Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Middlemarch: A Brief Note on Chapter 42

Just finished Book 4 and am galloping like a tortoise into Book 5.

I keep being struck by how whenever the narrative spotlight shines on Dorothea and Casaubon, Chapter 42, for instance, Eliot authorially combusts, especially in her poetical and psychological penetration into Casuabon and his immiserated relationship with his wife. For examples of both from Ch 42:

....And Mr. Casaubon's immediate desire was not for divine communion and light divested of earthly conditions; his passionate longings (me, he has just gotten Lydgate's prognosis on the possible anytime suddenness of his death), poor man, clung low and mist-like in very shady places...

....But she hesitated, fearing to offend him by obtruding herself; for her ardour continually repulsed, served with her intense memory, to heighten her dread, as thwarted energy subsides into a shudder; and she wandered slowly round the nearer clump of trees until she saw him advancing. Then she went toward him, and might have represented a heaven-sent angel coming with a promise that the short remaining hours should yet be filled with that faithful love which clings the closest to a comprehended grief. His glance in reply to her was so chill that she felt her timidity increased; yet she turned and passed her arm through his.

Mr. Casaubon kept his hands behind him and allowed her pliant arm to cling with difficulty against his rigid arm.

There was something horrible to Dorothea in the sensation which this unresponsive hardness inflicted on her...

In his rejection of her, and she has as ardently giving and compassionately sympathetic nature that is starved for just a morsel of reciprocity in feeling as exists in literature, Dorothea is moved to her greatest resentful anger at Casaubon, his Lilliputian vindictiveness slaughtering her ardent compassion, and finally waits for him to go to bed, after they have both been alone, she in her boudoir too upset to take dinner, him in his library continuing his burrowing work, so she can tell him how angry and ill treated she feels.

And yet, and yet:

...'Dorothea!' he said, with a gentle surprise in his tone. ' We're you waiting for me?'

'Yes, I did not like to disturb you.'

'Come, my dear, come. You are young, and need not extend your life by watching.'

When the quiet melancholy of that speech fell on Dorothea's ears, she felt something like the thankfulness that might well up in us if narrowly escaped hurting a lamed creature. She put her hand into her husband's, and they went along the broad corridor together...

And there it is: what must be one of the most moving, sad making in fact and subtly complex scenes in what is is one of the greatest works of world literature.

Words cannot tell how deeply this concluding scene of Book 4 resonates with me.

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