One of the central themes that runs through Middlemarch is that of marriage. Indeed, it has been argued that Middlemarch can be construed as a treatise in favor of divorce. I do not think that this is the case, although there are a number of obviously unsuitable marriages. If it had been Elliot's intention to write about such a controversial subject, I believe she would not have resorted to veiling it in a novel. She illustrates the different stages of relationships that her characters undergo, from courtship through to marriage, George Eliot had pondered enough about the position and the portrayal of women in Victorian society, and the various responses different types of women elicit. Probably this had enabled Eliot to sketch and embed in her novel, charming characters such as Dorothea and Rosamond, two very different women who reflected in them the different tunes of the times. Their ideas would be echoed and supported in the works of other writers in this era. Up until this time, marriage had been thought and been written about to be a method for men to control women and allow them to be dependent and subservient rather than to search for love. To highlight the cause of women, Eliot made a rather calculated move and brought in marriage as a very important theme in Middlemarch. Marriage, central to the lives of women in Victorian society becomes the canvas on which her two characters bloom. Thus, she illustrates the different stages of relationships that her characters undergo, from courtship through to marriage.
A fellow mortal with whose nature you are acquainted with 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. (Eliot, 193)
She not only includes the new couples (Fred and Mary, Celia and Chettam), but also the older ones (the Garths and the Cadwalladers and the Bulstrodes), as well as widowhood (Dorothea). But because of the strength, depth and diversity in Dorothea and Rosamond, they remain brightest even as the story unfolds a nuptial kaleidoscope through various couples.
The marriage that would seem most in need of a divorce was that between Dorothea and Casaubon- which ironically, is the one that would last the longest if divorce had been available. Dorothea would not, indeed could not divorce Casaubon because of her honesty and the strength of her idealism. Despite the fact that Casaubon is clearly unsuitable, she still goes ahead with the marriage. It can be said that Dorothea represents the antithesis of Casaubon, where he his cold and severe, she is warm and friendly. Indeed, they are portrayed in clearly different ways: Dorothea represents light and life, while Casaubon is darkness and death. To Mr. Brooke, Casaubon is “buried in books,” to Sir James he seems a “mummy” who has “not a drop of red blood in him (Eliot, 447).” The very thought that Dorothea has come to be engaged to him causes Celia to start to grieve. Everything about Casaubon issues from this basic metaphor. His appearance - a pallid complexion, deep eye sockets, iron-grey hair, makes his head look like a skull. Indeed, his proposal to Dorothea, in which his affection is introduced in parenthesis, shows that he is emotionally dead. Eliot could not have been precise on such matters, but he may be sexually impotent, for Dorothea is found “sobbing bitterly” on her honeymoon in Rome, and it may not simply be his deficiencies as a scholar that account for her disappointment. It is not love that attracts Dorothea to the corpse-like Casaubon, but rather her sense of duty; her desire to be like one of Milton’s daughters. Dorothea, orphaned at a young age, would seem to long for a husband who can fill the role of the father she lost. In this era, there was a lot of pressure for women to act in order to please the...
Cited: Ed. Thomas Pinney, “Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft” in Essays of George Eliot, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963
Eliot George. Middlemarch. Ed. Carroll, David. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
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