Thoughts on Books III & IV of George Eliot's Middlemarch.

The Middlemarch readalong, hosted by Beth, continues: this week I read Books III and IV - Waiting for Death and Three Love Problems. I'm very pleased with how this is going: readers of old may recall the problem I had back in March '12: I read it, but I could not focus on it. As Dorothea says, 
When I want to be busy with book, I am often playing truant among my thoughts.
This time around, I don't have this problem thankfully. I can only say the last read was at the wrong time. That said, the style of Middlemarch isn't quite as easy as Eliot's other contemporaries. There have been a few times I've tripped up. 

So, last Saturday I wrote about Book I, Miss Brooke, and Book II, Old and Young, and, as with that post, this post is intended for those who are reading along, or who have already read it. This post contains spoilers for Books III and IV, and I and II come to that, so if you've not read it yet, read no further!

Mary Garth and Fred Vincy.
In Books III and IV, more characters from Middlemarch are introduced. At first, I had misgivings: I wanted to read about Dorothea and Mr. Casaubon, and was particularly keen to see the development of Dorothea and Will Ladislaw's relationship; in the last two books, I wasn't terribly interested in Rosamond Vincy, though I did like her brother Fred (I don't think I even mentioned Rosamond by name last week). But, that's changed - I am interested in her, though I'm not terribly keen on her, and I find Fred fascinating. He's so far pretty useless, but endearing in his love for Mary Garth, his childhood sweetheart. Meanwhile, Rosamond is anything but, and her relationship and engagement with Lydgate is anything but promising. All the same, it makes for exciting reading, though I have to say - the previous relationship with an actress that killed her husband on the stage - that was rather out of the blue! Seemed to belong more in a Radcliffe novel, not a George Eliot! And, whilst we're comparing novelists - the reading of Fred and Rosamond's uncle Featherstone's will - it was like a very genteel version of Zola's The Earth. A very, very genteel version. Yes, Fred, indeed the whole Vincy family, were very disappointed and the effects of this will will be very interesting indeed. 

Meanwhile, the Dorothea situation goes from bad to worse. Casaubon has a heart attack, though I can't bring myself to say "Good!" because, well, that would be unkind, but also because Eliot wrote a few pages from his perspective, and whilst he didn't come off well exactly, it made him a little more human, and less of the "ghost of an ancient". Even so, it's all thoroughly miserable, and the scenes describing Dorothea looking at a portrait of the ill-fated aunt of Casaubon are especially sad. The marriage is, of course, not what either of them hoped for or expected. It is as dull as the sky on their return.

Dorothea and Will.
What I did like very much, one of my favourite scenes, is a meeting between Dorothea and Will. Those descriptions of light: I wish I had have taken note of the page, and I have looked but I can't find it, does anyone remember? It's quite subtle, just a few references to light and to crystal. 

Aside from all this, there's plenty more happening that I haven't touched upon, but these are the bits that have stood out and I've enjoyed. I'm very much in the web now, and I'm looking forward to starting The Dead Hand, Book V, tomorrow! It's funny - those characters introduced in Book II that I wasn't very affected by are now of great interest, but I'm not bothered by, and indeed haven't mentioned, some of the new characters that have appeared in Books III and IV. I'm guessing I'll write about them with enthusiasm in the weeks to come!

Yes, these are my vague thoughts on the matter. I hope that by the end of it, when it comes to writing "something proper" I'll come up with something better. For now, these are just really notes.


  1. I always feel sorry for Casaubon and his never-ending scholarship which is ultimately pointless. One would think he's extremely elderly but in fact is only around 50. Enjoying your posts on Middlemarch.

    1. I think it's easy for me to hate Casaubon because I like Dorothea, but firstly, as you say, one *can* feel sympathy for him, and secondly she did *choose* to marry him!.

  2. The scene between Dorothea and Will is in Chapter 37--I loved the turn of phrase there, too.

    1. Yep, got it. Love that bit, very bitter-sweet.


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