Middlemarch

by George Eliot
classic / female / 678 pages (515 text)
“Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life,”   –

The title says it all –  a study of a normal more or less rural community.

Dorothea Brooke is the soul and center of this 18th century novel which is a marvelous description of the history and social patterns of the day.  Dorothea is an orphan who, along with her sister,  lives with her bachelor uncle on a respectable estate.  Dorothea and Celia have their own sufficient incomes but are not allowed access to the capital because they are women.  Marriage is really the only way of life they have to look forward to.  For Celia that is more than enough.  For Dorothea it looks like a trap of meaningless social games while her heart is in doing much “greater” things.  Celia thinks Dorothea is overly religious,  and that’s one way of looking at it perhaps.  But Dorothea is uncommonly bright and energetic and urgently wants to be “of use” to her community if not the world at large.  At age 19 she’s already set up a nursery in the little township.

And then along comes Edward Casaubon, an elderly but still renowned scholar of religious histories. This is a May-December match but Dorothea is so idealistic, so romantic at heart, she sees her soul mate in this cold fish intellectual.  She dreams it an honor to be his wife, his helper in bringing light to the world.  Casaubon’s ego is boosted a bunch and he marries her.

A disastrous marriage to say the least.  Dorothea is a bother to the very insecure  Casaubon so he essentially cuts her out of his life.  Meanwhile his disinherited nephew, the idealistic but poor Will Ladislaw,  shows up.

There are several plot threads through the book and Dorothea is by no means the center of all action.  Fred Vincy wants to marry Mary Garth but is prevented by his debt-ridden life-style and the fact he owes her father money.  Tertius Lydgate, a newcomer to Middlemarch,  wants to set up a more modern hospital and he gets some support but politics and old community ties prevent him from fulfilling his dreams.  Meanwhile he falls in love with Fred Vincy’s sister, Rosamond who does not share his ideas of success.  Sir James Cheetham wants to marry Dorothea at first as she’s intelligent and wants to help the common folks in small,  personal ways.  She’s not attracted to him in the least so he marries her sister Celia who has been in love with him for a long time (I think) or she wants the goodies – less likely, although possible, imo.  (Who got the Mom’s jewels? Who gave them up? – a telling point as to the those characters.)

All these tangles get even more entangled when the power-politics and swindlers of the prior ages come into action.  People leaving other people money which gets way-laid into marriages of love or convenience and are hidden in secrets and blackmail.

The amazing thing about Middlemarch,  and what has made it a classic,  is the insight Eliot has brought to character and which applies to all ages.  Another reason is that it is a very astute study of life in those times –  and perhaps ours.
Typing that out makes me think that perhaps there’s a statement here about the old ways making room for the new.  In the background and sometimes foreground is the Reform Bill of 1832 which extended voting rights to certain property owners.  Much of the new money was being made as a result of the Industrial Revolution and the impact is felt throughout the book.

NOTES:

Will’s name got me thinking –

Middlemarch –  a take-off for the title of Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture,1929.   I heard about this book several times in college.

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Dorothea  Feminine form of the Late Greek name Δωροθεος (Dorotheos), which meant “gift of God” from Greek δωρον (doron) “gift” and θεος (theos) “god”.
Brooke    small stream of flowing water – pleasant and natural sounding –
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Tertius – third in Latin –   (that’s interesting)
Lydgate – a lid on the gate which prevents entry?

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Edward means “rich guard”, derived from the Old English elements ead “rich, blessed” and weard “guard”.
Casaubon has been discussed –    classical scholars Isaac and Martin Casaubon  (father/son)

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Mary –  common use after 16th century,  Mother of Jesus,  but in Hebrew it means bitter –  I suspect Dorothea intended the common use.
Garth – “an enclosed quadrangle or yard, especially one surrounded by a cloister ”  (yup – heh)

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Arthur – “bear” in Celtic but probably King Arthur to the readers and Eliot
Brooke –  see above

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Celia – heaven  (celestial) or blind or musical (from Cecilia)  –  ?  – usually a very nice and pretty woman when used in literature
In Shakespear’s As You Like It, (a little romantic comedy) Celia ran away with her cousin Rosalind (!) to escape the wrath of Celia’s father who is after Rosalind.  So in Middlemarch the name has some aristocratic associations but I don’t see much else –

Brooke – see above

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Sir James – very popular name – means “heel” but I don’t think that matters so much as the popularity so that no personal characteristic could be derived.

Chettam  ? (sounds vaguely aristocratic to me)

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Rosamond – rose, pure rose,  rose of the world – It sounds kind of pretentious to me – (Derived from the Germanic elements hros “horse” and mund “protection” but that makes for a rather funny commentary if you put the two meanings together –

Vincy –  (see Walter Vincy)

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Fred is a nickname for Frederick or Alfred   . In speech ‘Fred Bloggs’ is a name used to mean ‘any old member of the public’.
Vincy (see Walter Vincy)

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Will   – in Middlemarch it’s associated with self-will,  last will and testament, and free will.   meaning from William – Strong-willed Warrior
William is from the Old Norman form Williame, corresponding to the French spelling Guillaume, and is a cognate from the German Wilhelm, and of Germanic origin: wil = “will or desire”; helm;   (interesting)

Ladislaw – Lady’s law? – heh) –   Sounds Polish but it’s Czech and means famous ruler as a boy’s first name.

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Rev. Humphrey – (neighbors of Brooke)  means peaceful warrior –  nice
Cadwallader – means battle leader –

Eleanor – means sun ray or shining light  (nice)
Her name doesn’t much fit her character in Middlemarch but it was probably a popular name at the time.

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Walter – ruler of the army (roman) and he’s the mayor –

Vincy originates from the Roman name Vincentius, which was from Latin vincere “to conquer”.    The Vincys all got their last name from Walter Vincy (the father) and in his case the meaning makes most sense as I believe he came up from low beginnings.  (not sure)

Lucy – means light, dawn, daylight, shining – (kind of out of place there but it seems Eliot likes to give her female characters nice names, no matter what their characteristices – a bad name for her might have been too much, though –  Lucy’s good.)

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Caleb  – means “servant of the lord” – and in the book he’s a good guy but has his strict ways
Garth –   “an enclosed quadrangle or yard, especially one surrounded by a cloister ” –   sounds like a working man to me – the dirt of the yard and all

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Rev (Vicar) Camden –  “winding valley”  ?
Farebrother –  fair brother ?   (it fits – he’s a good guy but poor – friend to Fred and Lydgate)

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Nicholas  – in Greek this means “victory” for the “people”  but in more recent times it has sometimes been used as an alternative name for Satan – (“old Nick”)  I don’t know how far back that goes – or why ?   The name Santa comes from the word Saint,  Claus from “cholas”
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/old%20nick

Bulstrode  ” locational and originates from a the medieval village of Bulstrode”  (but it sounds bad to 21st century ears)
http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Bulstrode#ixzz1kb1pgq6O

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Peter – means “stone” or “rock”
Featherstone –  sounds nice but there’s an incongruity between feather and stone – so too an incongruity between what Middlemarch’s character said and what he did.

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Rigg – name probably from “ridge” –  Rig means several things – including to “fix” – to “set up” ?    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/rig
Featherstone — (see Peter)

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John – means something like generous – (in Middlemarch – yeah? )
Raffles — interesting as a surname – from Rafael meaning to heal (with the s it would be son of a healer)  and the name of an archangel.

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