by Mary Elizabeth Rupp
February 23, 2002
A major theme in George Eliot's novel, Middlemarch, is the role of women in the community. The female characters in the novel are, to some extent, oppressed by the social expectations that prevail in Middlemarch. Regardless of social standing, character or personality, women are expected to cater to and remain dependent on their husbands and to occupy themselves with trivial recreation rather than important household matters. Dorothea and Rosamond, though exceedingly dissimilar, are both subjected to the same social ideals of what women should be.
Dorothea and Rosamond are on different levels of the intricate social spectrum in Middlemarch. As a Brooke, Dorothea's connections "though not exactly aristocratic, were unquestionably ëgood'"(p.7). Rosamond is of a slightly lower status, especially given that her father has married an innkeeper's daughter, thus further lowering the family's social rank. Although Dorothea and Rosamond enjoy similar amenities such as servants, the detailed social continuum of Middlemarch separates them.
Dorothea and Rosamond's responses to their respective social classes differ much more widely than the actual social gap between them. Rosamond is particularly aware of her social standing; she "felt that she might have been happier if she had not been the daughter of a Middlemarch manufacturer. She disliked anything which reminded her that her mother's father had been an innkeeper" (p.101). While Dorothea does not dissociate herself from her wealthy peers, she shows an affinity for the lower class by helping to improve the standard of living among them through new cottages. Dorothea's philanthropic view of the lower class contrasts with the distain Rosamond feels for them.
Accordingly, the two women's material views differ as well. Not only is Rosamond painfully aware of her social position vis-a-vis Dorothea's, she actively seeks to increase it by marrying...