Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Note On Chapter 20, Book 2 Of Middlemarch

I had read the first few brilliant pages of the magnificent Chapter Twenty, near to the end of Book 2 of Middlemarch, when a friend asked me: that when she (Dorothea) realizes what he (Casaubon) is? Or he does? Or both?...

I answered:

....No, it's when they're on their "honeymoon" and reality displaces her imaginings during the courtship, when she's left alone a lot, when she feels everything closing in on her rather than her life opening up, when her sobbing is a function of just a dimly realized understanding of how bleak their married life is, not yet fully knowing what he's like. That is amazing in its rendering as is how Rome is past and present and its impact on her as a provincial girl uneducated and unprepared for it, unable to receive it, too deep of sensibility to be unaffected by it. All enriched by the narrator's own explanations and idiosyncratic comments.

It's something baby...

Having read all of Chapter 20, I wrote him an amending note:

....I wrote the below email to this one only after reading the first few stunning pages of Chapter 20.

I just finished it and have to amend my answer. She does, it's shown in second two thirds of the Chapter, begin to understand, not fully yet, Casaubon's desiccation and his defensive rejection of her as her passionate emotional fullness and capacity to give of herself show him up to himself, a suspicion he tries to suppress, of what a hollowed out man of the scholastic margins he is, a man of utter marginalia. As the Chapter moves on, our inclination to revile him for so cruelly and coldly rejecting all her imprecations to be part of his "great labour," which she now begins to harbour doubts about, with more realization than she cares to admit to herself, moves to pity as we see how pitiable his pedantic lifelessness is and how he harbours a deeply conflicted consciousness of it. Her passion scares him into himself; he is his own isolated castle the moat of which is broad and deep to fend off the charging forward army of her doubts about him. If there's a greater literary account of the complex and terrible psychology of trouble in paradise stemming from youthful idealistic passion, ardency in a word, showing up a dithering lifeless, polite lack of it, of people having such mistaken conceptions of each other in these ways, I'd be surprised. I've never read anything like it.

A few other things:

It would be worthwhile to write some literary criticism on this Chapter. It deserves some loving treatment.

A subtext, a kind of subtextual elephant in its room, I'd think, is that they're presumably fucking.

It's fascinating to compare the callow, impulsive, opinionated Miss Brooke, Dodo if you will, irritatingly self righteous, somewhat intolerantly so, with the chastened Mrs. Casaubon, or Dorothea as he formally calls her, and work out all the differences in her as battered by the stifling reality of him and being trapped in marriage to him and the simultaneous impact on her of the grandeur and falling off from it that is Rome.

Suffice it to say, IMO, within the mountain range of this great novel, Chapter 20 is an early Everest like peak....

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