Good morning Team Middlemarch and well, well, well...what turmoil. Our George is certainly saving the best until almost the last isn't she, and I wonder if, like me, you found this book, Two Temptations among the very best of the lot so far??
I was enthralled, and after a rather hectic week full of unexpected work-related events I wasn't quite sure where my brain was, and more importantly whether Middlemarch would be sufficient to hold it in one place for long enough. I needn't have worried.
I was engrossed as the Lydgate marriage started to unravel before my eyes with the debt, the potential loss of the home, and Rosamund's hitherto head-in-the-sand approach to the impending disaster now transformed into action on the begging letter front.
Poor Tertius, and actually poor Rosamund too, because finally I think I felt some sympathy for her...that moment when she declared that she wished she had died with the baby, and suddenly all that unsaid sadness peeked through for an instant. I suspect we underestimate the grief given that child mortality in the nineteenth century was so high, and thefore so much more likely, perhaps almost expected.
I sometimes wonder how the Victorians approached all this, and thought it may have been an emotion perhaps out of the realms of George Eliot's ken or will to translate on to the page. I needed to know more and turned to my treasured volume Selections from George Eliot's Letters edited by Gordon S. Haight (published by Yale in 1985) and reading this letter of 1872 I think I do George a disservice..
'Gertrude and Charles are going to bring the Baby for us to kiss its little toes and worship, on Saturday week. I have a little comet's tail of its hair, and what is more precious, the frequent thought that its tiny life is a great comfort to the dear mother. We could not help being painfully anxious for the last week or two before the Baby came.'
Gertrude Lewes (daughter-in-law of George Henry Lewes) had suffered several miscarriages prior to Baby's birth, clearly George Eliot understood that sadness and anxiety.
Likewise I would have assumed our George had little experience of the psyche of the gambler, but somehow she has pinned down the folly of the addiction to perfection, and in some depth, in relation to both Fred Vincy as he tries to resist, and to Lydgate as he succumbs. The letters reveal more insights, this also from 1872... September, just a week before the final manuscript of Middlemarch was sent to the publishers...
'We arrived at Homburg on Saturday night and settled in these comfortable lodgings the next morning. The air, the waters, the plantations are all perfect - "only man is vile." I am not fond of denouncing my fellow-sinners, but gambling being a vice I have no mind to, it stirs my disgust even more than my pity. The sight of the dull faces bending around the gaming tables, the raking up of the money, and the flinging of the coins towards the winners by the hard-faced croupiers, the hateful, hideous women staring at the board like stupid monomaniacs - all this seems to me the most abject presentation of mortals grasping after something called a good that can be seen on the faces of this little earth. Burglary is heroic compared with it.... Hell is the only right name for such places.'
I saw that chapter in a completely new light and thought clever George.
But how easy it is to forget that life is going on elsewhere in Middlemarch too and I thought the Bulstrode gossip machine was a wonderful example of a knowable community at work. This slow and deliberate read has almost made me feel like a resident with so many return visits over the last fourteen months. But we almost live in one of those communities for real, and I expect many of you do too. Word can spread like wildfire and reputations left in tatters as a result. Many years ago a town luminary, who died some years ago, was accused of something very unsavoury which proved to be a joke started at a dinner party or something, but it soon gained momentum to the point where he was required to publicly defend himself and his honour. Interestingly, and despite his guilt, I felt for Bulstrode; put on the spot and hounded out, and then by stealth, did it dawn on you as it dawned on me...oops... Lydgate accepting the bale-out with such relief that he failed to consider the circumstances of the opium and the death and how it miught all look in the cold light of day.
Bulstrode's wherewithal to hasten Raffles's death I assumed to be the second temptation??
And as Bulstrode contemplated all that, seated in the wainscoted parlour, it occurred to me that I wasn't exactly 100% sure what 'wainscoting' was, so I went on a little foray to discover that I did know after all....panelling. But isn't it a lovely word.
Right, that's enough from me, over to you for your thoughts...