George Eliot, you sneaky vixen. Even as I was complaining about your characters and narrative style early on, the joke was on me, because of course if your book hadn't caught my interest, I wouldn't have expended the energy to complain about it. I railed against Dorothea's naïve idealism without realizing that I was thinking about her, analyzing her, all the time. I decried her decision to marry Casaubon and declared her beyond hope of finding true love, forgetting that characters can grow and change just like people can. I would finish reading a section and go about my day, only to find my mind stuck back in the town of Middlemarch. Finally, I have to concede—George Eliot, though you were totally bugging the crap out of me, you indisputably commanded my attention.
And I must admit, I love how Dorothea has matured by the end of the book. One of my favorite scenes is in Book 8, when Dorothea goes back to talk to Rosamond even after she thinks Ladislaw and Rosamond are romantically involved. Dorothea puts aside any selfish feelings she has towards Rosamond and tries to help save Rosamond's marriage by defending Lydgate's actions and providing a loan from her own funds. Rosamond, after being humiliated by Ladislaw's rejection, is prepared to be nasty to Dorothea, but Dorothea's generous and undeserved kindness prompts her to be kind in return and admit the truth about Ladislaw's feelings for Dorothea.
It seems Dorothea has learned that there is little merit in grand gestures and trying to save the whole world; instead, the way to live a good life is by being good to people around her. Gone is the girl who breezily remarks that she wishes the tenant farmers needed more help so that she could gratify herself as their savior. Gone is the would-be protege who believes she must subjugate herself to another's studies in order to learn. Gone is the young woman who yearns to do good works with her fortune but has no idea how to go about it. Dorothea now understands her place in the world and has found practical ways to benefit others. As someone who frequently worries over the question of how to live a good life, Dorothea's conclusion resonates powerfully.
Also gratifying is the romance between Dorothea and Ladislaw finally coming to fruition. The scene in which they admit their feelings and Dorothea abandons her inheritance delightfully subverts the typical Victorian romance. Instead of taking a walk in a sunny meadow, or sitting properly in a fashionably appointed sitting room, Dorothea and Ladislaw are tentatively holding hands and kissing as a violent storm howls outside. Though unusual, this is the perfect backdrop, encapsulating their relationship as it will be for many years: they will be happy together, but the storm of public opinion about their union will rage on around them. I have to wonder if that's how Eliot felt as she made a happy life with George Henry Lewes, even as she was shunned by her own family.
And can we all take a moment to savor the fact that for once, the ditzy blond pinup girl doesn't get the guy? Well, to be fair, Rosamond does end up marrying a sugar daddy after Lydgate's death and goes on to live the pampered life she always wanted. But Ladislaw is so in love with sharp, stubborn Dorothea that he is furious with Rosamond for jeopardizing his already slim chances with her. He tells her in plain terms that he cares only for Dorothea, an act which shocks and embarrasses Rosamond and delights and inspires me. The brainy goody-goody wins out over the prom queen. I'll think of that as my personal reward for meeting the challenge and finishing the book.
Favorite quotes from this section:
“I like her countenance. We must not always ask for beauty, when a good God has seen fit to make an excellent young woman without it. I put good manners first, and Miss Garth will know how to conduct herself in any station.” (Ch. 63)
Lydgate to Rosamond: “'Oh, I would wait a little longer than tomorrow—there is no knowing what may happen,' said Lydgate, with bitter irony. 'I may get my neck broken, and that may make things easier to you.'” (Ch. 69)
Celia, not realizing the wisdom of her words: “And, of course, men know best about everything, except what women know better.” (Ch. 72)
Ladislaw, with possibly the grossest declaration of love ever: “I would rather touch her hand if it were dead, than I would touch any other woman's living.” (Ch. 78)
Comments are open below. How is the book going for you? What have you enjoyed? What have you struggled with? Which of the characters do you think have grown through the course of the novel? Which ones have stayed the same? Is there anything you would have changed about the ending? Do you think most of the characters end up getting what they wanted? what they deserved?