Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Submission and Rebellion (Middlemarch, Book Four)

A day late, but let’s get to it. Although this book is titled “three love problems,” I think that what really ties these chapters together is submission and rebellion.

The first of these comes from Featherstone. In life, his greatest — or maybe only — joy was making others bend to his will. Mary Garth was probably the only one who successfully resisted. Now, even after his death, Featherstone is making folks miserable, by making his relations attend his funeral. The first will is read, and most of it goes to Fred Vincy. But then the second will is read, and Fred gets nothing; it all goes to the executor, an apparent stranger, Joshua Rigg. The family goes off in a huff, and we only learn in book four’s final chapters who this Rigg is and why Featherstone has left him his entire estate. All of this apparently causes Mary Garth to feel some guilt (or does she? I have my doubts) about depriving Fred of his inheritance, though she tells Fred he’s better without it. Fred, deprived of independent means, reluctantly goes back to finish his education, possibly headed for the career in the church to which he is entirely unsuited.

We’ve also got the idea of wifely submission and rebellion, in two places. First, is the Lydgate/Rosamund marriage, which has happened all in a rush, with the Middlemarchers clucking in disapproval all the while. Lydgate seems to have thrown caution to the winds, as he spends himself into debt to set up the marital household. But he also is having some thoughts about how marriage works that are foreshadowing some possible disillusionment on the horizon: he has expectations of a docile adoring wife, with little thought as to what he needs to provide, other than someone to be adored. Is Lydgate on the verge of turning into Casaubon? That marriage isn’t working out so well, either. He becomes ever colder towards Dorothea under the growing suspicion that Dorothea disdains him as much as he secretly disdains himself. She teeters on the verge of hating him, but at the last moment collapses back into wifely solicitude.

  • Lydgate, looking forward to married life with Rosy: “Lydgate thought that after all his wild mistakes […] he had found perfect womanhood — felt as if already breathed upon by exquisite wedded affection such as would be bestowed by an accomplished creature who venerated his high musings and momentous labours and would never interfere with them; who would create order in the home and accounts with still magic, get keep her fingers ready to touch the lute and transform life into romance at any moment; who was instructed to the true womanly limit and not a hair’s-breadth beyond — docile, therefore, and ready to carry out behests which came from beyond that limit.”
  • Dorothea wonders of Casaubon, “And what exactly was he? She was able enough to estimate him — she who waited on his glances with trembling, and shut her best soul in prison, paying it only hidden visits, that she might be petty enough to please him, In such a crisis as this, some women begin to hate.”

And speaking of Casaubon in relation to submission and rebellion, is he on the verge of turning into the late Featherstone? Along with his growing knowledge of his own failings and his wife’s knowledge of those failings is the fact that he can’t seem to make Ladislaw — who has taken employment with Mr. Brooke, who has purchased one of the local papers — leave just because he orders him to. This all combines into a suspicion that Ladislaw is setting himself up to swoop in and marry Dorothea and claim Casaubon’s lands, once Casaubon has died of his heart condition. He begins thinking of how he can change his dispositions to thwart this imagined plan, telling himself that this is for Dorothea’s own protection. On obligation and its limits:
  • The narrator speculates on Casaubon’s opposition to Ladislaw’s new employment with Mr. Brooke: “He had disliked Will while he helped him, but he had begun to dislike him still more now that Will had declined his help.”
  • Ladislaw refuses to accept Casaubon’s directive for him to leave off his employment with Mr. Brooke and to leave Middlemarch entirely: “Obligation may be stretched till it is no better than a brand of slavery stamped on us when we were too young to know its meaning.”

And there’s a more political submission and rebellion going on at Tipton Grange: Mr. Brooke’s paper seems to be a platform to launch him into politics as a reformer. This causes the Middlemarchers to cluck with disapproval yet again. But in this case, they may be right to do so, pointing out that Brooke doesn’t put any of these reform principles to practice on his own estate — something that is brought home to him in an encounter with one of his own tenants who defies his authority and promises that the reformers will come to sort out landlords like Brooke himself. 

  • The narrator, describing two views of the tenant lands on Mr. Brooke’s estates: “An observer, under that softening influence of the fine arts which makes other people’s hardships picturesque, might have been delighted with this homestead called Freeman’s End: the old house had dormer-windows in the dark-red roof, two of the chimneys were choked with ivy, the large porch was blocked up with bundles of sticks, and half the windows were close with grey worm-eaten shutters. […] the mossy thatch of the cowshed, the broken grey barn-doors, the pauper labourers in ragged breeches who had nearly finished unloading a wagon of corn in to the barn, the scanty dairy of cows being tethered for milking […] all these objects under the quiet light of a sky marbled with high clouds would have made a sort of picture which we have all paused over as a “charming bit,” touching other sensibilities than those which are stirred by the depression of the agricultural interest, with the sad lack of farming capital, as seen constantly in the newspapers of that time.”[1]

And finally, a bit of good, old-fashioned Mrs. Cadwaller snark, just because: “Oh my dear, when you have a clergyman in your family you must accommodate your tastes: I did that very early. When I married Humphrey I made up my mind to like sermons, and I set out by liking the end very much. That soon spread to the middle and the beginning, because I couldn’t have the end without them.” 

I think that's what I've got here. What will happen next? Will Lydgate turn into Casaubon? Will Casaubon turn into Featherstone? Will Dodo and Mary Garth form a feminist collective? And what of that paper with Bulstrode's signature that Mr. Rigg's stepfather unintentionally spirited away from their curt meeting? Tune in two weeks from now to find out when we return to discuss book five...

[1] And since this quote is also a good critique of the limits of Romanticism, let's have another, equally pointed one: Dorothea, to Ladislaw, who is on the verge of slapping a label on her ideas about what constitutes the good: “Please not to call it by any name. You will say it is Persian, or something else geographical. It is my life.” You tell him, Dodo.


Notorious Ph.D. said...

For reference, here's Rohan Maitzen's discussion points for book 4. They're very good. I just zoomed in on something different: https://middlemarchforbookclubs.wordpress.com/questions/one-book-at-a-time/book-iv-three-love-problems/

Amstr said...

I just finished Book IV this morning. Thank GE for Mrs. Cadwallader! More later.

Lily said...

I have been thinking about love problems, and since I can't get any more clarity, here is my incoherent ramble. Is it possible that "love problems" doesn't refer to individuals (will they? won't they? can she EVER forgive him?!) ? Rather it refers to moral/emotional dilemmas that arise from being in love.

Thus "submission and rebellion" is a problem that arises in love relationships; so is Mary Garth's sense that what Fred wants may not be what is best for him; I'm sure there's a third example here....

Amstr said...

My initial reaction to this section: "THANK GEORGE FOR MRS. CADWALLADER!" I found the reading of the wills section a bit anti-climactic somehow. But Mrs. Cadwallader livens things right up.

I found it interesting that Dorothea's observation of Featherstone's funeral is something that stays with her. "Scenes which make vital changes in our neighbors' lot are but the background of our own, yet, like a particular aspect of the fields and trees, they become associated for us with the epochs of our own history, and make a part of that unity which lies in the selection of our keenest consciousness." (chapter 34). This analogy emphasizes Dorothea as the hero of her own story.

And there's one quiet moment for Dorothea, where she is talking about the sadness of Featherstone's funeral--especially that "any one should die and leave no love behind"--and Casaubon enters the room. She chooses to go silent, even though she had more to say: "she felt that he often inwardly objected to her speech." She is right, of course. But Casaubon, we know, grows to feel the same way about her, even though Dodo is slow to judgment at first, and judges him for different things than he presumes. Will she continue to love Casaubon, or will he leave no love behind as well? She seems to be the only one who has any love for him at all.

Also in Ch 34, there is a Lydgate/Rosamond moment where the narrator interrupts a tender moment (Lydgate is, it turns out, gently asking why Rosamond is sad). The narrator stops before we know anything but Lydate's tone to set the scene. It's as if the narrator is reminding us that she is in control of the story, as well as making sure we know the two lovers are alone. There are a number of other moments where the narrator enters a scene by some metaphor or device, transitioning effectively, yet creating distance between reader and character, reminding us that we are only observers and that there is something to be learned from those observations (the "instruct" of Arnold's "instruct and delight").

And my favorite exchange of Book IV:
"'I warned you all of it,' said Mrs. Cadwallader, waving her hands outward. 'I said to Humphrey long ago, Mr. Brooke is going to make a splash in the mud. And now he has done it.'
'Well, he might have taken it into his head to marry,' said the Rector. 'That would have been a graver mess than a little flirtation with politics.'
'He may do that afterwards,' said Mrs. Cadwallader--'when he has come out on the other side of the mud with an ague.'"

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