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MonkeyNotes-Middlemarch by George Eliot
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Chapter 15

Summary

Here, George Eliot takes over the narration as "omniscient novelist" and describes Lydgate’s past and mental make up in detail. He has been orphaned in childhood, and left unprovided for, in spite of having rich relatives. When the talented boy asked to be apprenticed to a doctor, his gratified guardians had assented to this inexpensive education. The boy Tertius has grown up physically active, yet deeply interested in reading of all kinds. Clever and confident, he has developed a fascination for anatomy and medicine. Having taken up the profession of medicine, he has "withstood all the abstractions of special study. He cared not only for "cases," but for John and Elizabeth, especially Elizabeth." Coming to Middlemarch has been a conscious choice to leave behind the fleshpots of London and improve the wretched quality of medical services in the rural areas. In addition, he has studied the pioneering work of a French doctor Bichat, who died young. Bichat’s study of the human body as consisting of certain primary webs or tissues, of which the various organs are compacted has been left incomplete. Lydgate is enthusiastic about completing this great work while treating his patients honestly. Hence his attractive personal appearance, family connections, and seriousness about his much-needed services make him attractive to a patron like Bulstrode, as to an ambitious girl like Rosamond. Lydgate, meanwhile, is oblivious to these plans, and equally to his own weaknesses. Lost in his dreams, he is blind to his own "spots of commoners "regarding the attraction of a beautiful woman, or even the lure of a comfortable life style. An unhappy past romance has made him immune, he fondly believes. His youthful passion is attracted towards Laure, a fascinating French actress. She has become involved in a tragic incident where she stabbed her husband. Lydgate’s chivalry casts her in the role of an oppressed tragic heroine. She leaves Paris. Lydgate follows and proposes marriage. To his horror, she admits that the apparent stabbing accident had been deliberate, and the cause was that she was tired of her husband’s excessive fondness and insistence on city life. It takes Lydgate, a long time to recover from this experience, and makes him believe he is now invulnerable. The blindness of each major character so far: Dorothea, Casaubon, Lydgate, and Rosamond - to their own real needs and weaknesses and those of each other is a theme of the novel.


Notes

The "omniscient novelist" technique has been attacked by several critics, but was a favorite technique of the Victorians. It had two advantages. First, it gives flexibility to their style, which could turn from depiction of incidents to direct comment with ease; second, it also enabled them to moralize over their characters and thus give the novel form a respectable and "serious" standing as a literary genre.

Here, Eliot relies on direct narration to explain the past of Lydgate, which gives density and clarity to his character. It also arouses the reader’s sympathy.

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