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MonkeyNotes-Middlemarch by George Eliot
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PLOT (STRUCTURE)

The novel was initially serialized in eight parts, now published as eight "Books." The Victorian reader not only received the books with enthusiasm but wrote in opinions, demanded more or less favorable consequences for certain characters and in short, took up an active part in the novel. Both the mode of publication and the public’s response may have influenced the structure of the novel. In general, a common criticism has been that the novel lacks symmetry.

In the modern age, one must realize that the Victorians had more leisure. They also got more emotionally involved in their reading. Hence, the relaxed meandering through the country lanes around Middlemarch, the concrete visualization of country life, was not a drawback. Secondly the novel was conceived on a grand scale - it is about a community, not individuals. The community is seen against a changing landscape if industrialization and new power groupings. Thus it was important to George Eliot to show not only the protagonists living their lives, but also rural opposition to the railway; pioneering efforts in medicine and the opposition to them; the old and the new attitudes to tenant farmers, and so on.

With this vast mass of material, the novelist concentrates on what she wants to say rather than how to give it a trim shape. But she uses a variety of techniques to prevent monotony. Thus the reader has a number of vivid unforgettable scenes such as: Dorothea and Celia looking at their jewels; Dorothea disturbed by the new experiences of culture in the Vatican being watched by Will; Susan Garth doing her laundry, cooking and teaching her unwilling son all at once; the comical attack on Mr. Brooke by his drunken tenant; the painful scenes of Rosamond and Lydgate gradually getting alienated. The omniscient author moves freely among these scenes, telling the reader how to interpret them, delving into the heads of the characters.

The eight books are carefully plotted with a number of contrasts and parallels linking events together. For instance, Book II: Old and Young, explores Fred’s dependence on old Featherstone, his rich uncle, for finance, on his father to get him a character certificate form his uncle Bulstrode. It depicts Dorothea’s rude awakening from her fantasy of marriage with the old Casaubon, and also the disturbing effect on her of the old sensuous art displayed in Rome. Amidst these, her meeting with the young Will Ladislaw is significant.


In Book III: Waiting for Death, all Featherstone’s relatives breathlessly anticipate his death and what leagues are in store for them. Dorothea in quite a different mood is informed about Casaubon’s heart condition. She puts aside all her misery, and devotes her attention to helping him.

In "Three Love Problems," the parallels between the love stories are obvious as the contrasts. Dorothea's suffering in a failed relationship drawing to a close, while Lydgate and Rosamond are cheerfully preparing to enter into marriage. Susan and Caleb Garth’s down-to-earth, yet deep love for each other provides a promise parallel to the other two while Fred and Mary can see no light at the end of the tunnel.

Book Five: "The Dead Hand" is dominated by Casaubon’s will - the unexpected expression of bitter jealousy which tries to control those close to him long after he is dead and gone. This harks back to Peter Featherstone’s will. He too had tried to manipulate his relatives through his property when alive, and through his will when dead. Both attempts end in failure. Dorothea and Will are propelled together partly on Dorothea's side at least, by the feeling of injustice in the will. Featherstone’s illegitimate son, Rigg, promptly sells his cherished Stone Farm to Bulstrode and vanishes, again in direct apposition to his wishes.

These are some techniques by which the novelist brings a connecting force and symmetry to her complex material. In between she has the memorable linking-scenes - the first dinner party for the Middlemarchers at Mr. Brooke’s, Peter Featherstone’s funeral, the auction-scene and Brooks’ hilarious election meeting where the townspeople are brought together, and interesting social undertones and class relations are revealed. These scenes also create the impression of a body of public opinion, against which our main characters’ actions may be viewed.

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