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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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