5 thoughts on “Recent Criticism of Middlemarch: Observations and Reflections

  1. Pingback: English B1918 S18: The Victorian Novel – Renata Kobetts Miller, Ph.D.

  2. Wendy Meza

    The criticism that I chose to work on is titled “Middlemarch: A Feminist Perspective” by Ellin Ringler. It was published in 1983 by The Johns Hopkins University Press.

    This critique questions George Eliot’s feminist views and how they affected her writing of Middlemarch. Ringler begins by stating that George Eliot “occupies a profoundly uneasy position among feminist literary critics” because of the fates she gives her heroines, who end up either in tragedy or in “a compromise that is even more melancholy”. In contrast to her heroines, Eliot succeeded in becoming a well-known woman writer in nineteenth-century England, which leads Ringler to ask “Why, when Eliot herself was able to defy social tradition and achieve her own epic life, did she relentlessly consign Dorothea to the mediocrity of a conventional marriage?”
    Ringler also asks “what are we to make of the peculiar limitations she sets for the works on women?” This is in response to the essay that Eliot anonymously published in the Westminster Review, titled “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists” where she criticizes the majority of novels written by and for women, objecting to their silliness and disregard for reality.

    There are many arguments that Middlemarch fails as a feminist work because of Dorothea’s character. One critic (Anthea Zeman) comments on her by saying; “We are asked to believe in the importance of a girl who rarely succeeds in doing anything of practical use”. Ringler justifies that decision because as a realist writer, Eliot depicts the female destiny as “desiring an epic life but finding no outlet for achievement apart from the socially limiting role of common womanhood” (marriage). She didn’t write to have an ideal ending, but rather to show how ‘provincial life” was.

    However, she still gave her characters the chance to take on a feminist role. The male characters in the story are ineffective in achieving any their desires and only when helped by women do they succeed. The male characters here are guilty of egotism, self-deception and hypocrisy. Even if Eliot did prefer the friendship of men in her life (as many feminist literary critics have said), she does not demonstrate much respect for them in her novel. If we look at Dorothea’s relations with the major male figures, “one sees she is neither useless nor without creative mental power”. She has significant influence over the men even if it’s only on a private psychological level.

    In the end, Ringler hopes that what should attract twentieth-century feminists to read Middlemarch is “Eliot’s many thoughtful protests against the limitations of education and opportunity imposed upon her female characters by the “imperfect social state” in which they struggle”. I believe that even though it is not in a obvious way, Eliot wrote a novel that depicts feminist ideals.

    RINGLER, ELLIN. “‘MIDDLEMARCH’: A FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE.” Studies in the Novel, vol. 15, no. 1, 1983, pp. 55–61. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/29532203

    -Wendy Meza

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  3. Thomas Collins

    While George Levine and others have written about the effect that theories of evolution and geologic time had on Eliot’s writing, S. Pearl Brilmyer, in the essay “Plasticity, Form, and the Matter of Character in Middlemarch,” focuses on the influence of ideas regarding the molecular structure of matter. The essay’s project is the elucidation of a “physics of character” (Brilmyer 60). Brilmyer advances two hypotheses:

    “The first hypothesis is that the loose molecular structure of Eliot’s characters records the capacity of bodies for relation and, therefore, also change. The second hypothesis is that throughout Middlemarch solidity signals the illusion of the autonomy of character—an illusion necessary, however, to the production of realist fiction” (61).

    Examples are presented, below.
    Brilmyer discusses Casaubon’s proposal letter, in which he writes that Dorothea is “a rare combination of elements both solid and attractive” (Eliot 27). Given Eliot’s avid pursuit of scientific knowledge, appropriate attention is granted to properties of matter, which allows Brilmyer to advance an unorthodox reading. As “solids are defined by . . . strong forces of attraction,” Brilmyer argues that, by attributing this line to him, “Eliot undermines [Casaubon’s] authority” (73).
    Brilmyer examines Middlemarch’s final paragraph, in which Eliot writes that, similar to that of a river, “the effect of [Dorothea’s] being on those around her was incalculably diffusive” (Eliot 578). Brilmyer contends that “Dorothea’s great achievement is . . . her enduring ability to scatter the self in such a way as to widen its field of relationality” (76).

    Works Cited

    Brilmyer, S. Pearl. “Plasticity, Form, and the Matter of Character in Middlemarch.” Representations, 2015, pp. 60–83.
    Eliot, George. Middlemarch. Edited by Bert G. Hornback, Norton, 1977.

    — Thomas Collins

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  4. Nilima Islam

    Nilima Islam

    “The Hidden Abortion Plot in George Eliot’s Middlemarch” By Doreen Thierauff.

    Thierauff opens up her article by giving us some facts. She claims that even though family sizes were getting smaller by the 1860’s due to fertility restriction practices, it was still taboo to talk about. There was also medical condemnation surrounding the topic of “unnatural” pregnancy terminations. And though, today it is possible for us to talk about family planning strategies, Victorian women activists didn’t have that same luxury. They feared that if they discussed topics like abortion or contraception, they would lose support for political causes that they deemed more important, like women’s suffrage.

    In this paper Thierauff argues that the question of abortion is present in Middlemarch in terms of the way it is depicted or not depicted, and how this reflects on Victorian views on abortion. Since abortion, as a subject, was banned in literature at the time, Eliot had to find a way to work around the censorship. Thierauff claims that if we read Rosamond’s miscarriage in terms of an abortion, it reveals the way in which social and hierarchal power among the characters are shared (or not shared), and lets us determine the amount of control that Rosamond assumes over her own body at a time when that control was supposed to her husband’s privilege.

    Because Rosamond oversteps the restrictions placed on her due to her gender, she has to find a way to make her abortion look like an accident to avoid any social consequences, and to accomplish this, she chooses to go horse riding. Thierauff draws on historical “facts” to further her point by claiming that many Victorian women would start exercising or go horse riding when learning about their pregnancy, despite it being ill advised by doctors. The critic claims that the miscarriages occurring from these activities were all intentional, since abortion, itself, was out of question.

    I appreciated Thierauff’s article because of its insightful reflections on the lives of Victorian women and their relationship to pregnancy, abortion, and miscarriages. It still comes as a shock to me that abortion is still a controversial subject today, and I believe that Thierauff’s article adds to the discourse—it’s not only relevant for people wanting to learn about the Victorian era, but also relevant for those who want to understand why abortion is still being debated today.

    Source:

    Thierauf, Doreen. “The Hidden Abortion Plot in George Eliot’s Middlemarch.” Victorian Studies, vol. 56, no. 3, 2014, pp. 479–489. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/victorianstudies.56.3.479.

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  5. Wilson Valentin

    Writing in the journal Representations, Simon During attempts to make the case that Dorothea in George Eliot’s Middlemarch was a monomaniac. During relates an infamous crime in 1825 Paris that became a source for legal and psychiatric study across Europe. A woman, Henriette, beheads a toddler, but does not seem insane and can only offer the excuse that she had an impulse and then acted on it. The case caused this type of insanity, which lacks motivation or excuses, to be defined as monomania.

    Eliot knew of the case, During notes, because it made headlines across Europe and also because she was helping her husband with his own psychiatric study while writing Middlemarch.

    He says Dorothea’s monomaniacal characteristics include a redefinition of what is considered “normal,” which we see in her insistence in having her own way; behavior driven by delusions, which exists in her fantasy of life with Causabon; and her lack of common sense, which Eliot points to directly in the novel’s first paragraph.

    During theorizes that in a society where gender politics silence women—with duty and the need to obey men—it’s almost impossible for women to have any agency over their lives without a monomaniacal struggle. In Middlemarch, Lydgate’s first love Laure paraphrases the murderous Henriette when telling him how the accidental death of her husband was actually a murder. Dorothea says the disappointments of marriage are like murder when she goes to speak to Rosamond. During says that Casaubon’s death is a murder to the degree that “death mysteriously follows slips, withdrawals of love, desires for freedom and autonomy, failures of faith… in freeing themselves from male’s sexual domination, women commit murder.”

    He ends by noting that in Middlemarch: although women desire the end of brutal male power and that power may lapse, they do not murder it. It’s just wounded because they’re still trapped in the subordinate roles that society dictates.

    It’s an interesting theory buried in a ton of dense prose and psychological jargon, but I find that even though During successfully matches some of Dorothea’s character traits to those of a monomaniac, his argument ultimately fails because Eliot delves so deeply into her characters’ minds. We know Dorothea’s motives. She has plenty of valid excuses for withdrawing from Causabon, for challenging his authority, and for questioning his demand that she blindly agree to any rules he chooses to set.

    Work Cited: During, Simon. “The Strange Case of Monomania: Patriarchy in Literature, Murder in Middlemarch, Drowning in Daniel Deronda.” Representations 23 (1988): 86-104. Print.

    — Wilson Valentin

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