Greetings Team Middlemarch and no one could be more suprised than the Dowager and I that this reading like a Victorian is proving such an effective way to approach a novel.
I thought I might be desperate to carry on with the next book and yet... though I couldn't stop myself reading the first few pages of Book Four just in case the mystery of the Featherstone will should be speedily revealed (it wasn't) I didn't find it hard to close the book and think about what I has just read.
If you are still there I am wondering how you are finding this restrained reading ??
I strolled into Waiting for Death and the messy life of Fred Vincy and liked him a lot for all his lack of common sense and financial acumen. I learned a great deal more about the Garth family and I liked them too and I followed the progress of Tertius Lydgate as he is slowly being drawn into Rosamund's forget-me-not eyed clutches. As I recall Middlemarch is often likened to a web and here's one very pretty, demure amd dimpled spider busy tatting a web of her own in which to lure her prey... sorry am I being a bit mean to Rosamund there...what do you think??
I consistently felt that George Eliot was living up to her proposal... a Study of Provincial Life this most certainly is.
Forgive me because I am also still paying keen attention to our Tertius this time round, and all enhanced by a read of a fascinating book entitled The Malvern Water Cure by John Harcup. I am indebted to Dr Harcup for a copy of his book which he sent after we had met at the recent West Country Writer's Association Annual Congress. It is a fascinating history of something I didn't know I was interested in until I read it and realised how well it informs my reading of Middlemarch.
John was a GP in Malvern for many years and has written this history of the town's water cure which became highly fashionable in the mid-nineteenth century, but it also confirms the paucity of effective treatments that doctors had at their disposal for the treatment of day to day ills. Much faith was placed in taking the waters and the regime in Malvern, to which many luminaries of the day including Charles Darwin and Florence Nightingale succumbed, involved a great deal more than drinking the stuff. Daily sitz
baths, a form of wet wrapping and the dreaded douche treatment, which seems akin to being cold water pressure-washed from a great height, were the order of the day along with a strict diet. Given the Victorian propensity for over indulgence it is little suprise that effective relief from associated ills quickly became apparent, and with it much faith in taking the waters.
And George Eliot writing about the 1830s from her 1870s vantage point seems to be writing not only on the cusp of historical change with the Reform Act looming, but on the cusp of medical progress too, and working hard to incorporate the new. While Drs Wrench and Sprague flounder on, good old Tertius, an alumni of the newest medical training, trounces them all with his spot-on diagnosis of Fred Vincy's typhoid. Perhaps too he becomes the very first doctor in literature to wield a stethescope, whilst his keeness for microscopic study can only bode well for the future of medicine.
But then what a nice surprise..
'Mr and Mrs Casaubon, returning from their wedding journey, arrived at Lowick Manor in the middle of January...'
Yes I had quite forgotten them, and how wonderfully George Eliot engineers her scene lest we have forgotten. This won't be beautiful snow that lay on the ground...no indeed, this will be a 'dun and motionless sky' with low-hanging clouds, and everything seems to have shrunk and reduced, acquiring a ghostly tinge and with the fire in the grate doing it's best to brighten proceedings. Dorothea makes her entrance and thankfully still has that glow about her, though how long for will be anyone's guess.
Our Tertius to the rescue again when Casaubon has his funny turn on the library steps and now a chance for Dorothea to become even more of a martyr a la Saint Theresa of the Prologue, and as I am writing this I am thinking that George Eliot does not favour her women in this reader's eyes, only Mary Garth seems to be emerging with any modicum of my respect so far.
But the humour continues too and I'm not sure if I was supposed to laugh at Mr Featherstone's demise but I did, with the descent of the vultures who turned his final days into a social gathering,
'Oh my dear, you must do things handsomely where there's last illness and property. God knows, I don't grudge them every ham in the house - only save the best for the funeral. Have some stuffed veal always, and a fine cheese in cut. You muSt expect to keep open house in these last illnesses...'
As if any excuse for a bit of a party.
So our party continues...is anyone still on board the brougham and if so how's the journey with you??
Book IV Three Love Problems will plop through our virtual Victorian letterboxes on June 1st but we will reconvene a little earlier in July as we all have to be at Port Eliot Festival on the weekend of July 21st/22nd, and then I hate to tell you but this will not be an Olympic-free zone so I will be glued to that the week after. So back here on the weekend of July 14th, for Team Middlemarch, it's in my diary.