middlemarch, part three.


unfortunately, i did not have as much time today to dedicate to reading, so i didn't make much headway into book four, "three love problems" -- so let's talk about marriage.

in chapter 34, we see where the foundation of the problems lie in the dorothea/causabon union:  they don't communicate.  in this situation, the issue at hand is causabon's young cousin, will ladislaw, whom causabon did not want back at lowick (where causabon is) but mr. brooke (dorothea's uncle), daft and dense that he is, invited to stay with him at tipton grange.  of course, causabon is unaware that dorothea did not ask her uncle to extend such an invitation to the unwanted cousin, but causabon thinks that dorothea did, so he is displeased with her, but she does not explain or defend herself to him.  and where such assumptions grow wild, how can trust grow?

it would all be comical if it weren't so sad.

let us examine their reasons for marriage.  or what they seek in a spouse.

in book one, upon learning from her uncle that causabon is intending to propose marriage to her, dorothea says,

'i should not wish to have a husband very near my own age,' said dorothea, with grave decision.  'i should wish to have a husband who was above me in judgment and in all knowledge.'

mr. brooke repeated his subdued, 'ah? -- i thought you had more of your own opinion than most girls.  i thought you liked your own opinion -- liked it, you know.'

'i cannot imagine myself living without some opinions, but i should wish to have good reasons for them, and a wise man could help me to see which opinions had the best foundation, and would help me to live according to them.'  (eliot, 40-1)

and then there's causabon's reasons for marriage in book three:

he had done nothing exceptional in marrying -- nothing but what society sanctions, and considers an occasion for wreaths and bouquets.  it had occurred to him that he must not any longer defer his intention of matrimony, and he had reflected that in taking a wife, a man of good position should expect and carefully choose a blooming young lady -- the younger the better, because more educable and submissive -- of a rank equal to his own, of religious principles, virtuous disposition, and good understanding.  on such a young lady he would make handsome settlements, and he would neglect no arrangement for her happiness:  in return, he should receive family pleasures and leave behind him that copy of himself which seemed so urgently required of a man -- to the sonneteers of the sixteenth century.  times had altered since then, and no sonneteer had insisted on mr. causabon's leaving a copy of himself; moreover, he had not yet succeeded in issuing copies of his mythological key; but he had always intended to acquit himself by marriage, and the sense that he was fast leaving the years behind him, that the world was getting dimmer and that he felt lonely, was a reason to him for losing no more time in overtaking domestic delights before they too were left behind by the years.  (eliot, 278)

what, is that the male equivalent of a ticking clock?

maybe the thing is that these aren't totally antiquated reasons for seeking marriage.  dorothea's reasons may be more extreme, yes, but there are women who want to be led, who seek guidance and leadership in their spouses, and i'm not criticizing that, granted that it's what the woman wants, because there are many types of women out there who want (and require) different types of spouses.  at the same time, though, dorothea's repeated insistence on wanting an older man to guide her and instruct her makes me think shudderingly of ephesians 5:22-24:

(22) wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  (23) for the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church; and He is the savior of the body.  (24) therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.  (NKJV)

i don't know (and don't necessarily think) that this is where dorothea's coming from, but it's what comes to my mind.  and i say "shudderingly" because i've always hated the sermons i've heard throughout my adolescence about this damn passage, especially in connection with the married lives and expectations that i've seen practiced -- a man and woman get married; woman stays home; they have multiple children; and woman rears children.  i am NOT criticizing this family model, granted that it is the woman's choice; i've seen it work wonderfully in loving, healthy marriages that have produced loving, healthy families; but, as a woman who's always known that she didn't want children or to be a housewife, i've always been personally uncomfortable with this model because there is no room for anything else.

but, anyway, sermons about ephesians 5 never failed to piss me off because pastors tended to focus more heavily on the above-quoted verses 22-24 without giving the following verses more weight:

(25) husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, (26) that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the Word, (27) that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.  (28) so husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.  (29) for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.  (NKJV)

i know; i don't pick the most accessible translation (but i confess to a personal bias for the new king james); but, if you look past the religious-ese, husbands are called to a whole lot of love and sacrifice.  (i say look past the religious-ese and offer more religious-ese.)  it wasn't until i heard a sermon about verses 25-29, illuminating what this calling of marriage means, what the comparisons to  Christ's love for the church and His leadership actually mean for husbands, that i finally stopped hissing internally whenever someone preached on ephesians 5.

dorothea, though, makes me think of the youth group/adolescent takeaway of ephesians 5, where we hear (and are told), "wives, submit to your husbands."  hell, when i think of it, i think of causabon, too, this notion that the man should lead absolutely and the woman should follow blindly (and i know i'm talking so heteronormatively, but forgive me for the context of us talking about middlemarch here) -- because the sermon starts, "wives, submit to your husbands," and ends, "wives, submit to your husbands."

and, given this interpretation, which is entirely my own, it's no wonder that dorothea looks for that older, instructive man to guide her and teach her and that causabon looks for that "blooming young lady" (omg, barf) who is "educable and submissive" (double barf).

on that note, i do appreciate that eliot dives right into marriage.  i love that she ignores the courtship and the romancing and the wooing, that celia announces her engagement to chettam in one chapter and, bam, a few chapters later, they've been married.  at the same time, i do like that eliot's introducing potential foibles in the impending rosemary/lydgate nuptials, though i suspect we'll be diving right into that marriage soon as well.  i'm finding the lack of romanticizing and sentimentalizing so refreshing, that eliot has set up these marriages for exploration through different premises, and i wonder where they'll go.  i see conflict, yes, lots of conflict, but nothing yet that can be unresolved.  in dorothea and causabon's case, a lot can be helped by them simply communicating instead of assuming things and letting things go unsaid while they fester inside, so i don't think eliot has doomed any of these marriages from the start.  i don't get that kind of feeling from middlemarch -- it's a book that takes on serious questions but does so with levity and ease, refraining from getting lost in moralizing or instructing, content to sit back and observe these characters and watch their lives unravel and allow us, the readers, to draw our own thoughts.  and i love that, too, in the ways that i love and appreciate a book that does not assume its readers to be dim-witted but capable of independent, individual thought.

(i did not finish book four of middlemarch, thus the lack of reference to my life in middlemarch today.)