on Part 4, coming soon!

Read Earlier Installments:

6 comments:

Suko said...

Very interesting discussion! I read this many, many years ago, and reading your thoughts here reminds me of what an astute writer George Eliot was. She saw into human nature and was able to make characters come alive on the printed page. Very well done, ladies!

Kharru said...

The characters sound like fun people.

geosi said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts. Thank you.

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I read this one a couple years ago but I don't remember much about it. I loved Adam Bede by George Eliot.

Lisa said...

I really must get to this one some day soon. Love reading the back and forth between the two of you!

Christy said...

I can't think of a reader who would really feel sorry for Mr. Casaubon, but I liked that Eliot didn't completely demonize him, which would have been the easy thing to do. But poor Dorothea, to be so tamped down by him.

And Mary Garth is awesome.

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