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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.

1 comment:

  1. yar ye novel itne buri he ki isko dekh kar ek hi khayal ata he ki no comments



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