Monday, February 12, 2018

Thinking of Money (Middlemarch chs. 23-27)

“Think no ill of her, pray: she had no wicked plots, nothing sordid or mercenary; in fact, she never thought of money except as something necessary which other people would always provide.” (chapter 27)

This week’s chapters find us back with the wide and varied middle of Middlemarch: those striving to move from the middle class to the gentry, those hanging on to their middle-class livings by their fingernails, and still coming up short, and those for whom money (or other people’s lack of money) is a way to exert power. But it’s also about a self-absorption that afflicts most of the characters.

A quick synopsis: We learn of how Fred Vincy has gotten into financial trouble, and has thought to get out of it by “investing” in a horse that almost immediately kicks a groom and then lames itself. Worse, his most recent debt extension has Mary’s father, Mr. Garth, as a cosigner. He confesses to Mr. & Mrs. Garth, who will now have to use their savings for their son’s education, plus whatever Mary has saved up. And we meet Mr. and Mrs. Garth, in-laws to spiteful Featherstone, but about as far from him in temperament as one might imagine. Anyway, Fred confesses to Mary, who is angry at him: first for lowing the money; second for caring more about his reputation with her than the real harm he has done. But she does soften to him a little, and when her father comes, who turns over her savings, and assures him that she won’t become engaged to Fred. Meanwhile, Fred takes to his bed with what turns out to be misdiagnosed typhus. This occasions a conflict between Lydgate, who is now treating him, and Dr. Wrench, who provided the original mistaken diagnosis. The petty feud is grist of the rumor mill in Middlemarch, but the illness and Lydgate’s attendance on the Vincy household throws him into closer contact with Rosamond. Here, too, are signs that Middlemarch may swallow Lydgate up, in yet another way.

On Money, and how it might be used and abused:
  • [Mr. Garth] was one of those precious men within his own district whom everybody would choose to work for them, because he did his work well, charged very little, and often declined to charge at all. It is no wonder, then, that the Garths were poor, and ‘lived in a small way.’ However, they did not mind it.” [ch. 24]
  • Mr. Featherstone’s opinion of Caleb Garth: “…felt himself ill at ease with a brother-in-law whom he could not annoy, who did not mind about being considered poor, had nothing to ask of him, and understood all kinds of farming and mining business better than he did.” [ch. 26]

On Self-Absorption:
  • “[Mrs. Garth] had made Fred feel for the first time something like the tooth of remorse. Curiously enough, his pain in the affair beforehand had consisted almost entirely in the sense that he must seem dishonourable, and sink in the opinion of the Garths; he had not occupied himself with the inconvenience and possible injury that his breach might occasion them, for this exercise of the imagination on other people’s needs is not common with hopeful young gentlemen. Indeed we are most of us brought up in the notion that the highest motive for not doing a wrong is something irrespective of the beings who would suffer the wrong.” [ch. 24]
  • “Your pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid, will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a centre of illumination, and lo! The scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere e impartially, and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion of a concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive optical selection, These things are a parable. The scratches are events, and the candle is the egoism of any person…” [ch. 27]

And now, with apologies for the bullet points nature of this week’s post, I'm going to sign off. I’m at the office almost four hours after my last class ended, I’ve eaten an egg, a piece of cheese, and an orange all day, and I really need to post this and go home. But please do jump in!


Amstr said...

Poor Lydgate! He has some inkling that his elbowing in on treating Fred Vincy will not help his relationships with the other doctors in the area, but he really has no idea. And then there's his entanglement with Rosamond. I love how Eliot manages to show us both of their perspectives clearly--Rosamond's intentionality and commitment to the idea of marrying Lydgate (she is quite calculating), and Lydgate's decision that he can flirt with Rosamond but would never marry her (and he is calculating with different maths). Both interpret the events and their relationship so starkly differently. (We saw some of the narrator managing two perspectives on the same events/relationships with Dorothea and Casaubon in the last section.)

I have a few favorite quotes, but don't have them handy at the moment.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Is it just you & Me, Amstr? PLEASE DON'T LEAVE ME IM SO ALONE!!!

I saw that parallel with Dorothea/Casaubon as well, at least from the women's point of view. I think this is interesting -- I don't know much about Victorian/Georgian novels, but from what I can see, Eliot's challenging the convention that marriage is the goal, and that it will solve all problems, by showing people's interior lives and dissatisfactions leading up to it or once they're in it.

So: are we betting that there is some connection between this attitude towards marriage and Eliot's own longstanding relationship with the married man from whom she borrowed half her nom de plume?

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Quotations and analysis of both Eliot and Henry James always make me think I would like the books in question, and then when I attempt them I am completely unable to give them sustained attention or sympathy. I'm not sure why this is. I have read large swathes of Trollope, so it's not a general problem with the nineteenth-century novel.

Amstr said...

Never fear! I'm not going anywhere anytime soon. Middlemarch has been on my "books I haven't read/finished, but really should" list for ages. Right up there with Moby Dick. (I knocked Paradise Lost out in a grad school reading group some years ago.)

I just looked up one of my favorite sections of the week's reading: the gossip mill! It starts with "Mrs. Taft, who was always counting stitches and gathered her information in misleading fragments caught between the rows of her knitting, had got it into her head that Mr. Lydgate was a natural son of Bulstrode's, a fact which seemed to justify her suspicions of evangelical laymen." Mrs. Farebrother's closing line, after her son corrects her mistaken claims, is priceless: "'That is satisfactory so far as Mr. Lydgate is concerned, Camden,' said the old lady, with an air of precision. 'But as to Bulstrode--the report may be true of some other son.'"

MS1964 said...

I’m here! I’m reading! I’m SO behind. I am starting to love this writer, if not this story. Hilarious! Perceptive... the description of Dr. Wrench, the simile of the candle light on scratched steel... Poor idiotic Vincys....Lydgate. Reminds me of an old boyfriend...

Where should I be in the novel? I’ve been reading at night before I go to sleep, and it turns out I fall asleep. I need to find an hour or two in the daytime to catch up....