Monday, May 18, 2009

Middlemay 3: Waiting for Death

Hi everyone! Welcome to the third week of our Middlemarch group read.

Please feel inspired to post status reports, favorite quotations, and thoughts and impressions.

If you feel like reading more, I thought I'd do a brief romantic profile of George Eliot this week. (Inspired by my mother, whom I told about Middlemay. She told me that she and my father had read a George Eliot poem at their wedding, and then she asked me if George Eliot was a lesbian. I thought it would be useful to clear up some misconceptions about Eliot's absolutely fascinating personal life.)

The Loves of George Eliot*
Mary Anne Evans was not considered a very beautiful woman, and although she had fallen in love with several men during her twenties, when she was already very active in the literary scene, she had never seen any of those feelings reciprocated. In 1851, when she was 32 years old, she was a spinster. That was the year she met George Lewes, a philosopher whose mind was the perfect complement to hers, and who nurtured and encouraged her work. He was, unfortunately, married, but he believed that marriage was an unfair and sexist institution, and as a result had allowed his wife, Agnes, to carry out an open affair with their neighbor. Even as this affair dragged on and his marriage became less and less viable, Lewes was unable (and possibly unwilling) to divorce Agnes because, by allowing his name to appear as father on the birth certificate of one of the children Agnes had with the neighbor, he was legally complicit in the adultery. George Lewes was raising several of his neighbor's children as well as his own in a house that Mary Anne Evans decided to move into in 1854.

Although they were never legally married, Evans and Lewes acted like husband and wife (and referred to each other as such) for the next 24 years. They were not discreet about their relationship, and as a result, Evans (but not Lewes; there's fair for you) was effectively shut out of Victorian society, and not allowed into "good" houses. They were, however, deeply committed to each other mentally and emotionally, and when Lewes died, Evans went into an intense period of mourning, during which her weight dropped to 80 pounds (or something; I can't remember the exact number).

Then, two years later, Evans did the unthinkable again. In her deep mourning, she had made a friend who was also in mourning, and the two of them became very close consoling each other. This friend, John Cross, was mourning his recently deceased and beloved mother. I should mention he was twenty years Evans's junior. When they got married in 1880, everyone was scandalized all over again.

Evans died only one year later at age 61 of kidney problems and a throat infection. Despite her many acknowledged contributions to English literature, she was denied burial at Westminster Abbey because of her apparently inappropriate quarter-century monogamous relationship with Lewes. But (as I'm slowly learning as I read Middlemarch!) Evans/Eliot left us plenty to think about in terms of romance, society, and women's roles, and I'm glad she had the fortitude to stick by her choices despite what everyone else had to say about it.


*I got all this from Parallel Lives, a great book by Phyllis Rose. If you're into Victorian romances, you'll love it.

21 comments:

Laza said...

Ugh. I'm still stuck in Book II. The Lydgate chaplain plot is bogging me down. I'm going to try to power throught today.

moonrat said...

Laza--stay strong! Book III is (relatively) full of high drama. I thought the first 40 pages or so read like an addiction memoir! I was horrified and couldn't put it down.

Jolie said...

Laza, Book III does pick up the pace! I haven't had attention span problems since then and am already into Book V ahead of schedule. Things are getting pretty crazy in Book V.

Favorite bits from Book III:

Mary's declaration to old Featherstone that her parents are "the best part of myself, sir." The whole Garth family's dynamic is adorable to me. I especially love the scene of Mrs. Garth conducting her children's lessons while she runs around doing housework--she tries so hard, but Ben comes up with responses like this: "Well--oh--well--why, there was a great deal of fighting, and they were all blockheads, and--I can't tell it just how you told it--but they wanted a man to be captain and king and everything--"

I got some laughs out of Trumbull's pretentious self-editing as he speaks, during the part of the story about waiting for old Featherstone to kick it. "Some men must marry to elevate themselves a little, but when I am in need of that, I hope some one will tell me so--I hope some individual will apprise me of the fact." Oh yes, Borthrop, you sound so much more intelligent now that we know you know the word apprise.

Gina Black said...

Checking in here. Bad news: My Kindle irretrievably froze between yesterday and today. Good news: they are sending me a new one. Bad news: all my notes and highlights will be gone. Good news: I'll be reading Middlemarch at Project Guttenberg on the web until I get the new reader. Bad news: I'm way behind. Good news: I'm still in the game!

(Verification word: humpith . . . )

moonrat said...

Jolie--you're such a good reader!! I remember both those passages, but I didn't really appreciate them properly until you pointed them out here.

You go, Gina! The word verification is sympathetic to your trials.

Jolie said...

I've been stealing little colored Post-It flags from work. :) Otherwise I'd never have the patience to sift through passages in order to comment about them. The prose is too dense!

Gina, thanks for the reminder about Project Gutenberg ... that will enable me to read surreptitiously during work!

Sandra Gail Lambert said...

Yes, Book III! And it ends with such a cliffhanger. I had to start ealy on the next section just to know who got the money.

I love all of ya'll's favorite quotes. Mine from this books was "... as of a dream which the dreamer begins to suspect.

And when Mr. Casaubon "wavered with his wavering trust in his own authorship," I thought of Eliot writing those words as she was not even to the middle of her 793 or so page novel. It was a bonding moment for writers through the ages.

Jen A said...

I'm way behind, too - I've only read about 2 chapters in Book III and then the real world took over. Maybe I'll catch up over the long weekend (in the US) this coming weekend...

brionywilliamson said...

I've skipped ahead a little bit, I'm trying to finish the whole book by May 28th so I can start reading Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (it's my birthday, so it seems appropriate!).

I love that even though it feels like a struggle half way through a Book, the cliffhangers at the end propel me on!

moonrat said...

Yeah, the cliffhanger got a little intolerable... usually I wait until the weekend to read, because I'm trying to pace myself, but I admit I dug kinda heavily into Book IV last night.

PurpleClover said...

OMG, I'm so sorry. I've fallen behind. I look at my book every night before bed. It's calling to me from my nightstand. But alas, I turn the light out and pull the covers up. :(

I MUST CATCH UP!

Linda said...

Just wrapping up Book II... and so happy Book III is faster paced. Though I do like the young people muchly. Jeesh, I'm starting to talk like those folks.

This story is oddly contemporary... Peace, Linda

moonrat said...

seriously, Linda. opening of Book III = addiction memoir!

Linda said...

Well excellent, Moonie - nothing I like better than addiction memoirs - seriously. (Just finished writing a chapter in new WIP on my Duragesic-abusing anesthesiologist, so def in the mood for addiction). Peace, Linda

00 Pisces said...

I've been traveling/entertaining. Will catch up this weekend!

PurpleClover said...

Moonie -

I just finished book 2 last night (12:30am and had to get up at 6am YUCK!). I'm excited about book 3 now because of you. I will try to read at least half. I need to catch up quickly. I have to admit, I'm glad the election is over. Total yawn-fest for me. ;)

moonrat said...

Purple--ack! the pressure! hope it holds up!

PurpleClover said...

I think I'm about half-way. I definitely thought it was more interesting especially with the typhoid fever and the title of book 3. I was like, "Oh no! Ohhhh no!" lol.

I'm catching up though. I think I'm half way through book 3. I'll try to finish it tonight so I can get through book 4 by Monday. :D

PurpleClover said...

Okay update: I just finished book 3 and I'm like a chapter or two into book 4. Phew! This is hard work. But book three was by far my fav! NICE. Can't wait to see what is going on. ;D

Becky said...

I finished book three last night. It was more exciting than book one and two. So I'm hoping that the rest of the books will only get better and better.

I'm liking the Vincys and the Garths the best. And the chapters relating all of the dysfunctional family coming together to wait-and-watch to see if old Featherstone dies were fun. In a way. The way they snapped back and forth at each other.

The prose seems to be getting better, or else maybe I'm getting used to it?

Jen A said...

Yes! I finally got time to finish! I may not be all the way caught up to book 5 by Monday, but I've finished book 3 and started 4.

Agree with the consensus here - book 3 definitely picks up that pace. I feel a little guilty what with my actively rooting for Casaubon to die. It's just...Do-do deserves to understand what real happiness can be like, right? I was also glad that, in the end, meddlesome Mrs. Bulstrode could not mess with Rosamond and Lydgate, even though they're kind of boring people, it's nice to see love triumph. Even boring love.

And the whole end part with the world waiting for Featherstone to die - priceless. And I loved Mary standing up to the old man on his deathbed: "I will not let the close of your life soil the beginning of mine." You go, girl!