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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Deerbrook and Middlemarch

Deerbrook (1839), the first of only two novels by Harriet Martineau, is a work that combines Romantic elements with those of the realist movement.  It describes the arrival of the Ibbotson sisters in the titular provincial town and the marriage of one of the sisters, Hester, to the new town doctor Edward Hope.  Despite being in love with Margaret, Hope marries Hester due to the expectations of the town inhabitants.  The marriage experiences much turmoil, though eventually the novel ends happily for the couple. 

The similarities between Deerbrook and Middlemarch are undeniable, particularly in the characters of Edward Hope and Tertius Lydgate.  Both are doctors in English provincial towns, to which both are fairly new in their medicinal practices.  As medical men, among ignorant country villagers, both are subjected to nasty, unsubstantiated rumors involving the theft of dead bodies.  Both cast controversial votes that leave them alienated by a significant portion of their patients.  Both face unhappy marriages, loveless at the outset.  Nevertheless, Hope's marriage ends up a success while Lydgate's fails.  So what causes the difference in the outcome of the two marriages?  One significant is the motive of each man.

Hope, though in love with Margaret, marries Hester, who loves him, out of obligation to the expectations of society.  Because Hester loves him and others recognize it and believe him to return her feelings, Hope consents to marry her, though his love belongs elsewhere.  Hope enacts a self-sacrifice for the good of Hester, to avoid her disappointment and embarrassment.  Tabitha Sparks describes the marriage as "serving a communal rather than personal good" (31).*  Though not the marriage Hope desires, the marriage produces the greatest possible happiness for all involved:  Margaret loves another and eventually marries him while Hope grows to love Hester.

Lydgate, however, has proven himself hasty in the art of love.  While studying in Paris, he falls in love with a married actress who murders her husband who wearies her with his love.  Lydgate carelessly, though prophetically, declares that he will never love again and doesn't truly love Rosamond when he marries her.  Lydgate's love is his profession and he is more interested in the sickness than the patient.  Nevertheless, he marries her because she's beautiful and will make his home life easier.  Like Hope, love does not lay a major role in his decision but unlike Hope, his motive is purely selfish.

Another difference is home life between the two doctors.  Hope comes home from his visits to a home inhabited by a supportive wife and sister-in-law.  Though the environment is far from perfect, peace and harmony exists because the afflictions from outside sources bring the family together.  Despite poverty which forces them to give up their maid, the Hopes and Margaret make their minds to persevere and do whatever necessary to survive.  They recognize that their poverty is the result of vicious rumors and have faith that truth will prevail.

The home life of the Lydgates is anything but serene.  While Martineau provides many portraits of the home life of the Hopes, Eliot rarely describes that of the Lydgates.  Tertius and Rosamond always seem to be separated, in different spheres.  Rosamond is mostly at home while Tertius is out in the field of work.  Rosamond is bored with her life and in no way supports her husband's occupation.  She spends more time at home with Ladislaw than Lydgate in the pages of the novel.  Ladislaw, at least, takes an interest in her music and one finds it hard to pinpoint one facet of her personality in which Lydgate takes an interest.  Neither is willing to accept their financial situation and it causes tension between the two.  Lydgate dies at 50 and considers his life as well as his marriage a failure.

Hope's display of selflessness paves the way to his success in marriage and life.  He settled for the most convenient marriage and he and his family agree to remain a strong unit no matter the adversity.  The Lydgates never progressed past their own selfish interests to make their marriage life a happy one.  Martineau makes the case that it more than love to hold a family together.

*"Doctoring the Marriage Plot:  Harriet Martineau's Deerbrook and George Eliot's Middlemarch" in The Doctor in the Victorian Novel by Tabitha Sparks.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Caleb Garth's Philosophy of Work

The Gleaners (1857) by Jean-Francois Millet
"That depends," said Caleb, turning his head on one side and lowering his voice, with the air of a man who felt himself to be saying something deeply religious. "You must be sure of two things: you must love your work, and not be always looking over the edge of it, wanting your play to begin. And the other is, you must not be ashamed of your work, and think it would be more honorable to you to be doing something else. You must have a pride in your own work and in learning to do it well, and not be always saying, There's this and there's that—if I had this or that to do, I might make something of it. No matter what a man is—I wouldn't give twopence for him"—here Caleb's mouth looked bitter, and he snapped his fingers—"whether he was the prime minister or the rick-thatcher, if he didn't do well what he undertook to do" (Ch. 56).

The essence of Caleb Garth's philosophy on work is whatever your work consists of, love it and do it well.  Though Caleb always proved to be a diligent worker, he did not always bring in a salary proportional to his work ethic.  Nevertheless, Caleb strongly believed that one's work ethic reflected one's character, particularly a husband's with regard to his family.  His daughter Mary quotes him when she states "an idle man ought not to exist, much less be married" (Ch. 14).  Caleb sees work as preparation for the responsibilities of being married.  In cautioning Mary about marriage, Caleb tells her that a husband has an obligation to provide for his family:  "A woman, let her be as good as she may, has got to put up with the life her husband makes for her" (Ch. 25).  Caleb warns his daughter that the work ethic of a potential husband will have a huge effect on the lives of his dependents.  A lazy man makes a bad husband.  Caleb himself did not always have a lot of money, his wife at one point admonishing him that he must give up working for free, but he always worked hard.  At the reading of Featherstone's will, Caleb is almost alone of the many present that has no expectation of receiving money, going so far as to say, "I wish there was no such thing as a will" (Ch. 35).  Caleb does not believe in accepting handouts--it goes against the principles in which he believes.  There are many characters in the novel that would benefit from his tutelage.  I will highlight two that could have (Casaubon and Will Ladislaw)and one that does (Fred Vincy).

One person in the novel that fails to measure up to Caleb's work ethic is Casaubon.  While not lacking in ambition, in planning the massive Key to All Mythologies, Casaubon does lack the needed diligence to complete such a magnum opus.  In setting himself to such a task, he hoped to gain the respect of his colleagues while producing a work that would carry his name to future generations.  Unfortunately, the reasons why Casaubon is not taken seriously as a scholar become painfully apparent.  Firstly, he fails to learn German, which is an important language to his field.  Secondly, by failing to acquire the requisite knowledge, he handicaps his ability to remain up to date on the latest scholarship and fails to realize that his ideas are already antiquated.  Casaubon does not have the work ethic of Caleb and, therefore, dies unsuccessful.

Whereas Casaubon lacks intellectual skill, Will Ladislaw proves to be very intelligent.  Throughout the novel, Ladislaw shows the ability to speak fluently about art, writing, and politics.  Ladislaw's biggest encumbrance is his outsider status.  Much like Lydgate, Ladislaw faces criticism due to the uncertainty surrounding his origin.  Rumors spread of his possibly being Jewish or Corsican, despite his being English and Polish and a relative of Casaubon's.  As a result, Ladislaw struggles to find his proper place in Middlemarch society.  Casaubon says he "declines to choose a profession" (Ch. 9), though that is not entirely true.  Though he draws excellent sketches, he makes it clear that he has no interest in being an artist, having more respect for writing over visual art.  He is invited by Mr. Brooke to write for the political newspaper The Pioneer but is happy to give it up when the Brooke sells the paper.  Patience seems to play a role in his unsuccessful attempts at finding a career:  "If things don't come easily to me, I never get them" (Ch. 21).  He makes that statement when he is living off Casaubon's money, but his friendship with Dorothea pushes him to make something of himself.  Ladislaw is not lazy, but he seeks a challenge, and his job with the newspaper bored him after a while because he is not convinced that he can effect change in that position.  He continues to drift aimlessly until his marriage to Dorothea, after which he becomes a MP and achieves success.  Ladislaw can only work in an environment in which he makes a difference in people's lives (similar to Dorothea).

Fred Vincy is in the unique in that he is interested in marrying Mary Garth and must meet the expectations that Caleb has set forth.  Fred develops the reputation of a sponger:  he lives off other people's money while making none of his own.  He is hopeful of being Featherstone's inherito, though Fate ruins his plans.  He falls prey to gambling and loses his money, making himself unable to pay the loan for which Caleb co-signs.  Nevertheless, Fred desires to marry Mary, who reciprocates his feelings, though she is leery of Fred's potential to provide as a husband.  Caleb is the only one that sees promise in Fred, and he secures Fred a job assisting in the management of the Brooke and Chettam estates.  Caleb recognizes that Fred is not lazy, he just needs an opportunity as well as an extra push.  The episode of Fred's bad penmanship illustrates that Fred is capable of being success if he has someone to work patiently with him.  Caleb gives his approval to the match without fretting his daughter's future.

Caleb provides an excellent example of how hard work can present opportunities for a person.  The three men described above could use some of Caleb's work ethic.  Caleb believed in loving your work.  Casaubon never loves his work, it becomes a burden to him.  Will refuses to settle for any occupation he does not love.  Fred becomes passionate about his work and wins praise in the agricultural community.  Caleb also believed in having pride in your work.  While Casaubon never produces a work of which he could be proud, Will and Fred find pride in the work they do.  Therefore, the latter two experience successful lives.

Monday, April 16, 2012

No Incentive To Change

A Country Cottage by Frederick Watts (1800-1870)
One theme in Middlemarch is the resistance of provincial folks to change.   For this reason, Lydgate faces a lot of opposition in his pursuit to better the lives of his neighbors.  He battles the gossip that arises about his non-traditional methods in treating his patients, differing from his predecessor Mr Peacock as well as his contemporaries.  Having been educated in Paris Lydgate refuses to prescribe medicine for the sake of making money, particularly in cases where no medicinal solution is needed.  His patients, used to being placated by placebo, grow suspicious of his motives, despite the success of his methods.  Rumors fly that Lydgate wants dead bodies for dissection.  Even when patients recover as a  result of Lydgate's methods, people accuse him, by reviving the dead, of using powers reserved for the Divine.  Either way, Lydgate is demonized, by Middlemarchers and fellow practitioners alike, for his desire to make advancements in medicine. 

By being an outsider in a small country town, Lydgate is subject to being misunderstood, even as he misunderstands the environment in which he lives.  He has big dreams, having been educated in Paris and desiring to retire to a provincial setting to implement his new approaches.  He fails to realize the significance of the ballot he casts and how his decision causes him to aligned with the unpopular Bulstrode.  He is also blind to the skepticism the community has toward all things foreign and unfamiliar.  Lydgate's hometown is never disclosed and his familial origins are unclear.  As skeptics, Middlemarchers dissociate themselves from change, objecting to the introduction of the railroads to the detriment of their land.  Despite the setting in an "age of transition," Middlemarchers are hesitant to embrace transition.  Lydgate wrongly believes that success will make his methods more appealing.

Lydgate's chief flaw is pride, trusting in his superior education in dealing with his neighbors.  He acknowledges that "people never consider that a thing is good to be done unless it is done by their own set" (Ch. 44).  Change is only acceptable when it comes from within.  Nevertheless, Lydgate tries to bring change from the outside, never ameliorating his methods with input from other Middlemarch doctors.  He goes too far in overturning, though rightly, Dr. Minchin's diagnosis of a patient, saying "It's not tumour: it's cramp" (Ch. 45).  Dr. Minchin believes that it is "indecent in a general practitioner to contradict a physician's diagnosis" (Ch. 45), showing not only that Lydgate's action was ill-advised but also the lack of respect other have for him by referring to him as merely a "general practitioner."  The failure of Lydgate to assimilate into Middlemarch society causes him to be viewed as an outsider and makes his methods less likely to be accepted.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Special Thanks to Culture Critic

The website Culture Critic asked me to do a write up on my favorite Victorian novels.  You can find my piece here.  I would like to thank Culture Critic for giving me the opportunity to present my thoughts.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An Age of Transition

The Ruins (1885) by James Tissot
 The doubt hinted by Mr. Vincy whether it were only the general election or the end of the world that was coming on, now that George the Fourth was dead, Parliament dissolved, Wellington and Peel generally depreciated and the new King apologetic, was a feeble type of the uncertainties in provincial opinion at that time. With the glow-worm lights of country places, how could men see which were their own thoughts in the confusion of a Tory Ministry passing Liberal measures, of Tory nobles and electors being anxious to return Liberals rather than friends of the recreant Ministers, and of outcries for remedies which seemed to have a mysteriously remote bearing on private interest, and were made suspicious by the advocacy of disagreeable neighbors? Buyers of the Middlemarch newspapers found themselves in an anomalous position: during the agitation on the Catholic Question many had given up the "Pioneer"—which had a motto from Charles James Fox and was in the van of progress—because it had taken Peel's side about the Papists, and had thus blotted its Liberalism with a toleration of Jesuitry and Baal; but they were ill-satisfied with the "Trumpet," which—since its blasts against Rome, and in the general flaccidity of the public mind (nobody knowing who would support whom)—had become feeble in its blowing.
It was a time, according to a noticeable article in the "Pioneer," when the crying needs of the country might well counteract a reluctance to public action on the part of men whose minds had from long experience acquired breadth as well as concentration, decision of judgment as well as tolerance, dispassionateness as well as energy—in fact, all those qualities which in the melancholy experience of mankind have been the least disposed to share lodgings (Ch. 37).

Middlemarch takes place around the time of the passing for the Reform Bill of 1832, though it was written a few years after the Second Reform Bill of 1867.  The first three decades of the 19th century was a turbulent time in England.  On the heels of revolution in France, England was still largely agrarian, though the Industrial Revolution had already started the move to factories.  The end of the Napoleonic Wars resulted in harsh economic conditions in England for the working class.  The combination of the demobilization of the army and the increased use of machinery as opposed to human labor led to massive unemployment.  The introduction of the Corn Laws, which sought to protect British farmers against foreign imports, caused increased bread prices when many people had less money.  Further, the Enclosure Acts during this time took land away from the lower class and granted it to the already wealthy landowners.  These economic conditions produced a series of uprisings, such as those by the Luddites, who broke machines to prevent loss of employment, and such as that known as Peterloo, where the working class demanding parliamentary reform clashed with British cavalrymen.  This is the situation in England heading into the 1830s.  The English landed classes feared a revolution such as that experienced in France and decided to institute changes that would avoid the complete overthrow of English society.  Therefore, the government introduced a number of reforms that addressed the concerns of the middle and working classes. 

The Reforms Bill of 1832 was a boon to the middle class, though it failed to make easier the lives of the working class.  Among the reforms it instituted were the extension of suffrage to all male landowners and proportional representation in the House of Commons.  Along with the Catholic Emancipation, which permitted Catholics to serve in Parliament, the Reform Bill still only enabled a fraction of the English population to vote and did not allow secret ballots.  Nevertheless, the bill proved to be an important stepping stone to later reforms.

The Chartist movement further sought to  address inequalities in English society.  The Chartists called for secret ballots and wanted property demands for those running for Parliament to be removed.  The movement gained significant traction after the passage of the New Poor Law of 1834, which among other provisions relegated the poor to workhouses.  Though the movement played a role in the repeal of the Corn Laws, it was disbanded in 1848 and was unsuccessful in achieving its aim.  However, the Chartists paved the way to reforms later in the 19th century.

This is the environment in England during the setting of Middlemarch.  Eliot's description above details the chaotic atmosphere.  It was, as Walter Broughton has written, an "age of transition."  Ladislaw personifies that transition in his inability to find firm footing in Middlemarch society, though he eventually becomes a MP.  Though Ladislaw had always demonstrated the ability to achieve greatness, Casaubon continued to form impasse, even after his death.  Eliot sought to portray the impact of the transitional period on everyday people.


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