How Would You Teach It? AP English Literature and Composition Reading, 2011 Working With George Eliot’s Middlemarch Courtesy of Sally Pfeifer
He Said…..She Said or didn’t say, as the case may be.
Important Background • Eliot began writing the novel in 1869—the chief character was to be a young doctor
In November of that year, she abandoned the book and began to write another story entitled ‘Miss Brooke’. This went so well that this story became the actual first 10 chapters of Middlemarch. • Sometime in 1871, she decided to merge the two fragments—bringing together the society of Middlemarch, a rising manufacturing town and the country gentry, with Dorothea and Lydgate similar yet contrasting characters.
These events are woven into the novel and are integrated with plot and character. Setting of the novel is 40 years prior to the writing of it. References to: • Catholic Emancipation (1829), • Death of George IV (1830), • Dissolution of Parliament and the general election (1831), • the Reform Bill (1832), and • the appearance of cholera in England (1832).
In the uncertain political climate (Rosamond’s father) -- Mr. Vincy’sbusiness loses money; he is therefore unable to give a dowry to his daughter Rosamond when she marries Lydgate. Having been brought up in comfort and never having had to count the cost of anything, Rosamond brings lavish spending habits to the marriage. The problems of the couple subsequently turn chiefly on the lack of money, Lydgate’s debts and Rosamond’s insulted pride, and the inability of husband and wife to agree on a plan to get their finances straight.
The Narrator • Eliot’s method of controlling the variety of her themes and characters is to have her large-minded narrator explore in a spirit of criticism, but also of understanding and sympathy, the consciousness of a remarkably wide range of individuals as they face changes in their lives. • The reader is encouraged to adjust his or her response, to make room for sympathy as well as scorn.
This certainly was unkind, but Rosamond had thrown him back on evil expectation as to what she would do in the way of quiet, steady disobedience. • Narrator • Lydgate
The unkindness seemed unpardonable to her; she was not given to weeping and disliked it, but now her chin and lips began to tremble and the tears welled up. • Rosamond • Narrator
Perhaps it was not possible for Lydgate, under the double stress of outward material difficulty and of his own proud resistance to humiliating consequences, to imagine fully what this sudden trial was to a young creature who had known nothing but indulgence and whose dreams had all been of new indulgence, more exactly to her taste. • Lydgate/Narrator
But he did wish to spare her as much as he could, and her tears cut him to the heart. He could not speak again immediately • Lydgate
but Rosamond did not go on sobbing; she tried to conquer her agitation and wiped away her tears, continuing to look before her at the mantelpiece. • Rosamond
Lydgate was bowing his neck under the yoke like a creature who had talons but who had reason too, which often reduces us to meekness. When he had spoken the last words in an imploring tone, Rosamond returned to the chair by his side. • Narrator
His self-blame gave her some hope that he would attend to her opinion, and she said, “Why can you not put off having the inventory made? You can send the men away tomorrow when they come.” • Rosamond
“I shall not send them away,” said Lydgate, the peremptoriness rising again. Was it of any use to explain? • Lydgate
Rosamond sat perfectly still. The thought in her mind was that if she had known how Lydgate would behave, she would never have married him. • Rosamond
“Are we to go without spoons and forks then?” said Rosamond, whose very lips seemed to get thinner with the thinness of her utterance. She was determined to make no further resistance or suggestions. • Rosamond • Narrator
Henry James says of the painful domestic scenes between Lydgate and Rosamond: …more powerfully real and more intelligent than any other scenes in English fiction. There is certainly no better author than George Eliot at writing dialogue that reveals the tensions between the interlocutors, and nowhere is she more expert than in her rendering of Lydgate and Rosamond continually ‘missing…each other’s mental track.’
Middlemarch, above all, is about change and the way individuals and groups adapt to, or resist change. In their marriages , in their professions, in their family life and their social intercourse, the characters of the novel are shown responding in their various ways to events both public and private.