Understanding Marriage Partners in Middlemarch

March 22, 2019 by Essay Writer

In George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, a successful and happy marriage between two characters involves the willingness to work together on their relationship. Each character must present a broad perspective, which includes the ability to know and understand what the other is feeling. In the Finale, Eliot writes that marriage “is still the beginning of the home epic-the gradual conquest or irremediable loss of that complete union” (511). In other words, marriage is a shared endeavor whose goal is the unity of two separate people. In Eliot’s Middlemarch, this slow progression is seen in the marriage of Mary Garth and Fred Vincy. Before marrying him, Mary compels Fred to choose a suitable career and develop as an individual person. A marriage of hostility, such as that of Rosamond Vincy and Tertius Lydgate, will develop if either partner refuses to communicate and work on their marriage. The couples who are still happily together at the novel’s conclusion, such as Fred Vincy and Mary Garth and Will Ladislaw and Dorothea Brooke-Casaubon, have grown to know both themselves and their companions. Through the couples in Middlemarch, George Eliot illustrates that marriage is a journey that requires both work, and a constantly-evolving perspective of one’s self and partner. When Dorothea Brooke meets Edward Casaubon, she completely loses her own state of being in order to more thoroughly serve him. However, Casaubon acts with little to no regard towards Dorothea’s desires. Because of Casaubon’s supposed wisdom and intelligence, Dorothea hopes that his influence will help her become more educated and find the higher purposes in life. Her only desire is to be his assistant. She is completely reliant on him for her contentment and self-worth. When Casaubon excludes Dorothea from his studies, she is left in exile with nothing to live for. As the courtship between Dorothea and Casaubon is a short one, Eliot hints that brief courtships provide an unsteady foundation for marriage. A fellow-mortal with whose nature you are acquainted 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 (125).Instead of learning about each other through face to face communication, the marriage between Dorothea and Casaubon is finalized through letters. After marrying Casaubon, Dorothea begins to ask herself if he is “worth living for” (265). Previously, she had the drive and desire to better the world through the construction of more suitable homes for farm workers. However, men hold the money, land, and power to make that construction happen. Yet Casaubon, involved in his own projects, refuses to work with Dorothea on her own, even though it would enhance the happiness and solidarity of their marriage. Indeed, Casaubon is so busy with his studies that he even ignores her on their honeymoon. He is surprised that “though he had won a lovely and noble-hearted girl he had not won delight,-which he had also regarded as an object to be found by search” (54-55). In one of their conversations, Dorothea claims that Casaubon speaks to her “as if I were something you had to contend against” (178). Casaubon replies with ignorance, claiming that he has “neither leisure nor energy for this kind of debate” (178). The “debate” that Casaubon speaks of is paying any attention to Dorothea’s needs and opinions. He neglects putting any small amount of work or effort into gaining insight into Dorothea’s personality. Just as Casaubon regards Dorothea as an object, both Lydgate and Rosamond view each other as items to acquire. Rosamond “was tired of faces and figures she had always been used to-the various irregular profiles and gaits…distinguishing those Middlemarch young men whom she had known as boys” (62). Lydgate is a novelty to her, and something she wishes to obtain. Lydgate sees Rosamond as a plant, and “that in marrying her, he could give her a much-needed transplantation” (218). Their refusal to get to know each other, or even regard the other as anything other than an object, predicts their ultimate callous treatment of one another. Through their inadequate courtship and mutual decision not to attempt to understand each other, the marriage between Lydgate and Rosamond is doomed to unhappiness. Rosamond never gains respect from her husband. She tells Dorothea that “Tertius is so angry and impatient if I say anything” (490). Her happiness declines as she is not permitted to express her perspective without being insulted. Financial woes cause a rift in their marriage because Rosamond and Lydgate neglect to work together and solve the problem. Shortly before Lydgate’s death, he described Rosamond as “a basil plant,” claiming it “flourished wonderfully on a murdered man’s brains” (513). Obviously, Lydgate feels that Rosamond is a detriment to his progression in intellectual advancement. Unlike the marriage of Lydgate and Rosamond, Dorothea and Will Ladislaw’s marriage begins with a long, well-developed courtship. This courtship includes several trials. During their first acquaintance, Dorothea meets Ladislaw as he is painting. She comments that paintings are similar to “a Greek sentence…which means nothing to me” (51). Ladislaw “took her words for a covert judgment, and was certain that she thought his sketch detestable” (51). A significant part of Dorothea and Ladislaw’s successful marriage is the fact that Dorothea is allowed to progress as a person and expands her perspective before marrying him. For Dorothea, charity is something she does to feel good about herself, even more than for the sake of others. Later, she recognizes the life that lives outside of her own. She becomes an anonymous supporter of the New Hospital. After seeing Ladislaw and Rosamond together, Dorothea experiences a night of sorrow. However, “she began now to live through that yesterday morning deliberately again, forcing herself to dwell on every detail and its possible meaning” (485). She asks herself, “Was she alone in that scene? Was it her event only? She forced herself to think of it as bound up with another woman’s life” (485). She rises above her previous view that it was her world. Dorothea’s new perspective permits her to accept that Ladislaw has his own motives and connections outside of their relationship. Dorothea and Ladislaw have a thriving marriage because they both work on their relationship, and found acceptance of each others’ self prior to marriage. Ladislaw allows Dorothea to be self-oriented, and has interests of his own such as writing. They both willingly agree to lose status and wealth, and move to a house in London. The devotion between the couple is indisputable. Dorothea gives up her money, outward respectability, and public opinion. Will Ladislaw makes public declarations of his love for her. He claims that “no other woman exists by the side of her. I would rather touch her hand if it were dead, than I would touch any other woman’s living” (480). Ladislaw confirms his love by leaving his hometown for the sake of the fulfillment of Dorothea’s happiness. Although Eliot does not develop the relationship between the Bulstrodes as much as the novel’s other couples, they also demonstrate the ability to empathize with each other. At the town meeting following Mr. Raffles’ death, Bulstrode realizes that the others in the room do not think very highly of him. Eliot writes, “All eyes in the room were turned on Mr. Bulstrode, who, since the first mention of his name, had been going through a crisis of feeling almost too violent for his delicate frame to support” (449). Bulstrode’s wife is not warned of the community’s negative view of her husband. The “imperfectly-taught woman” finds out through talking with Mrs. Hackbutt (463). Though her husband’s reputation is tarnished by scandal, Mrs. Bulstrode continues to stand by him. When he is at his lowest moment, she kindly utters, “Look up, Nicholas” (464). Because of their knowledge and understanding of each other, Mr. and Mrs. Bulstrode are able to overcome this setback to their marriage. Fred Vincy and Mary Garth’s marriage is depicted as having “achieved a solid mutual happiness” (511). This is the opposite of the unhappy marriages of the Casaubon’s and the Lydgate’s. Because of their life-long courtship, both Fred and Mary have a thorough understanding of each other. Through self-examination, Mary comes to conclusions about what is suitable for her and Fred. She realizes that she would not make a good school teacher. She also refuses to marry Fred until he selects an occupation suitable for him. Mary does this because she recognizes that Fred’s pursuit of the wrong career jeopardizes both of their levels of happiness. Despite most of Middlemarch considering Fred to be a screw-up, Mary does not ridicule him. Instead of finding fault in him, she blames external forces. For example, when Fred bought a bad horse, it “was of course the fault of the horse, not of Fred’s judgment” (511). By not pointing her finger at Fred, as Lydgate blames Rosamond for her shortcomings, it frees Mary to love Fred. It also allows Fred to receive love, not shame. Because of Fred’s respect for Mary, he takes pride in his new sense of self. He stands up to his father, and exclaims 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” (351). Because of Fred Vincy’s and Mary Garth’s knowledge of themselves and their marriage partners, their marriage is full of love and acceptance. George Eliot understands the important relationship between external forces and internal happiness. In the Finale of Middlemarch, she acknowledges that “there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it” (514). A successful marriage requires putting the effort into cooperating and acknowledging one’s partner. Some of the couples in Eliot’s novel, such as Dorothea and Will Ladislaw or Mary Garth and Fred Vincy, realize that a happy marriage involves the pursuit of each partner’s personal goals. Unfortunately, the novel’s other married couples, such as Dorothea and Casaubon or Rosamond and Lydgate, suffer, both because of selfishness and a lack of effort to understand each other.

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