Friday, 6 April 2012

Assignment- The Victorian Literature
Topic- Theme in “Middlemarch”
Name- Sumra Jitendra V.
SEM – 2
Roll No - 17
Batch- 2011-12

Submitted to,
Dr.Dilip Barad
Bhavnagar University,

Themes in Middlemarch

Middlemarch is a highly unusual novel. Although it is primarily a Victorian novel, it has many characteristics typical to modern novels. Critical reaction to Eliot's masterpiece work was mixed. A common accusation leveled against it was its morbid, depressing tone. Many critics did not like Eliot's habit of scattering obscure literary and scientific allusions throughout the book. In their opinion a woman writer should not be so intellectual. Eliot hated the "silly, women novelists." In the Victorian era, women writers were generally confined to writing the stereotypical fantasies of the conventional romance fiction. Not only did Eliot dislike the constraints imposed on women's writing, she disliked the stories they were expected to produce. Her disdain for the tropes of conventional romance is apparent in her treatment of marriage between Rosamond and Lydgate. Both and Rosamond and Lydgate think of courtship and romance in terms of ideals taken directly from conventional romance. Another problem with such fiction is that marriage marks the end of the novel. Eliot goes through great effort to depict the realities of marriage.

Moreover, Eliot's many critics found Middlemarch to be too depressing for a woman writer. Eliot refused to bow to the conventions of a happy ending. An ill-advised marriage between two people who are inherently incompatible never becomes completely harmonious. In fact, it becomes a yoke. Such is the case in the marriages of Lydgate and Dorothea. Dorothea was saved from living with her mistake for her whole life because her elderly husband dies of a heart attack. Lydgate and Rosamond, on the other hand, married young.

Two major life choices govern the narrative of Middlemarch. One is marriage and the other is vocation. Eliot takes both choices very seriously. Short, romantic courtships lead to trouble, because both parties entertain unrealistic ideals of each other. They marry without getting to know one another. Marriages based on compatibility work better. Moreover, marriages in which women have a greater say also work better, such as the marriage between Fred and Mary. She tells him she will not marry if he becomes a clergyman. Her condition saves Fred from an unhappy entrapment in an occupation he doesn't like. Dorothea and Casaubon struggle continually because Casaubon attempts to make her submit to his control. The same applies in the marriage between Lydgate and Rosamond.

The choice of an occupation by which one earns a living is also an important element in the book. Eliot illustrates the consequences of making the wrong choice. She also details at great length the consequences of confining women to the domestic sphere alone. Dorothea's passionate ambition for social reform is never realized. She ends with a happy marriage, but there is some sense that her end as merely a wife and mother is a waste. Rosamond's shrewd capabilities degenerate into vanity and manipulation. She is restless within the domestic sphere, and her stifled ambitions only result in unhappiness for herself and her husband.

Eliot's refusal to conform to happy endings demonstrates the fact that Middlemarch is not meant to be entertainment. She wants to deal with real-life issues, not the fantasy world to which women writers were often confined. Her ambition was to create a portrait of the complexity of ordinary human life: quiet tragedies, petty character failings, small triumphs, and quiet moments of dignity. The complexity of her portrait of provincial society is reflected in the complexity of individual characters. The contradictions in the character of the individual person are evident in the shifting sympathies of the reader. One moment, we pity Casaubon, the next we judge him critically.

Middlemarch stubbornly refuses to behave like a typical novel. The novel is a collection of relationships between several major players in the drama, but no single one person occupies the center of the action. No one person can represent provincial life. It is necessary to include multiple people.

Particular Themes

[1] The Imperfection of Marriage

Most characters in Middlemarch marry for love rather than obligation, yet marriage still appears negative and unromantic. Marriage and the pursuit of it are central concerns in Middlemarch, but unlike in many novels of the time, marriage is not considered the ultimate source of happiness. Two examples are the failed marriages of Dorothea and Lydgate. Dorothea’s marriage fails because of her youth and of her disillusions about marrying a much older man, while Lydgate’s marriage fails because of irreconcilable personalities. Mr. and Mrs. Bulstrode also face a marital crisis due to his inability to tell her about the past, and Fred Vincy and Mary Garth also face a great deal of hardship in making their union. As none of the marriages reach a perfect fairytale ending.

[2] The Harshness of Social Expectations

The ways in which people conduct themselves and how the community judges them are closely linked in Middlemarch. When the expectations of the social community are not met, individuals often receive harsh public criticism. For example, the community judges Ladislaw harshly because of his mixed pedigree. Fred Vincy is almost disowned because he chooses to go against his family’s wishes and not join the clergy. It is only when Vincy goes against the wishes of the community by foregoing his education that he finds true love and happiness. Finally, Rosamond’s need for gentility and the desire to live up to social standards becomes her downfall.

[3] Self-Determination vs. Chance

In Middlemarch, self-determination and chance are not opposing forces but, rather, a complicated balancing act. When characters strictly adhere to a belief in either chance or self-determination, bad things happen. When Rosamond goes against the wishes of her husband and writes a letter asking for money from his relative, her act of self-determination puts Lydgate in an unsavory and tense situation coupled with a refusal to help. On the flip side, when Fred Vincy gambles away his money, relying solely on chance, he falls into debt and drags with him the people who trust him. Only when he steps away from gambling and decides not to go into the clergy do good things begin to happen for him. In particular, the character of Fare brother demonstrates the balance between fate and self-determination. This balance is exemplified in his educated gamble in the game of whist. Through a combination of skill and chance, he is able to win more often than not. His character strikes a balance between chance and his role in determining that fate.


Manisha Savani said...

You have written good and I have like your Assignment.

Nargis Saiyad said...

Hello Jitendra! It is good that you first wrote about the background of the novel and its novelist's views.Besides marriage, there are other themes which you have described very well.

dabhi ashvin said...

Hi! Jitendra,
I have read your assignment. it is well written. it includes appropriate information regarding your topic. You have included all the major themes in your assignment.But I would like to say that you have to do hard work.