Sunday, August 28, 2011

Slow Read: Middlemarch Book 1

Middlemarch (Signet Classics)
Well...I'm a week behind with my posting, but only a day behind with my reading.  I do have a niggling worry about how I am going to fit in the reading of another thick book for my other book group: Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-gazer: A Novel.


Theresa's passionate, ideal nature demanded an epic life... Her flame...soared after some illimitable satisfaction, some object which would never justify weariness, which would reconcile self-despair with the rapturous consciousness of life beyond self. She found her epos in the reform of a religious order. ...Here and there is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heart-beats and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off and are dispersed among hindrances, instead of centring in some long-recognizable deed.
Is this the theme of the book?


CHAPTER I  "Since I can do no good because a woman, Reach constantly at something that is near it. --The Maid's Tragedy: BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER.

Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. She was usually spoken of as being remarkably clever, but with the addition that her sister Celia had more common-sense. ...Since they could remember, there had been a mixture of criticism and awe in the attitude of Celia's mind towards her elder sister. The younger had always worn a yoke; but is there any yoked creature without its private opinions?
I'm so glad I came across the etiquette explanation that the first-born young lady is always "Miss so-and-so" and the younger sisters are referred to by their first names.  I think I learned this while attending a play adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  At first I thought the book is about these two, then I remembered the title. There's going to be a lot to keep track of, this being about the whole fictional town of Middlemarch.  Perhaps each Book will be focused on a particular character.

CHAPTER II `Seest thou not yon cavalier who cometh toward us on a dapple-gray steed, and weareth a golden helmet?' `What I see,' answered Sancho, `is nothing but a man on a gray ass like my own, who carries something shiny on his head.' `Just so,' answered Don Quixote: `and that resplendent object is the helmet of Mambrino.'

I see it looks like there will be a quote for every chapter. What does it mean? Does it set the tone? Does it explain Everything? Is it like the song in a musical...expressing the emotional underpinnings? I'm afraid I could make this very complex, or maybe the author made it very complex.

Long story short: Sir James likes Miss Brooke.  Miss Brooke's uncle and guardian likes Sir James for Miss Brooke.  Celia knows Sir James likes Miss Brooke.  Miss Brooke has no clue Sir James likes her, nor would she care.  She thinks Sir James likes Celia. Miss Brooke likes the old quasi-holy man, Mr. Casaubon, whom she just met.  So...Miss Brooke = Don Quixote, and Celia = the more reality-based Sancho? Sir James thinks Miss Brooke likes him back.

CHAPTER III "Say, goddess, what ensued, when Raphael, The affable archangel . . . Eve The story heard attentive, and was filled With admiration, and deep muse, to hear Of things so high and strange." --Paradise Lost, B. vii.

Here was something beyond the shallows of ladies' school literature: here was a living Bossuet, whose work would reconcile complete knowledge with devoted piety; here was a modern Augustine who united the glories of doctor and saint.
Miss Dorothea Brooke is smitten. Who is Bossuet? There's a lot to look up in this book.
Celia was present while the plans were being examined, and observed Sir James's illusion. "He thinks that Dodo cares about him, and she only cares about her plans. Yet I am not certain that she would refuse him if she thought he would let her manage everything and carry out all her notions. And how very uncomfortable Sir James would be! I cannot bear notions." ...Celia was not impulsive: what she had to say could wait, and came from her always with the same quiet staccato evenness.
Celia has more tact than I. I am beginning to get impatient with Miss Brooke's blindness to the feelings of others. Isn't this going overboard? Then the author seems to read my thoughts...

It is difficult to say whether there was or was not a little wilfulness in her continuing blind to the possibility that another sort of choice was in question in relation to her. But her life was just now full of hope and action: she was not only thinking of her plans, but getting down learned books from the library and reading many things hastily...
CHAPTER IV 1st Gent. Our deeds are fetters that we forge ourselves. 2d Gent. Ay, truly: but I think it is the world That brings the iron.

In which Mr. Brooke informs Miss Brooke of Sir James' intentions, and Miss Brooke tells him she wants a wise man who guides her, not one she could boss. I wonder, does she know herself, and I think Mr. Brooke wonders the same thing, but he is a good man, and allows her her choices.

CHAPTER V "Hard students are commonly troubled with gowts, catarrhs, rheums, cachexia, bradypepsia, bad eyes, stone, and collick, crudities, oppilations, vertigo, winds, consumptions, and all such diseases as come by over-much sitting: they are most part lean, dry, ill-colored . . . and all through immoderate pains and extraordinary studies. If you will not believe the truth of this, look upon great Tostatus and Thomas Aquainas' works; and tell me whether those men took pains."--BURTON'S Anatomy of Melancholy, P. I, s. 2.

Dorothea sees only what she wants in the letter proposing marriage. This is how it goes, blinded by love. Celia can see more clearly.
When she spoke there was a tear gathering. "Oh, Dodo, I hope you will be happy." Her sisterly tenderness could not but surmount other feelings at this moment, and her fears were the fears of affection.
CHAPTER VI My lady's tongue is like the meadow blades, That cut you stroking them with idle hand. Nice cutting is her function: she divides With spiritual edge the millet-seed, And makes intangible savings.

I wonder where this quote is from? Of course Google yields only Middlemarch. Same from a poetry is this a poem by Eliot for the book? The busybody Mrs. Cadwallader warns Sir James, so he has the chance to save face...
Perhaps his face had never before gathered so much concentrated disgust as when he turned to Mrs. Cadwallader and repeated, "Casaubon?" "Even so. You know my errand now." "Good God! It is horrible! He is no better than a mummy!"
...and to set his sights toward another, with her suggestion...
However, if I were a man I should prefer Celia, especially when Dorothea was gone.
While the beginning quote of a chapter seems to set the tone, the final sentence is like the musical note that defines the whole previous piece.
We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, "Oh, nothing!" Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts--not to hurt others.
CHAPTER VII "Piacer e popone Vuol la sua stagione." --Italian Proverb.

Google translate tells me it means "Pleasure and melon Does his season," but says if I mean "Vuole" it means "Pleasure and melon wants his season."
Miss Brooke was certainly very naive with all her alleged cleverness. Celia, whose mind had never been thought too powerful, saw the emptiness of other people's pretensions much more readily.
Just as I thought. Eliot crafts her characters well.

CHAPTER VIII "Oh, rescue her! I am her brother now, And you her father. Every gentle maid Should have a guardian in each gentleman."

Final note:
Hence it happened that in the good baronet's succeeding visits, while he was beginning to pay small attentions to Celia, he found himself talking with more and more pleasure to Dorothea. She was perfectly unconstrained and without irritation towards him now, and he was gradually discovering the delight there is in frank kindness and companionship between a man and a woman who have no passion to hide or confess.
Hmmm. Now that the whole issue of infatuation is out of the way, is this setting the stage for future true love? But then she will be married to the wrong man!  But then, if the beginning quote steers us right, Sir James will be more like a brother to Dorothea.

CHAPTER IX 1st Gent. An ancient land in ancient oracles Is called "law-thirsty": all the struggle there Was after order and a perfect rule. Pray, where lie such lands now? . . . 2d Gent. Why, where they lay of old--in human souls.

CHAPTER X "He had catched a great cold, had he had no other clothes to wear than the skin of a bear not yet killed."--FULLER.

Aaaarrggh. I need annotations. Where does this come from? Why is this quote so different in flavor? In this chapter we meet a young cousin of Mr. Casaubon, Will. The narrator inserts herself, saying it's too soon to tell of the conceit of Will, but "this caution against a too hasty judgment interests me more in relation to Mr. Casaubon than to his young cousin."

CHAPTER XI "But deeds and language such as men do use, And persons such as comedy would choose, When she would show an image of the times, And sport with human follies, not with crimes." --BEN JONSON.

CHAPTER XII "He had more tow on his distaffe Than Gerveis knew." --CHAUCER.

OK, this I found. It's in The Miller's Tale. Long story short, an assistant gets it on with the old carpenter's young wife, and a clerk also wants the carpenter's wife. Gerveis is the smithy from whom the clerk gets a hot poker to revenge himself on the wife, who rejected the clerk. The smithy jokes about the clerk's women troubles, and the clerk is thinking 'oh if only you knew...'

So this chapter is about the young Fred having to jump through hoops to keep in good graces with his manipulative rich uncle, Mr. Featherstone.
It had not occurred to Fred that the introduction of Bulstrode's name in the matter was a fiction of old Featherstone's; nor could this have made any difference to his position. He saw plainly enough that the old man wanted to exercise his power by tormenting him a little, and also probably to get some satisfaction out of seeing him on unpleasant terms with Bulstrode. Fred fancied that he saw to the bottom of his uncle Featherstone's soul, though in reality half what he saw there was no more than the reflex of his own inclinations.
Meanwhile, Fred's sister Rosamond, meets the eyes of the new man in town, Dr. Lydgate, a moment that "seems like a sudden divine clearance of haze."

Yet this result, which she took to be a mutual impression, called falling in love, was just what Rosamond had contemplated beforehand.

  • August 14-20: Prelude, and Book One: Miss Brooke
  • August 21-27: Book Two: Old and Young
  • August 28-September 3: Book Three: Waiting for Death
  • September 4-10: Book Four: Three Love Problems
  • September 11-17: Book Five: The Dead Hand
  • September 18-24: Book Six: The Widow and the Wife
  • September 25-October 1: Book Seven: Two Temptations
  • October 2-8: Book Eight: Sunset and Sunrise; and Finale

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