Middlemarch Essay, Research Paper
In Middlemarch, George Eliot presents a complex web of characters and bonds that cannot be classified into distinct categories. Dorothea and Casaubon, Lydgate and Bulstrode, and Fred and the Garths represent a wide spectrum of human relations. Rosamond Vincy and Tertius Lydgate encompass one such relationship. The relationship seems transparent on the surface, but closer inspection reveals a more complex core. Eliot creates a new depth to Rosamond using the layers of her relationship with Lydgate, which differs from the spoiled, rich girl stereotype that constitutes the reader s first impressions. Eliot s portrayal of the troubled couple s interactions forces readers to reevaluate their initial perception of Rosamond.
Instead of placing complete blame on Rosamond for her problematic marriage, Eliot reveals that Lydgate must assume partial responsibility as well. When he presents his financial dilemma to Rosamond, Lydgate comes to realize the scope of their actual relationship. He tries to reaffirm their marriage by saying, But we married because we loved each other, I suppose (474). His use of loved in the past tense indicates how his feelings toward Rosamond have changed. The detached phrase, I suppose further emphasizes the shift that their marriage has taken. Lydgate becomes unsure about his love for Rosamond. In a way, Lydgate is at fault for not realizing sooner that his feelings during courtship amounted not to love, but to little more than his lust and weakness for women. Had Lydgate seen this reality earlier, his hapless marriage to Rosamond might have been prevented.
Although, Rosamond already mastered Lydgate from the time of their courtship, he continues to have always present in his imagination the weakness of [women s] frames and the delicate poise of their health both in body and mind (474). The exaggerated diction gives the narrator s tone a sarcastic edge, criticizing Lydgate s mindset. Time after time, Rosamond wields her manipulative powers over Lydgate, yet he still imagines the ridiculous notion of her weak and delicate mind. By introducing this flaw in Lydgate s thinking, Eliot indirectly defends Rosamond s actions; Eliot subtly shifts the blame for the alienation in their relationship to Lydgate s narrow perception of women.
Eliot continues to place fault onto Lydgate when Rosamond argues with him in a decided little tone of admonition (475). The narrator seems to present Rosamond as a petulant child with descriptions such as decided and little. Rosamond s role in the couple s inability to communicate diminishes, leaving Lydgate, the adult, to assume most of the responsibility. This view of Rosamond contradicts with previous portrayals of her plotting and manipulating nature, very unchildlike actions. Somehow, the reader must deal with this disparity by seeing that although Rosamond devises schemes to fit her own best interests, she also possesses a juvenile naivete.
In addition, the narrative voice notes for the reader that Lydgate was prepared to be indulgent towards feminine weakness, but not towards feminine dictation. The shallowness of a waternixie s soul may have a charm until she becomes didactic (475). In Lydgate s mind, he does not believe that Rosamond, an embodiment of the feminine spirit, possesses the ability to control his masculine decisions. The striking metaphor comparing Rosamond to a waternixie suggests that Lydgate considers his wife s opinion trivial and inconsequential.
Eliot further encourages the reader s reassessment of Rosamond s character by providing a clear window into her mind. The narrator asserts that Poor Rosamond for months had begun to associate her husband with feelings of disappointment, and the terribly inflexible relation of marriage had lost its charm of encouraging delightful dreams (484). The exaggerated language describing Rosamond s view and disappointment of marriage demonstrates the superficiality in which she dwells. In one sense, the narrator s over-dramatic tone berates Rosamond, but at the same time, it exposes the pettiness and triviality of her life. Unlike Lydgate, she has no aspirations beyond her insignificant world of nice clothes and proper manners. Rosamond s delightful dreams of romance contain none of the magnanimity or greatness inherent in her husband s dreams.
Due to her small scope on life, Rosamond does not have the ability to perceive Lydgate s passions. In Rosamond s analysis of their marriage,
The Lydgate with whom she had been in love had been a group of airy conditions for her, most of which had disappeared, while their place had been taken by everyday details which must be lived slowly from hour to hour, not floated through with a rapid selection of favourable aspects. The habits of Lydgate s profession, his home preoccupation with scientific subjects, which seemed to her almost like a morbid vampire s taste, his peculiar views of things which had never entered into the dialogue of courtship-all these continually-alienating influences would have made his presence dull to her. (484)
As with Lydgate, the love Rosamond feels in her marriage is put in the past tense. Words such as airy and floated depict again Rosamond s expectation of marriage as a dream-like endeavor. However, the passage shows that her dream quickly takes on a nightmarish quality when Lydgate s profession…seemed to her almost like a morbid vampire s taste. The juxtaposition of anticipation versus reality invokes sympathy for Rosamond due to her unfulfilled dream. Also, the parallel structure of Lydgate s continually-alienating influences serves to layer more blame upon Lydgate.
As Eliot concentrates on the faults of Lydgate, she minimizes Rosamond s shortcomings and more fully develops her character. Rosamond, surprisingly, has the ability to control her feelings according to the situation. After reading the embarrassing letter from Sir Godwin, she controls her emotions, restraining any show of her keen disappointment, and intrenching herself in quiet passivity under her husband s wrath (486). Eliot s diction illustrates the control needed for Rosamond to stay passive. Her restraint causes readers to move away again from the perception of Rosamond as a coddled child, but towards the perception of her as an individual capable of understanding human interactions. Eliot commends Rosamond by portraying her persevering will that remains evident even in quiet passivity.
While Eliot credits her restraint, Rosamond s scope still remains small. The narrator reflects how under that quietude was hidden an intense effect: she was in such entire disgust with her husband that she wished she had never seen him (487). The exaggerated language in describing Rosamond s disgust points once more to her naivete. Her entire disgust leads into the diminutive wish of never seeing her husband. Even at its peak intensity, Rosamond s spite remains innocuous.
After establishing her harmlessness, Eliot returns to addressing Lydgate s treatment of Rosamond. The narrator chastises him, citing that [Rosamond] had no consciousness that her action could rightly be called false. We are not obliged to identify our own acts according to a strict classification, any more than the materials of our grocery and clothes (488). Here, by including the readers in the narrative voice, Eliot instructs them not to strictly categorize Rosamond. Her actions only reflect the goals she sees in her narrow little mind. Eliot compels the reader to think twice before judging Rosamond.
Instead of condemning her, Eliot believes that the reader should reach a state of understanding about Rosamond s motives and behavior. The narrator admonishes Lydgate by stating, Rosamond felt that she was aggrieved, and that this was what Lydgate had to recognise (488). Like Lydgate, the reader should realize that Rosamond acted not out of malice, but out of her own sense of purpose. Eliot prevents Lydgate and the reader from dismissing Rosamond s actions as selfish, but impels both to understand her nature, which was inflexible in proportion to its negations, (488).
By understanding part of Rosamond s character, Lydgate finds a way to communicate better with his wife. He concedes his own emotions to Rosamond and she reacts with tears coming again from a softened feeling now that her husband had softened (488). Rosamond s emotions here come directly from Lydgate s lead and not from her willful nature as before. Eliot shows that Lydgate can exert some control over Rosamond, but ultimately, he never fully comprehends the depth of her nature.
Lydgate s shortcoming in understanding Rosamond stems from his conception of women as weak and fragile. He cannot realize the complexity of Rosamond because, He wished to excuse everything in her if he could- but it was inevitable that in that excusing mood he should think of her as if she were an animal of another and feebler species (489). The simile comparing Rosamond to an animal immediately draws the reader s attention because of its obvious inaccuracy of her character. Although readers should not instantly condemn Rosamond, they must not fully excuse her either. Otherwise, they will fall into the same trap as Lydgate. He does not realize that, Nevertheless [Rosamond] had mastered him (489).
Finally, Eliot moves away from Lydgate s misconceptions and depicts the futility of Rosamond s life. Even at the hint of a little trouble in her marriage, she [wonders] what she had that was worth living for (551). The nonchalant tone describing her thoughts indicates Rosamond s ignorance of her histrionic way of her thinking. The narrator also shows her unawareness by commenting later in the chapter that to Rosamond, no lot could be so cruelly hard as hers- to have married a man who had become the centre of infamous suspicions (554). Rosamond s marriage constitutes her life, and when she cannot find the satisfaction she needs, she turns to imagining scenarios with Will Ladislaw. Since society has cultivated her from the time she attended Mrs. Lemon s school, Rosamond truly feels that she has nothing else to live for besides her marriage.
By making marriage her sole purpose in life, Rosamond sets herself up for disappointment. As the narrator observes, Rosamond s discontent in her marriage was due to the conditions of marriage itself, to its demand for self-suppression and tolerance, and not to the nature of her husband; but the easy conception of an unreal Better had a sentimental charm which diverted her ennui (552). The capitalization of the imaginative Better symbolizes its importance in Rosamond s life. Her dream sustains Rosamond through her boredom, in spite of its idyllic impossibility. While Lydgate has an external outlet for his frustrations at home through his work and even Dorothea, Rosamond can only rely on her imagination. She has no friends or confidants to turn to in the novel. This isolation from expressing her true feelings deserves some sympathy from the reader. She understands human relations enough to manipulate others, but cannot even build a successful relationship with her husband.
Through close analysis of Rosamond and Lydgate s relationship, the reader finds new insight concerning Rosamond s character. For their marital difficulties, Eliot ascribes much of the blame to Lydgate, not to Rosamond. The explanation for this transfer of responsibility lies in the careful scrutiny of Rosamond s personality. Despite Rosamond s exasperating conduct, Eliot reveals to the reader that Rosamond deserves neither condemnation nor animosity. Her childlike behavior, narrow-mindedness and manipulative attitude originate from qualities inherent in her nature, or perhaps cultivated from society or family. At the same time, completely excusing Rosamond leads to a mistake in judging her, as Lydgate discovers. Therefore, the reader must come to a conclusion, neither condemning nor excusing, which Eliot leaves ambivalent. As the narrator, she never directly dictates what the reader should feel about Rosamond, but by presenting opposing perspectives on her character, Eliot successfully attempts to show the reader poor Rosamond.