Monday, May 24, 2010

Middlemarch : courtship expectations vs married reality

"How was it that in the weeks since her marriage, Dorothea had not distinctly observed but felt with a stifling depression, that the large vistas and wide fresh air which she had dreamed of finding in her husband’s mind were replaced by anterooms and winding passages which seemed to lead nowhither? I suppose it was that in courtship everything is regarded as provisional and preliminary, and the smallest sample of virtue or accomplishment is taken to guarantee delightful stores which the broad leisure of marriage will reveal. But the door–sill of marriage once crossed, expectation is concentrated on the present. Having once embarked on your marital voyage, it is impossible not to be aware that you make no way and that the sea is not within sight—that, in fact, you are exploring an enclosed basin."

Middlemarch Chapter 20


  1. Yes, although Dorothea's expectations were particularly high and the reality of her husband's mind was particularly depressing!

  2. yes, but I do love the 'enclosed basin' metaphor.

  3. Oh, absolutely. She's so astute - even when describing quite extreme characters or situations, she says things that have much broader application. Btw, have you read Adam Bede?

  4. I love it! It's not quite the epic that Middlemarch is - in a way, a more conventional story of sin and redemption - but it's powerful stuff. Also love it for historical reasons, because the main female character is a Methodist woman preacher, based on Eliot's aunt - very sympathetically portrayed.
    Btw, if you are interested in Eliot, there is a really fascinating book called 'Evangelical Disenchantments' by David Hempton - he looks at nine 19th-20th century figures who were deeply influenced by evangelicalism but ultimately 'de-converted.' Eliot was one of them, she wrote a portrayal of a contemporary popular evangelical preacher that was as damning an indictment of Victorian religion as anything I've ever read! eg.

    'GIVEN, a man with moderate intellect, a moral
    standard not higher than the average, some rhetorical affluence and great glibness of speech, what is the career in which, without the aid of birth or money, he may most easily attain power and reputation in English society? Where is that Goshen of mediocrity in which a smattering of science and learning will pass for profound instruction, where platitudes will be accepted as wisdom, bigoted narrowness as holy zeal, unctuous egoism as God-given piety ? Let such a man become an evangelical preacher; he will then find it possible to reconcile small ability with great ambition, superficial
    knowledge with the prestige of erudition, a
    middling morale with a high reputation for sanctity.'

  5. We have it. I'll put it on my reading list.

  6. Ouch to Jo for the Adam Bede quote. Must be why Bruce Smith made it suggested reading for one of our classes. Alas I think i gave it away after 3 chapters.