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Posts Tagged ‘dorothea brooke’

WWDD?

February 12, 2014 | by

Dorothea_and_Will_Ladislaw

Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw. Illustration: the Jenson Society, New York, 1910.

This afternoon at one, join our contributing editor (and, of course, daily Daily correspondent) Sadie Stein for a live Web chat with Rebecca Mead, hosted by Jezebel. The topic: What Would Dorothea Do? In honor of Mead’s engaging new book, My Life in Middlemarch, they’ll be discussing, as Sadie says, “George Eliot, Dorothea Brooke, what the novel can teach us today, plus life, love, and, yes, sex in Middlemarch.”

It promises to be a lively and enlightening discussion about a lively and enlightening novel. For my money, whenever I make eyes at someone, which, as you can imagine, is almost constantly, I still think of a line from Middlemarch: “They were looking at each other like two fond children talking confidentially of birds.”

And whenever I confront the dubiety of my future: “Even Caesar’s fortune at one time was, but a grand presentiment. We know what a masquerade all development is, and what effective shapes may be disguised in helpless embryos.—In fact, the world is full of hopeful analogies and handsome dubious eggs called possibilities.”

And whenever I encounter a physically unattractive person: “It is so painful in you, Celia, that you will look at human beings as if they were merely animals with a toilette, and never see the great soul in a man’s face.”

And whenever I’m too hungover to pull up the window shade: “We must keep the germinating grain away from the light.” (I think of myself, you see, as germinating grain.)

If you haven’t read Middlemarch, you still have a few hours to catch up before the chat. In all honesty, though, you should read Middlemarch. Believe the hype. It is the best.

 

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It Can Be Embarrassing to Love Dorothea

August 8, 2013 | by

Middlemarch

George Eliot’s Middlemarch has been my favorite novel ever since one summer nearly thirty years ago, when I read it on the recommendation of a Victorian literature–obsessed college friend. I’ve read it twice since then, which might not seem like a lot for a favorite book, but it is nine hundred pages long, and its richness holds me for many years at a time.

I love Middlemarch, published in 1872, for many reasons. I love Eliot’s gently intrusive narrator, her aphoristic habit of mind, her asides on medical research and philanthropy and manners. She can be extremely funny at times, a fact often overlooked by impatient readers. But Eliot’s wonderful narrator appears in her other great books as well—Daniel Deronda and Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner—so why is Middlemarch my best beloved?

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that this particular novel, more even than Eliot’s others, is all about people trying to be good—out of religious belief or a desire to improve the lot of the common man or the love of a woman or in expiation of past badness. The attempt is portrayed as difficult, almost killing at times, and many of the characters fail at it spectacularly. The novel is set against the backdrop of political do-gooding: the great British reforms of the late 1820s and early 1830s, which greatly expanded the number of Englishmen (not women, of course) who could vote. It was a time when the concept of the good itself was beginning to have a more democratic and less aristocratic connotation.

At the center of the many story lines in Middlemarch (marriages, deaths, legacies, falls from grace) is Dorothea Brooke, a nineteen-year-old orphan with a decent inheritance who has dreams of doing some great work in the world. At first she wants to improve the cottages of the tenant farmers who work on her uncle’s estate. Her plans are not met with much enthusiasm; those around her are the sort who think things are fine just the way they are. Courted by a local landowner who is considered a very good catch, she instead decides to marry a much older scholar whom she imagines to be some sort of genius. She will be his helpmeet; she’ll learn Greek and Latin so that she can help him guide his magnum opus into the world. Unfortunately her new husband, Casaubon, turns out to be a dry and humorless pedant who over time crushes Dorothea’s every impulse toward joy and intimacy. She, knowing she is bound to him legally, and feeling bound to him morally, fights against her resentment and loneliness, and although she no longer believes in his talent or his project, gives over her days to providing the lowly secretarial aid he demands. Read More »

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The Tournament of Literary Friends

July 29, 2013 | by

Literary-Friends-Tournament-Bracket-Paris-Review

We’re tournament people, my husband and I. The way some people climb rocks or brew beer (I don’t know: What do other people do?), we draw sloppy 64-berth brackets in coffee-stained spiral-bound notebooks then set to vigorous, regimented discussion, rationally whittling down the field until an undisputed champion emerges. Notable competitions past include Most Intriguing City (Helsinki def. Buenos Aires) and Favorite Animal (Polar Bear def. House Cat). Most times, Matt is the tournament master, the committee of one who conceives and presents the field to me, which I then imperiously adjudicate, usually while reclining on a couch or airplane seat and eating something packed with butterfat. It’s a good arrangement, because he is a historian who likes categories and I am a writer who likes making things up.

For tournament people, the next bracket is always a gift. Matt’s mom visited last month, and she brought with her a 32-person field of literary characters for each of us to complete. Our champions were to be not the greatest or most iconic or most influential figures, but the characters we’d most like to have as friends.

“Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert?” Claire Messud had recently demanded of Publishers Weekly.

She had a point. We took Alexander Portnoy instead. Read More »

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