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Monday, February 27, 2012

Casaubon's Fight for Significance

In the case of the marriage of Dorothea Brooke and Casaubon, neither entered matrimony with the correct idea.  Whereas Dorothea was misguided in her approach, Casaubon too was misguided in his decision to marry.  He marries out of obligation to custom and because he feels old and lonely.  He expected his wife to be a secretary to manage his writings, a role Dorothea embraces in her desire to please and be taught by her husband.  Nevertheless, Casaubon's entire life is consumed by the massive "Key to all Mythologies."  In fact, the work is of greater significance to him than his wife because it represents his opportunity to produce the great work he has labored for.  He considers himself unsuccessful because he not only struggles to gain acceptance of his ideas but also fails to win praise in his shorter treatises which his colleagues do not take seriously.  Dorothea alone believes in him, even when he does not believe in himself, but he thinks her encouragement a mockery of his failure.

In this way, Eliot makes Casaubon a figure of sympathy, even stating "I am very sorry for him."  He remains the same ungenerous and paranoid man he has been since his introduction but with the addition of "melancholy embitterment."  He is embittered by his futile attempts to gain traction in academia.  Years of hard work have produced nothing by which his name will be remembered.  Despite the tough exterior, Casaubon is truly sensitive to ridicule from critics.  All he wants is to be accepted as a serious scholar.  His rejection by his colleagues causes him to feel inadequate and insubstantial:

It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self—never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardor of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted (Ch. 29).

Casaubon has visions of greatness that have never been realized.

However, in drawing the reader's sympathy, a sympathy that Casaubon would be too proud to acknowledge but would desperately want to embrace, Eliot does not try to hide his flaws.  Casaubon lacks the passion needed to research and write a work of the magnitude he desires.  He cares more deeply  about making a reputation for himself while proving people wrong than the subject he is studying.  He has an "egoistic scrupulosity" that fails to provide the motivation to complete the work.   He self-centered perspective causes him to suspect even his wife of not believing in him, despite her help.  Still, the reader pities this man whose insecurities are partly to blame for his lack of success.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Language as Art

 "Language gives a fuller image, which is all the better for beings vague. After all, the true seeing is within; and painting stares at you with an insistent imperfection. I feel that especially about representations of women. As if a woman were a mere colored superficies! You must wait for movement and tone. There is a difference in their very breathing: they change from moment to moment.—This woman whom you have just seen, for example: how would you paint her voice, pray? But her voice is much diviner than anything you have seen of her" (Ch. 19).

Will Ladislaw shows his preference for the poetic as an art form over painting.  He believes painting, which he calls a "dull conception," is limited in its ability to express that which is within a person. One cannot truly see the inner workings of a person through a portrait like one can through language.  Painting, though it stimulates through seeing with the eyes, ignores the use of the other senses.  Through language one can grasp a fuller representation of the subject.  Ladislaw rejects painting as a surface representation with no depth, calling it "mere coloured superficies."  A visual representation also gives one no sense of the voice of the subject.  Ladislaw believes there is a divinity in Dorothea's voice and that one must experience that voice to gain a true representation of her character.  Seeing the way she moves and breathes is crucial in order to understand her, a reason her marriage to Casaubon fails.  The latter has no appreciation for Dorothea's deeper nature.  Because a painting cannot represent these features, it is inadequate as a medium of portraying the human form, particularly Dorothea.

Nevertheless, even Ladislaw is forced to acknowledge the limitations on language.  When he hears his artist friend Naumann talk about Dorothea, he becomes exasperated by the "grossness in his choice of the most ordinary words" (Ch. 22).  Language itself is not sufficient in achieving an accurate depiction; instead, language must be used by one with a strong sense of discernment of the human soul, such as a poet.  Ladislaw says to Dorothea, "You are a poem," referring to that medium's ability to depict concisely drawn portraits.  He esteems her as an artistic piece worthy of the most lofty descriptions.

Language can also be limited through misinterpretation.  A couple of times in his conversation alone with Dorothea, Ladislaw speaks too truthfully of the circumstance of her marriage.

Will had gone further than he intended, and checked himself. But Dorothea's thought was not taking just the same direction as his own, and she answered without any special emotion....

....Will again feared that he had gone too far; but the meaning we attach to words depends on our feeling, and his tone of angry regret had so much kindness in it for Dorothea's heart, which had always been giving out ardor and had never been fed with much from the living beings around her, that she felt a new sense of gratitude and answered with a gentle smile...... (Ch. 22).

His words escape before he realizes how far he has gone, almost betraying his feelings, but Dorothea interprets his words as heartfelt concern and is gratified.  These types of "false suppositions" (Ch. 15) of the positive and negative kind are plentiful throughout Middlemarch.  Though language may be a better medium than painting through which to display and grasp the entirety of the human character, it has its own limitations due to not only its uses by those unskilled in true discernment but also its tendency to be misinterpreted through its diffusion by the fallible human  mind.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Misguided Affair

In Middlemarch, the heroine Dorothea Brooke is an orphan who lives with her uncle and sister at Tipton Grange.  Despite the attention of the young and wealthy Sir James Chettam, who shares her interest in cottages for the poor, Dorothea marries the old and stubborn Casaubon, who shows no sympathy for Dorothea's philanthropic ambitions.  Dorothea, of pure Puritan stock, is very religious and equally dogmatic in her other beliefs.  However, her beliefs are too theoretic and not based on experience or concrete evidence.  She is called "childlike" due to her apparent inability to question the motives of others' actions toward her.

He was being unconsciously wrought upon by the charms of a nature which was entirely without hidden calculations either for immediate effects or for remoter ends. It was this which made Dorothea so childlike, and, according to some judges, so stupid, with all her reputed cleverness; as, for example, in the present case of throwing herself, metaphorically speaking, at Mr. Casaubon's feet, and kissing his unfashionable shoe-ties as if he were a Protestant Pope. She was not in the least teaching Mr. Casaubon to ask if he were good enough for her, but merely asking herself anxiously how she could be good enough for Mr. Casaubon (Ch. 5).

She fails to examine whether Casaubon is good enough for her, instead seeking to make herself good enough for him.

Eliot uses the opening quote of Chapter Two to compare Dorothea to Don Quixote.  In that chapter, Dorothea sees Casaubon as similar to John Locke while her sister Celia sees an old, mummified "dried bookworm," boring to hear talk.

When the two girls were in the drawing-room alone, Celia said—
"How very ugly Mr. Casaubon is!"
"Celia! He is one of the most distinguished-looking men I ever saw. He is remarkably like the portrait of Locke. He has the same deep eye-sockets."
"Had Locke those two white moles with hairs on them?"
"Oh, I dare say! when people of a certain sort looked at him," said Dorothea, walking away a little.
"Mr. Casaubon is so sallow."
"All the better. I suppose you admire a man with the complexion of a cochon de lait."
"Dodo!" exclaimed Celia, looking after her in surprise. "I never heard you make such a comparison before" (Ch. 2).

Like Don Quixote, Dorothea sees what is not there.  To her, Casaubon is an intellectual with much experience of the world.  Others see him as unintellectual and a failed scholar.  Casaubon shows that he is not studious enough to learn German in order to be up-to-date on his research.  Ignoring the insistence of  other scholars, Casaubon stubbornly refuses to study modern theories.  His stubbornness is a chief flaw that Dorothea fails to see.  In their relationship, his way is always supreme.  As one who is used to asserting her independence, Dorothea struggles to quiet her opinions.  Unfortunately, she envisions Casaubon to be the fatherly, intellectual man of her dreams, incapable of seeing his true nature until they are already married.

Dorothea's desire for a fatherly figure in a husband is a result of her traumatic upbringing.   Both of her parents were dead by the time she was twelve.  She had no brothers and the only male of significance in her life is her uncle Mr. Brooke, who is nearly sixty.  Dorothea, who is 19 at the outset of the novel, has very little interaction with males her age.  Therefore, she has little opportunity to gauge the characteristics she finds attractive in her counterparts.  Some of her interactions with males have come through reading their writings, through which she has been introduced to Blaise Pascal and Jeremy Taylor.  These interactions have likely influenced her desires in male companionship.  She approaches a relationship theoretically rather than with a love perspective.

Similarly, Dorothea has not had a mother during her teenage years to teach her the characteristics she should look for in a lover.  Neither has she had anyone to help introduce her to other males her age, a duty Mr. Brooke has ignored.  Consequently, Dorothea is allowed to develop her own preferences, which prove to be misguided.  


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