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'Inconsistent' Desire: Self-Government and Age-Disparate Marriage in George Eliot's Middlemarch


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INCONSISTENT DESIRE: SELF-GOVERNMENT AND AGE-DISPARATEMARRIAGE IN GEORGE ELIOTS MIDDLEMARCHBySARAH WING BLEAKNEYA THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOLOF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENTOF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OFMASTER OF ARTSUNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA2005

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Copyright 2005bySarah Wing Bleakney

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iiiACKNOWLEDGMENTSI want to thank my family my parents, Joan and Hank Livingston, and Bob andSharon Bleakney; the kids: Ezra, Emily, Nate, Zack, and Julia Livingston; as well asmembers of my extended family for continually inspiring, supporting, and challengingme. I owe of debt of gratitude to the many friends and teachers who have aided andguided me towards intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and physical development and healthon my winding journey to the University of Florida. I am also grateful for the friends Ivemade since coming to Gainesville, amongst which I must especially single out: myroommates, Jonas Williams and Lindsey Collins; my Victorianist partner-in-crime, ArielGunn; my academic partner, Anna Guest; and Rob Dolecki, who supplied conversationand encouragement whatever the hour. Finally, I particularly want to acknowledge mydebt to the faculty of the University of Floridas English Department for their generosityin sharing their extensive knowledge and guidance above all Dr. Pamela Gilbert and Dr.Susan Hegeman, who shepherded me to the finish towards my M.A.

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ivTABLE OF CONTENTSpage ACKNOWLEDGMENTS..............................................................................................iiiABSTRACT....................................................................................................................vINCONSISTENT DESIRE: SELF-GOVERNMENT AND AGE-DISPARATEMARRIAGE IN GEORGE ELIOTS MIDDLEMARCH..........................................1Notes......................................................................................................................39LIST OF REFERENCES...............................................................................................41BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.........................................................................................44

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vAbstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate Schoolof the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of theRequirements for the Degree of Master of ArtsINCONSISTENT DESIRE: SELF-GOVERNMENT AND AGE-DISPARATEMARRIAGE IN GEORGE ELIOTS MIDDLEMARCHBySarah Wing BleakneyAugust 2005Chair: Dr. Pamela GilbertMajor Department: EnglishThough George Eliots Middlemarch is canonical, and therefore heavily analyzedin the years since it was published in Britain in 1871-1872, elements of this novel haveremained thus far unexplored. This study explores Dorothea Brookes struggle to come toterms with her desireswhether socially inappropriate such as an interest in intellectualdevelopment and having a large and meaningful impact on her community, or personallytroubling such as those that express her innate sensuality. Dorotheas struggle to be atpeace with and realize her desires is highlighted and brought to crisis within her marriageto her much older first husband, illustrating just how problematic both her relationship toher own desires and her attempt to express them through an age-disparate pairing can be.This union, while socially acceptable due to his wealth, is also repellant due to thedisparity in their agesand an exploration of those qualities that celebrate andproblematize age-disparate marriage allow for an analysis of those social and cultural

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viinfluences that simultaneously guide and offer the opportunity for the expression ofchoice by the Victorian woman.

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1 INCONSISTENT DESIRE: SELF-GOVERNMENT AND AGE-DISPARATEMARRIAGE IN GEORGE ELIOTS MIDDLEMARCHIn the first chapter of Middlemarch, there is a curious and important moment thatevocatively reveals much about Dorotheas relationship to her own desires. As she andher sister, Celia, sort through their mothers jewels, Dorothea will not accept any of hermothers finery, until an emerald bracelet and ring is highlighted by a break in the clouds.Previously guided by her (in Celias words) Puritanic superiority, she came under anew current of feeling, as sudden as the gleam of the jewels themselves. Instead ofrejecting them, as her sister expects, Dorothea puts them on, and all the while herthought was trying to justify her delight in the colors by merging them in her mysticreligious joy. She rejects her sisters offer of the pretty and quiet agates, and decidesshe will keep the ring and bracelet, though Celia thought that her sister was going torenounce the ornaments, as in consistency she ought to do. Instead, Dorothea took upher pencil without removing the jewels, and still looking at them. She thought of oftenhaving them by her, to feed her eye at these little fountains of pure color, her inwardfire flashing in response to these gleaming bits of pure color. The scene ends withDorothea questioning the purity of her own feeling and speech and Celia observing thather sisters adherence to her own principles and opinions are sometimes inconsistent.It is this inconsistency and what it says about Dorothea that interests me. The tensionbetween her response to the jewels, her struggle to be at peace with her desire for them,and her sisters resentment of Dorotheas lack of consistency all speaks of a lack of

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2resolution that belies her Puritanic tendencies (Eliot 38-40). Though these jewels neverreappear within the novel, what they say about Dorothea resonates throughoutMiddlemarch, particularly within the context of her unhappy marriage to the much olderCasaubon.Early in her novel Middlemarch, George Eliot expresses its fictional communitysdiscomfort with the pairing of an older man and a young woman with an almost Gothicintensity: Dorothea and Casaubons impending nuptials are objected to with a sense ofdisgust that her blooming full-pulsed youth would be wedded to a seemingly decrepitfigure of a man with one foot in the grave, who is no better than a mummy (239, 74).Luckily for Casaubon, however, this disdainful attitude does not represent the fullspectrum of response within Middlemarch, as on the other hand, it is also admitted (in thewords of Mrs. Cadwallader) that he has money enough; I must do him that justice,making Dorotheas a good, though unlikely, match (71). As these examples illustrate, thepairing of a couple marked by disparity in age is one that can been seen as bothcompelling and repellent, with practical considerations (such as the wealth, status, andstability an older man can offer) coming up against the deeply felt discomfort that such adifference in age elicits. The source of this tension can be traced to a variety of societalfactors that simultaneously celebrate and condemn, and in effect, problematize suchmarriages, and as the example of Middlemarch illustrates, the culture of nineteenth-century England offers no exception. However, it is not enough to say that Dorothea andCasaubons marriage is problematic because of age-disparity rather, it is necessary toexamine the reasons why the marriage was seen as simultaneously attractive andproblematic. An exploration of these qualities allows for an analysis of those social and

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3cultural influencesimportant for what they say about the experience of marriage and itspossibilities as a means for self-expressionthat simultaneously guide and offer theopportunity for the expression of choice by the Victorian woman.Robert Polhemuss Lots Daughters and The Spectacles of Intimacy by KarenChase and Michael Levenson explore the underlying social factors and attitudesregarding age-disparate marriage, offering a means to investigate that which affirms andtroubles pairings of older men and younger women as expressed within Eliots novel. Inturn, I revise the models of Polhemus and Chase and Levenson by examining how thisproblematization of age-disparate marriage can be rooted within the Victorian ideals ofliberalism and domestic femininity. While providing insights into how the disquietregarding inconsistent expression of desire and older male-younger female pairings fitsinto the larger social context of nineteenth-century England, these seemingly incongruentvalue systems connect through their overlapping interest in self-government autonomyof the self and restraint of the self, simultaneous power and suppression. And thoughDorothea is seen as being capable of self-restraint, what she also imagines is a life ofexpressionwhether within her community through good works, intellectualism, orchoosing a mateputting her at odds with the values of self-government. Further, as thescene with the emeralds reveals, Dorothea cannot fully renounce (and barelyacknowledges) her inward fire, and instead leaves such troubling impulses potentiallyunmastered. Though her decisions are often considered objectionable for a woman of herclass and status, it is the motivations behind her choice to marry her much older firsthusband (as well as the reality of their married life) that highlights just how problematicboth her relationship to her own desires and her attempt to express them through an age-

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4disparate pairing can be. Dorothea, then, does not merely trouble the standards ofMiddlemarch, but those of Eliots day: for, while liberalism celebrates choice andpersonal liberty, and domestic femininity dictates female choice as being determined bystrict convention, they both privilege the restraint of the self, speaking to the prevalenceand impact of this value and highlighting just how disturbing her inconsistent desiretruly is.That Dorothea and Casaubons age-disparate marriage has been seen asproblematic has been previously explored: criticism of Dorothea and her first marriagehas focused on a number of areas, including those qualities that make Casaubonunsuitable for Dorothea. 1 As Suzanne Graver terms it, her much older husband is bothpaternal and despotic, as well as an oppressor (61), while Selma Brody callsCasaubon a middle-aged benedict full of learning but of cold temperament (63).However, as Bernard J. Paris vividly clarifies, what makes the marriage to Casaubon sodisgusting to other peoplethe age difference and his lack of red-blooded manhood(Ch. 8)is part of his appeal to Dorothea. Since she has an idealized image of herself asan ascetic who scorns worldly pleasures life with Casaubon appears to be a perfectmatch (Paris 243). That the choice is generally seen as disgusting (despite its apparentappeal for Dorothea) cannot be denied, in part because of its impact. As Barbara Hardyexplains, Dorothea is tragically married to CasaubonWhat happens to her, in heryoung hope and brilliance, is horrible, terrible, and miserable. This tragic quality isenhanced by her young, attractive, blooming, and physically active qualities,suggesting she possesses a vigour that is unseemly to match up with a man of Casaubons

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5age and condition (The Miserable 66-67). To continue, women like Dorothea, Hardyexplains:are sympathetic, well-born, intelligent, creative human beings, under-educated,untrained, taught a few superficial accomplishments and manners, dressed andcultivated, with marriage in mind, a marriage to someone of their own or a betterclass, a marriage with money. They are all brought up in a culture where marriageis what is expected of them and is all that is expected of them. The horror andmisery of such a system is demonstrated in marriages with men who are old enoughto be their fathers, who have little in common with them, and who in various waysfail in sexuality and love. Casaubon is over forty-five, Dorothea nineteen. (TheMiserable 70)The culture and system of nineteenth-century Britain that limits the choice andexpression of its intelligent, creative young women within marriage is fully exposedand demonstrated within a marriage such as the one presented in Middlemarch.In fact, this was an explicit concern for Eliot. The second to last paragraph of thefirst edition (1871-1872) of Middlemarch included the following text (deleted by the1874 edition): Among the many remarks passed on her mistakes, it was never said in theneighbourhood of Middlemarch that such mistakes could not have happened if the societyin which she was born had not smiled on propositions of marriage from a sickly man to agirl less than half his age (Hardy The Novels 52). Here Eliot, as Hardy does, placesblame squarely upon society for encouraging such an unequal and unkind pairing(though it is also revealing that society does not recognize its complicity in suchmistakes). This subtext to marriage is one that can be seen in her novel, with thecommunitys disapproval of Dorothea and Casaubons marriage (due to their disparity inage, amongst other factors) balanced by his handsome property and good income,elevating their marriage from shocking to acceptably good and affirming its suitabilitydespite the issue of age (60, 62). As June Skye Szirotny confirms, vociferous as are

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6Dorotheas friends in objecting to her marriage, they do not fundamentally oppose thematch. For it satisfies their most deeply rooted concerns that she marry money and socialposition (24). This finger-pointing is echoed by Bege K. Bowers: Dorothea is made tofeel useless by a society that offers few outlets for a womans creative energy leavingher with few viable options outside of marriage, just as Casaubon himself is a victim ofthe socially sanctioned belief that a man of a good position must take as a wife ablooming young ladythe younger the better, because more educable andsubmissiveof a rank equal to his own, of religious principles, virtuous disposition, andgood understanding (272; ch. 29) (111). As Eliot and Bowers indicate, both halves ofthe couple are impacted by their socially sanctioned but problematic pairing. How thisimpact plays out for Dorothea within the novel, as well as those factors that sanction sucha pairing will be explored.The desire to create and live a life of personal meaning is a common theme inMiddlemarch. A multitude of characters attempt to express themselves through vocationor social maneuvering as a means of manifesting the life they imagine they are meant tolive; the former impulse shown in the example of Lydgate, who intends to createsweeping change in medicine, while the latter is seen in the example of Rosamond Vincy,who intends to live the life of a lady by marrying well. Dorothea Brooke, however,follows neither example: her attempts to create a life of personal meaning challengeexpectations of appropriate choice while also transcending both vocational and socialconcerns. It is not an accident that two of the preceding examplesRosamond andDorotheainvolve marriage. For women of the Victorian era, marriage offered anopportunity to assert themselves, with varying degrees of possibility. For upper-class

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7women like Dorothea, though they are socially and economically privileged theirexistence is also prescribed by the strictures of status, making the selection of a husbandone of the few areas where it is possible they can exercise some degree of will. Dorotheadoes so, not once but twice within Eliots novel, and in differing ways her marriage toCasaubon and then Ladislaw can both be seen as expressions of her aspiration to makelife-determining choices expressive of her desires despite meeting with the disapproval ofher family and community. Motivated by an effort to strive against the drearyuselessness of a gentlewomans oppressive liberty (Nicholes 115), Dorothea attemptsto circumvent expectations of conventionality and instead achieve a life that resonateswith personal meaning.The expected path for a Christian young lady of fortunecharity, embroideryand other such feminine niceties, conventional marriage, as Eliot suggestsis not forDorothea. The amiable and handsome Sir James is, in the words of Mr. Brooke justthe sort of man he imagines a woman would like as well as desirable as a familyalliance that would unite their adjoining propertiesbut neither is important to his niece(36, 60). Instead, as the narrator explains, the union which attracted her was one thatwould deliver her from her girlish subjection to her own ignorance, and give her thefreedom of voluntary submission to a guide who would take her along the grandest path(46). In girlish subjection to her own ignorance, Dorothea instead wishes to submitherself in spiritual communion to the calling of an older man whose qualities ofintellect and spirituality will allow her association with the higher inward life (46). InCasaubon, Dorothea imagines she has found such a guide: There would be nothingtrivial about our lives. Every-day things with us would mean the greatest thingsI

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8should learn to see the truth by the same light as great men have seen it by. And then Ishould know what to do, when I got older: I should see how it was possible to lead agrand life here--now--in England. I don't feel sure about doing good in any way now(51). Prior to her marriage to Casaubon, Dorothea smarts under the confines of theshallows of the ladies school literature and toy-box history of the world educationshe received and instead wishes to gain the knowledge and experience necessary toaccomplish truly great things that will make an impact on her community (47, 94).Though Dorothea is sure that her cottages can do some good (if she can just get thembuilt), she does not feel that she possesses the intellectual resources to create a greater,grander impact.It is also here that another truth of Dorotheas aspirations emerge: they depend onher association with another, one who she believes is endowed with the wisdom neededto elevate her to the heights necessary to accomplish what she intends. There are reasonsfor this limitation in vision, however. As Bernard J. Paris suggests, Dorotheas dream ofglory chiefly takes the form of fantasies about marrying a great manBecause she is awoman, she cannot dream of doing special deeds herself but must live vicariouslythrough a maleCasaubon seems to be exactly the man for whom she is looking (243).Though Dorothea does not intend to live vicariously through Casaubon but rather to behis active and humble assistant in completing his great lifes work (what a work to be inany ways present at, to assist in, though only as a lamp-holder, she thinks, page 42), thesuggestion is merited. Dorothea indeed uses marriage as her vehicle for the grand lifeshe cannot achieve herself, by attempting to make Casaubons scholarly vocation herown through tireless assistance (Nazar 306). The barriers towards female intellectual or

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9social achievement present in nineteenth-century Britain are not impassible (as Eliotherself illustrates) but they are far-reaching. This concern with the limitations of thefemale lot is, in fact, a common theme in George Eliots writing. As Calder explains inWomen and Marriage in Victorian Fiction, Eliotsprofoundest interests lay with women who had hopes and aspirations beyond theconventional, women who wanted to achieve things, however vague, who wereimpatient of the aims usually attributed to themwho are nevertheless symbolic ofthe deeper stirrings and frustrations of womens life in general. Herheroines[including] Dorothea Brookeare all women who want more thanconventional attitudes would be ready to grant them. But they are not rebels, letalone revolutionariesIt is as if George Eliot wished to anchor her heroines innormal societyfor the purposes of demonstrating that, if they were unusual interms of conventional assumptions about what women ought to do with themselves,they were not unusual in terms of humanity, history and the needs and wants ofwomen in general. (126)This positioning of Dorothea as unusual in the scope of her hopes and aspirations butnot unusual in terms of humanity common to the women of her time is one that revealsmuch about the potential for frustration and disconnect present in the Victorian femaleexperience. In the case of Dorothea, her desire for more than conventional attitudeswould be ready to grant clearly includes choice in marriage (no matter the age of herhusband), as well as an interest in a life of influence beyond the domestic sphere thatsuch a marriage would enable. As Robert Polhemus explains: the older man of power ispresent and part of the revelation of the young womans dreams, meaning, in thisfictional example, that Dorotheas choice of the older Casaubon potentially offers ameans to circumvent the social limitations under which she smarts (171). Unlikely torealize greatness solely through their own efforts due to the social restrictions of the day,a relationship such as the one shared by Dorothea and Casaubon potentially offers a

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10young woman access to that same power through association, allowing for theliberation of female aspirations (Polhemus 4).Dorotheas aspirations for a life that transcends the light and trivial clearlyillustrate that her marital ambitions deviate from romantic, pragmatic, or mercenary, asthe case may be, norms. They also deviate from that which others imagine of a woman ofher class and status. The qualities prefigured for her are to be shaped through educationand training, the primary purpose of which is to groom her for courtship and marriage(Hall 63). In the words of Catherine Hall: Music, drawing, painting, French, fancywork, gossip and fashion were the stuff of a Victorian girls life all designed to prepareher to catch a man[and] to prepare them in the best possible way for their relativesphere (64, 89). This preparation, and the person it is attempting to shape her into, isone that Dorothea actively resists. This can be seen early in the novel, when Sir Jamesstates that every lady ought to be a perfect horsewoman, that she may accompany herhusband, and Dorotheas tart replyYou see how widely we differ, Sir James. I havemade up my mind that I ought not to be a perfect horsewoman, and so I should nevercorrespond to your pattern of a lady shows her refusal to accept conventionalexpectations of her behavior (45-46). This resistance is further reinforced in Eliots novel,when Mr. Brooke suggests that Dorothea should strive to play nicely on the piano inorder to make her intendeds evenings pleasant, and receives the rejoinder that Mr.Casaubon is not fond of the piano, and I am very glad he is not, said Dorothea, whoseslight regard for domestic music and feminine fine art must be forgiven her, consideringthe small tinkling and smearing in which they chiefly consisted at that dark period. Shesmiled and looked up at her betrothed with grateful eyes (79). In both cases, it is

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11Casaubon who offers Dorothea what appears to be a protective and fatherly escape fromthese expectations of the performance expected for a woman of her relative sphere,shedding further light on his attractiveness for her.Dorotheas desire for power through association with the much older Casaubon isconfirmed in another expression of desire, namely that of her aspirations for a greaterintellect with which to enable a grand life. Unfortunately for Dorothea, femaleeducation was seen as presenting dangers for many Victorians, and was as potentiallyproblematic as the issue of sexual desire. Mr. Brooke expresses this concern, when hehears that Dorothea is learning Greek: Well, but now, Casaubon, such deep studies,classics, mathematics, that kind of thing, are too taxing for a woman--too taxing, youknow. When Casaubon replies Dorothea is learning to read the characters simplyshehad the very considerate thought of saving my eyes, Mr. Brooke responds: Ah, well,without understanding, you know--that may not be so bad. But there is a lightness aboutthe feminine mind--a touch and go--music, the fine arts, that kind of thing--they shouldstudy those up to a certain point, women should; but in a light way, you know (78-79).This lightness requires preservation for a reason. As Mrs Ellis, in her chapter on thetraining of girls, states: a woman, I would humbly suggest, has no business to be so farabsorbed in any purely intellectual pursuit, as not to know when water is boiling over onthe fire (Hall 64). The disdain that Mrs. Ellis holds for a woman who does not know herdomestic business, so to speak, is one that can be linked to the common fear of that timethat education would over-intellectualize women and make them unsuited for theirprimary purpose of being faithfully employed in discharging the various duties of a wifeand daughter, a mother and friend. This misdirected focus would instead lead to a

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12culpable neglect of the most important obligations as women are instead dailyabsorbed by philosophic and literary speculations (Armstrong 68). The unease that awoman is incapable of incorporating intellectual pursuits with domestic concerns perhapsalso implies that while these concerns are ostensibly of paramount importance, they arenot as alluring as philosophic and literary speculations, which is certainly true forEliots heroine. Hina Nazars observation that Dorothea identifies marriage as the venuefor a particular kind of scholarship, an initiation into the mysteries of the Hebrewalphabet rather than the mysteries of conjugal pleasure, suggests that her considerationson selecting her older first husband are purely intellectual, making them seem all themore problematic and unnatural by the standards of the day (306).The desire to create a life of personal meaning, one Dorothea manifests throughoutMiddlemarch, is one that finds resonance in many of the ideals and philosophies of theVictorian era; specifically, this celebration of personal freedom and liberty of theindividual can be located within nineteenth-century British liberal thought and writing(Hobhouse 53, 91). Though much of this writing is concerned with political andeconomic expressions of those ideals, of interest for this discussion are those momentsthat explore the rights of freedom and choice for the individual, as can be found in thewritings of Smith, Malthus, and Arnold, and more explicitly within that of L.T. Hobhouseand John Stuart Mill. As the latter suggested, the principle [of human liberty] requiresliberty of tastes and pursuits; of framing the plan of our life to suit our own character; ofdoing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow: without impediment fromour fellow-creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them, even though they shouldthink our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong (On 54-55). The invocation to have the

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13freedom to do as we like can be seen as an expression of a key liberal value that wasconcerned with the influence of not only the tyranny of political rulers, but moreimportantly, social tyranny (Mill On 46). In the context of Eliots novel, though hercommunity may see Dorotheas choice of Casaubon as foolish, perverse, or wrong it isstill hers to make. Framed as a struggle between Liberty and Authority (Mill On 43),this celebration of self-expression in the face of resistance (the nature of which as itimpacts Dorothea will be explored in later pages) is expressed in works such as OnLiberty and Liberalism.The self-expression that seems most powerful (and daring) is not necessarily whatis easily imagined: spending and wearing and eating and saying what we like, forexample. Rather, it is that which drives one in framing the plan of our life to suit ourown character, as Mill states in On Liberty. The right to create a life that suits our tastes(within the confines of safety for others, as the repeated caveat qualifies) is one thatsuggests both the far-reaching authority of personal liberty but also the right of theindividual to fashion lives of difference. In his chapter titled Of Individuality, as One ofthe Elements of Well-Being, Mill explains to give any fair play to the nature of each, itis essential that different persons should be allowed to lead different lives (109). A lifecannot be our own if it is meant to resemble all others in a difference of sameness.Instead, the liberal embrace of individuality provides the room for a person to becomewho they hope and intend to be: their true self. The desire to frame the plan of her lifeto suit her own character, to paraphrase Mill, is one that drives Dorothea Brooke. AsJenni Calder explains, she wants an identity other than that prefigured for her, one thatgoes beyond the responsibilities and frivolities of an upper-class woman (149).

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14Disinclined to follow the conventions of her class and gender that were prefigured forher, she is instead driven towards participation in something far more significant andepic. Eliot expresses this interest early in the novel as Dorothea restlessly searches for herpurpose: For a long while she had been oppressed by the indefiniteness which hung inher mind, like a thick summer haze, over all her desire to make her life greatly effective.What could she do, what ought she to do? (51). Dorotheas desire to make her lifegreatly effective draws her away from the path of conventional domestic femininity andinto what she believes (incorrectly, as it turns out) will be far more exalted intellectualand spiritual reaches via her marriage to her older husband.If the nineteenth century might be called the age of Liberalism, in the words ofHobhouse, it was also an age during which the manifestation of opportunity was alsoinfluenced by status, class, gender, race, and a myriad of other factors (91). Thepredominance of ideals supporting the liberty of the individual are often checked fromfull expression by social influences that also determine what is prefigured for thatindividual (Hobhouse 91). However, despite a myriad of competing values to theotherwise, liberal thinking indeed incorporates women like Dorothea into the ranks ofthose allowed to choose. When writing of the need for Domestic Liberty, Hobhouseexplains that the movement of liberation will also consist in rendering the wife a fullyresponsible individual, capable of holding property, suing and being sued, conductingbusiness on her own account, and enjoying full personal protection against her husband(18). The rights being proposed afford women economic and social empowerment andprotection both within and without the domestic sphere. This is in part due to pragmaticconcerns, as the isolation of women within that sphere deprives society of their intellect

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15and the progress that they may enable, as Hobhouse suggests in Liberalism.2 However, italso represents an equal application of that central idea of English life and politicstheassertion of personal liberty (Arnold 83). If a woman is to be a fully responsibleindividual empowered to act in a self-directing manner, then expression of thisfreedom of choice would include those rights listed above, as well as choice in marriage(Hobhouse 53). Though Middlemarch does not explicitly propose the advances outlinedyears later in Liberalism, it does make clear that Dorothea has little interest doinganything but what she likes, to paraphrase Mill, no matter how at odds that puts her withthe expectations of custom (as her rejoinder that she intends to never correspond to thelimitations dictated by the pattern of a lady that has been provided her illustrates, page46).Mill would further explore the lot of nineteenth-century women in his laterpublication, The Subjection of Women. Within that text, he objects to the perspectives thatthe natural vocation of a woman is that of a wife and mother, and that all that has beendone in the modern world to relax the chain on the minds of women, has been a mistake.They never should have been allowed to receive a literary education. Women who read,much more women who write, are, in the existing constitution of things, a contradictionand a disturbing element: and it was wrong to bring women up with any acquirements butthose of an odalisque, or of a domestic servant (26, 28). Rather than being educated in amanner that will allow their natural talents beyond the domestic sphere to be developedand expressed for the betterment of society (the very desire that Dorothea possesses),instead women are schooled into suppressing them in their most natural and mosthealthy direction (98). As Mill states, this relic of domestic oppression makes

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16marriage the only actual bondage known to our law as the generality of the male sexcannot yet tolerate the idea of living with an equal (16, 34, 79, 47). As I have explored,these are sentiments expressed both within Eliots novel and in the writing of the day,giving credence to the validity and applicability of Mills bluntly stated concerns. In fact,this connection is one that has previously been made: as Suzanne Graver affirms, bothThe Subjection of Women and Middlemarch share a common subject matter: the lot ofwomen and relations between men and women in marriage (55). There are, as sheexplains, remarkable correspondences between [Eliots] depiction of marriage relationsand Mills criticism of the practices governing the institution of marriage in TheSubjection.The critique of that novel of the beliefs, laws, and customs regulatingmatrimonial arrangements is in its own way as powerful as Mills (55-56). It is clear,then, that liberalism and its celebration of choice is meant by Eliot to include women.What must be explored then are those other aspects of liberalism, as well as those ofdomestic femininity that provide a counter-balance of influence against its full expressionin Victorian society.As Dorotheas choice in Casaubon brands her as being motivated by interests otherthan romancewhich is perhaps hoped of her by her fictional community and the readersince the idea of their marriage is apparently so repellentand she has demonstrated thather interests are not classor gender-appropriate, she becomes a particularly problematicand evocative example of the perils of expressing ones desires inappropriately. Thoughliberalism embraces Dorotheas right to express herself though choice, this freedom ispaired with an emphasis on exercising it mindfully. This valuing of self-restraint is onethat is also expressed in the ideas and writing of nineteenth-century Britain. In On

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17Liberty, Mill explores the idea that extreme self-control and extreme passion are twosides of the same coin: The same strong susceptibilities which make the personalimpulses vivid and powerful, are also the source from whence are generated the mostpassionate love of virtue, and the sternest self-control (106). Mills language seems tosuggest that a person of deep passion is also capable of the sternest self-control, that thetwo extremes spring from the same source, offering the promise that self-expressiondoes not have to equal unmanageable behavior. However, it also leaves open theunsettling possibility that a firmly self-controlled person is hiding a heretofore-unimagined depth of unexpressed passion, suggesting that it could only be a matter oftime before they swing to the other end of the behavioral spectrum. Though Dorothea hassuccessfully quashed her passions by choosing to repress her physical joy, for example,in horseback riding (Greene G. Eliots 27), her response to her mothers emeraldsrefutes the completeness of that repression. Additionally, further putting into doubt herability to practice the sternest self-control, Dorothea also resists the demands andstrictures of her class and gender in order to first express and develop herselfintellectually through an age-disparate marriage, and later through marriage for lovedespite the condemnation of her community.Lest we shirk from fully considering the impact of willfully passionate behavior, asT.R. Malthus warns in An Essay on the Principle of Population, an implicit obedience tothe impulses of our natural passions would lead us into the wildest and most fatalextravagancies (209). He acknowledges that while we cannot extinguish our naturalpassions, in order to secure the greatest sum of human happiness we must look toregulation (213). In Malthuss discussions of the responsibilities of the individual to

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18bring about a more perfect society (in this case, one not burdened with the misery ofoverpopulation), it is significant how much pressure falls upon the individual: It is in thepower of each individual to avoid all the evil consequences to himself and societyresulting from the principle of population (224). This regulation of sexual appetite istrying, he admits, but should not be impossible, as mans considerations of his owninterest and happiness will dictate to him the strong obligation to moral restraint.However powerful may be the impulses of passion, they are generally to some degreemodified by reason (227). I rather enjoy the qualifying generally to some degreeMalthus uses, as it acknowledges hes on slippery territory in attempting to use reason asa shield against the impulses of passion. However, ultimately his message remainsconstant: the poor need to be undeceived with respect to the principal cause of their pastpoverty, and taught to know that their future happiness or misery must depend chieflyupon themselves (242). According to Malthus, it is incumbent upon each of us topractice moral restraint in order to ensure our own interest and happiness. WhileDorothea is clearly not a poor mother with a brood of starving children, the messagefound here is still worth considering. The only factor that protects one from the misery ofpoorly conceived and passionately driven judgment is reason and the exercise of moralrestraint: Mathus does not pretend that such passions are not natural but insists we mustseek to regulate them. Unfortunately, as we see over the course of Middlemarch, Eliotsheroine practices an imperfect application of socially necessary self-regulation, makinghers a lifenot ideally beautiful but one rich with experience with her unhappinessin marriage to Casaubon a reflection of her inability to both choose wisely for herself andfind a means to express her passions within the confines of that marriage (640).

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19Dorotheas problematic regulation and exercise of choice becomes particularlytroubling when we consider its context. As Mary Poovey outlines in Making a SocialBody, tying this celebration of self-control to larger social concerns of the Victorian era,the liberal ideals of that time celebrated individual happiness while also demandingparticipation in the diligent support of an orderly and productive society (24). As Pooveyexplains, a liberal society was free in the sense that government interfered with theeconomic not at all and ostensibly with the social as little as possible. It was free, inother words, in the sense that its members constituted individualized instances of a singleself-regulating subject, whose life was subdivided among the domains that claimedautonomy but appeared to be alike (24). Just as Malthus encourages the restraint ofnatural passions in order to enjoy both the happiness promised by a well-regulatedlife and the advantages of that restraint on the overall society, the ideas expressed byPoovey privilege the needs of the society over that of the ostensibly free individual,demanding regulation in order to preserve the smooth running machine of Victoriansociety. That social body is comprised of individuals who take responsibility forregulation upon themselves, rather than surrendering that responsibility to a regulatingagent or institution. This self-government was a crucial aspect, and again (as withMalthus) we see the individual as responsible for the smooth and upward progress ofliberal society. What Poovey also explains is that this call for self-government (or, toput it another way, restraint) can be seen as natural (26). According to Adam Smith(via Poovey), the human capacity for self-government both derived from andunderwrote the sociality of human nature (33). Not only is self-governing behaviorprudent then, but also natural, implying that to do otherwise is somehow perverse or

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20abnormal, highlighting how problematic (and dangerous, really) a lack of self-government was seen to be.The dangers regarding self-government are magnified when one considers thestandards of the day concerning domestic femininity. If we accept marriage as an avenuefor female choice, it is also a means to gain or cement status, class, and financial stability,making it one fraught with social and economic importance. In addition to the importanceascribed to savvy selection in marriage, the nature of a womans responsibilities withinthe home was also important within Victorian society. According to Nancy Armstrong, tothe domestic woman went authority over the household, leisure time, courtshipprocedures, and kinship relations precisely the limit in scope that Mill bemoaned (3). 3According to these attitudes marriage is the only real site for the exercise of femaleagency. However, as becomes clear, the nature of this agency is one in whichDorothea cannot imagine finding fulfillment (Nazar 306). Elizabeth Langland has pointedout that in the example of Dorothea, Eliot shows womens lives within the domesticrealm as being limited and limiting. In contrast, many writers of the nineteenth centuryoffered portrayals of women that challenged the historical portrait of Victorian womenas the passive, dependent, and idle creatures of prevailing ideology (Langland 11). 4Eliot conveys this portrait of domestic femininity in part by illustrating little in the way ofDorotheas domestic management besides a mention or two of having some memorandato write for the housekeeper (499). In addition, Dorothea regularly expresses disregardfor the conventionally feminine concerns of domestic niceties and responsibilities thatare part and parcel with her upper-class domestic sphere, and instead prefers to direct herenergies towards the intellectual realm seemingly promised by association with a scholar

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21like Casaubon (Marotta 407). While it is true we see little mention of Dorotheas exerciseof household authority, and that this absence perhaps belittles the life of a lady andevacuates it of significance (Langland 193), what this also indicates is that during theperiod of her life that leads up to and includes her first marriage, Dorothea imaginesfulfillment outside that realm. In addition, Eliots agenda in writing Middlemarch maywell have been to explore the very nature of the frustrations that dogged many of thewomen of her time. 5While Dorotheas decision to marry Casaubon has been shown to be problematic asit exposes her desires and ambitions as socially inappropriate and potentially dangerous,that is not the end of the story. Part of what makes age-disparate pairings so oftenproblematic for Victorians is that it appears to trouble values that celebrate marriage as anexpression of deeply felt attachment. As Sybil Wolfram explains, the proper marriage inEngland was and is a love match, one motivated by true and reciprocal feelingsbetween husband and wife (70). As the attitudes of the time dictated, in addition to theusual considerations of compatibility that would ensure such a match, with respect tothe issue of age, ideally, a husband and wife are more or less of an age, with the husbandperhaps a little older (Wolfram 70). What this preference meant for age-disparatepairings is that the marriage of a much older man with a much younger woman wasreadily tolerated, although most usually thought of as unlikely to be a love match on thewomans side (Wolfram 70). The reasons for this tolerance as expressed withinMiddlemarch has been and will be explored at a later point in this analysis, but what is ofimmediate interest is that the wary eye regarding such a marriage is directed towards thefemale half of this pairing, implying that there is an unnatural or troubling aspect

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22underlying her acceptance. This sentiment is echoed within Eliots novel when Ladislawcomes to perceive that through her role as his wife, Dorothea had intended to assistCasaubon in his lifes work, giving him a new light, but still a mysterious light inunderstanding what called her to marry his cousin. Though he had earlier assumed shemust be somehow disagreeable to have consented to become Mrs. Casaubon, he comesto realize, she must have made some original romance for herself in this marriage(191). As is revealed over the course of the novel, the original romance that Dorotheamakes leading up to her first marriage is unable to refute the expectation that amatrimony marked by disparity in age is indeed not a love match.As Chase and Levenson term it, the problem of age is one that is easilydiscovered in age-disparate pairings. What keeps this seductive arrangement unsettled isthe fear that the wife/daughter cannot, and perhaps should not, give herself up (96). Thelanguage they use is revealing: that though it is unsettling (as has and will be explored),a marriage of this sort is seductive, and expressive of a compelling dream of femaledevotion that such a pairingbetween an older man and a spouse both wife anddaughterseems to promise (96). It is just such a dream that inspires the scholarlyCasaubon, who has heretofore devoted himself to his expansive lifes work, The Key toAll Mythologies, to ask a woman almost thirty years his junior, one in the early bloomof youth, to marry him (Eliot 63). Though he had previously not been inclined to take onthe distractions and demands of marriage, in meeting Dorothea he realized that he nowwanted cheerful companionship with a woman whose youth and devotedness madeher well adapted to supply aid in graver labours and to cast a charm over vacant hours(Eliot 49, 62-63). According to Casaubons most agreeable previsions of marriage,

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23Dorothea would attentively assist him in his intellectual pursuits (those graver labours)and provide the solace of female tendance for his declining years through her ardentsubmissive affection (Eliot 77-78). It is apparent from the language used by bothCasaubon and the narrator that the charm and allure of Dorotheas beauty and youthfulbut submissive enthusiasm make her a compelling match, rather than any realunderstanding of the type of companion who would be best suited to a man seen by mostas a dusty, old scholar; it is however, a role that Dorothea eagerly and earnestlyanticipates. As is revealed over the course of the novel, however, her desire for this roleis problematic not only for readers and Dorotheas fictional community but for Eliotherself, for she chooses to make this marriage not an avenue for satisfaction andhappiness but rather something far grimmer and dispiriting.The previously explored ideals of the liberation of female choice and aspirationsare part of what makes age-disparate marriages so problematic. The language highlightedat the start of this paper conveys the horror that a vibrantly attractive (and, as herblooming full-pulsed qualities suggest, sexual) young woman like Dorothea will becozying up to the crumbling bones of Casaubon in their marital bed. Never mind that shewillingly and eagerly accepted his offer in marriage few within the novel can resist theidea that Dorothea should be rescued from her fate as Mrs. Casaubon. Will Ladislaw, nota disinterested observer to be sure, expresses this sentiment nicely: Casaubon had done awrong to Dorothea in marrying her. A man was bound to know himself better than that,and if he chose to grow grey crunching bones in a cavern, he had no business to be luringa girl into his companionship. It is the most horrible of virgin-sacrifices (Eliot 302).The language Casaubon himself uses to describe his life confirms the communitys (and

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24readers) anxiety in an evocatively dreadful manner: I live too much with the dead. Mymind is something like the ghost of an ancient, wandering about the world and tryingmentally to construct it as it used to be, in spite of ruin and confusing changes (Eliot 42).Casaubon appears to be so sexually desiccated by his continual proximity with the deadthat his mind is not filled with appropriately conjugal interests but the ghosts of theancient cultures he studies. In this horror (expertly conveyed by the imagery of greycrunching bones and virgin sacrifices) one can detect the tension and conflict thatunderlies a pairing marked by difference in age, and Chase and Levenson offer the meansto discover and tease out the nature of the fears that drive that discomfort. Theirdiscussion of Dickens explores the tension that is located within the difference in agebetween young wife and old(er) husband (96). The older husband in their example seeswhat the reader is taught to fear: that youth will turn back to youth and the stablesettlement of home will be devastated by the return of suppressed desires, echoingCasaubons own jealousy of the friendship between Dorothea and Ladislaw (97). Bytying the anxiety regarding age-disparate pairings to fears of inappropriate expression offemale desire and agency, Chase and Levenson reveal the fear that the young wife willnot be able to govern her unmet desiresdesires that cannot be fully expressed withinsuch a pairingand be tempted to be led astray; that true self-restraint is not trulypossible within such a context.As Robert Polhemus explains, the patriarchal culture of nineteenth-centuryBritain supports adult male projections, in both real and fictional guises (an exampleof the latter being Casaubons), of the suitability of nubile young wives as companions toolder men (45, 7, 5). The social sanction of marriage between young women and older

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25menand the word sanction is useful here as it suggests both authorization andrestriction, highlighting the inherently conflicted and contradictory attitude towards age-disparate pairingsare rooted in what Polhemus calls the Lot complex, which is a"dynamic configuration of wishes, sexual fantasies, fears, and symbolic imagery that hasworked to form generational relationships and structure personality, gender identity,religious faith, and social organization (4). His inclusion of wishes and sexualfantasies in the forming of generational relationships can be linked to the seductiveaspect that Chase and Levenson identified as an element of pairings of this sort. What isunsettling (to revisit their terminology) is that the sexual fantasies include those of afather figure directed or projected upon his wife/daughter, making them more or lessincestuous in association (Greene Another 32). That the expression of sexuality withinsuch a relationship is so unsettling and problematic as to be seen as vaguely incestuousspeaks to the prevailing discomfort such pairings engender. It also reinforces the olderhusbands perceived incapability of meeting his young wifes desires ostensibly leavingher open to temptation to stray from the confines of their marriage bed. This is the dreadthat lives within the fantasy, the fear that the pattern of busy young wife and placid olderhusband will come to grief on the shoals of the wifes desire, leaving the domesticcharms the older man had anticipated in choosing his spouse smashed amidst the ruinsof their marriage (Chase and Levenson 96-97). 6The implications of this male fantasy for younger women are multiple. As RobertPolhemus explains in his introduction, the Lot complex also includes the power ofprojection and the drive for female agency (9-10). The former is connected to not onlymale desire for younger women but the projection and displacement of sexual desire by

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26mature, aging father figures onto young women, in effect making these young womencomplicit in their own desirability (10). This is not to suggest, however, that fantasyregarding younger women is never matched by a reciprocal interest in older men byyounger women. As Polhemus qualifies, though in the Lot complex, the desires of thefather are projected upon the daughters, it doesnt follow that the daughters desire for thefatheris inauthentic (10). This suggestion that desire can be reciprocal in age-disparaterelationships positions the younger woman not as victim but as an active participant anidea at odds with Dorothea as a virgin sacrifice, indicating the degree to which thispositioning of female desire for her father-figure husband as authentic is discomfiting.This model of choice is supported by the latter feature of the Lot complex, that of its rolein the development of female agency. This is achieved, to use the example of Lot andhis daughters, through just such a displacement: by projecting upon the daughters themoral onus for incest, the Scripture ironically allows them to become conspiratorial,socially responsible agents. Women move from sacrificial objects to reasoning subjects(10-11). Through their participation in such a seemingly unequal partnership, one imbuedwith a potentially erotic fixation by the older man, women can in fact be transformed intoreasoning subjects. This desire for her own development into a reasoning subject isjust such an impulse that drives Dorothea in her choice of her first husband.The idea that marriage can be an avenue for self-expression in the mode imaginedby Eliots heroine is challenged both by the values of her day and by Eliot within theevents of the novel itself. Once Dorothea is married, though she had married the man ofher choice, the bleak reality of that choice is revealed (179). Sadly, her anticipation ofblending a higher initiation in ideas with the joys of marriage is unmet by the

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27actuality of her existence with the much older Casaubon (94). Strikingly, Eliot doesnteven allow Dorothea a honeymoon period of happiness but unveils the reality of her lifeas Mrs. Casaubon from her first appearance as such within the novel. In fact, the trip toRome is fundamentally about Dorotheas disillusionment, as, with great distress, shebegins to realize the fact that her relationship with Casaubon bears little resemblance toher fantasies of an ideal union (Sodr 204). Instead, her experience of marriage and whatit suggests of a womans ability to be her fully expressed self within the domestic sphereillustrates that domestic femininity and the value of self-government complicates the ideaof marriage as liberal self-expression. Through her purposeful selection of Casaubon,Dorothea believes she is embarking on a life of difference and meaning, but insteaddiscovers something very unlike that which she had envisioned. Upon her return toLowick the narrator reflects that marriage, which was to bring guidance into worthy andimperative occupation, had not yet freed her from the gentlewoman's oppressive liberty:it had not even filled her leisure with the ruminant joy of unchecked tendernessTheideas and hopes which were living in her mind when she first saw this room nearly threemonths before were present now only as memories: she judged them as we judgetransient and departed things (239-240). Deprived of the guidance she craves, as wellas the tenderness of married companionship, the ardent and hopeful maiden dreamvisions of her life with Casaubon are reduced to transient and departed things andghostly memories (181). Though part of Dorotheas disappointment clearly relates to the lack of intimacy inher life with Casaubon, her sense of loss also relates to the incomplete manifestation ofthe role she had imagined for herself. As has been explored, Dorothea imagines that her

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28assistance of a great scholar, as she supposes Casaubon to be, will give her theknowledge and understanding necessary to do great things (which, as Robert Polhemussuggests, is a key element in the attraction older men can hold for young women).Casaubon, unfortunately, is a weak vessel for such desires. Her too-late realization thatCasaubons lifes work, The Key to All Mythologies, is not worthy of such slavishsupport is a jarring moment of disconnect between possibility and reality, and one thatpoignantly reveals the thorough folly of her choice. Though she is surprised and saddenedthat the unchecked tenderness of their marriage has not been expressed as expected,more disquieting is Ladislaws shared judgmentwho sees Casaubons lifes work as asort of groping aftermouldy futilities that it will be thrown awayfor want of[Casaubons] knowing what is being done by the rest of the world, who have thoroughlydisproved the grounds on which his work stands (188-191). The source of Dorotheasdistress appears to be rooted both in the piteousness that the labour of her husbandslife might be void, but also that his work is inherently flawed and limited in scope, andtherefore unlikely to provide her with the intellectual elevation she had been eagerlyanticipating (191). As Monica L. Feinberg explains Dorothea herself marries Mr.Casaubons text as much as she marries Mr. Casaubons personIt is not surprising thatEliot articulates Dorotheas disillusionment with her marriage in a lament for her loss offaith in Mr. Casaubons text (19). Her disillusioned realization that his voluminousnotes are nothing but dryasdust pedantry turn her devotion to Casaubon and his textinto the very kind of joyless duty she had thought she was avoiding in her unconventionalchoice of husband (Szirotny 23).

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29This loss of faith in her husband and his work can also be tied to his resistance toher assuming the active role she had imagined for herself. Even drawing Dorothea intouse in his study, according to his own intention before marriage, was an effort which hewas always tempted to defer, and but for her pleading insistence it might never havebegun. But she had succeeded in making it a matter of course that she should take herplace at an early hour in the library and have work either of reading aloud or copyingassigned her (244). That he sees her assistance as an effort which he was alwaystempted to defer, though it had been his own intention illustrates that Casaubon, asEliots narrator assures us, is also caught off-guard with the reality of their life together.The unquestioning and adoring secretary he had expected to find in Dorothea A wife,a modest young lady, with the purely appreciative, unambitious abilities of her sex, issure to think her husband's mind powerful has in the light of reality, been replaced bysomeone much more troublesome (243). As Selma B. Brody explains, Casaubon turnsbitter and unloving, expecting only a passive female adorer, he finds that the wife of hisbosom observes and judges him, and has ideas (64). Casaubon indeed resentsDorotheas transformation from the young creature who had worshipped him withperfect trustinto the critical wife, violating his fantasies of how their age-disparatemarriage would be manifested (344). To his surprisingly (to her, anyway) conventionalmind, she is not meant to have her own agenda of formidable intellectual developmentand positive impact on her community. The fundamental incompatibility in vision of theirlife together spells that there can be no true union for Dorothea nor potential for thedegree of mentoring and guidance she craves. She has chosen her husband neither wiselynor too well.

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30At first, it appears that Dorothea will ably perform the role Casaubon imagines forher. One of Dorotheas models for the relationship she imagines she will have withCasaubon is that of Milton and his daughters: allowed to minister to the needs of agreat man and therefore better herself through this service (Eliot 77). She celebrates theirpart in his great works, little imagining the bleak reality of their experience. As RobertPolhemus explains, Milton forced his daughters to read by rote material in languagesthey did not know and could not understand. They did this hour by hour, day by day, totedium and exhaustion. Miltons daughters were not truly participants in the creation ofhis greatness, as their father treated them like a superior pair of mynah birds, calledupon to read aloud what they could not understand (109). What the father wanted wasselfless labor and total dedication to his imagination. They had to serve, but were shut outof his life and kept ignorant of the codes that made the diverse human record meaningfulto him (Polhemus 110). Miltons daughters were expected to live in ignorant serviceto his imagination making it all the more fascinating that while Dorothea first seesthem as naughty for their resistance to this role, in the end she finds herself refusing toperform just such a dispiriting role with total dedication within her marriage toCasaubon. As she discovers, serving an ostensibly great man whose odd habits sheimagined it would have been glorious piety to endure is wholly unsatisfying (Eliot 36).Dorothea had thought that she could have been patient with John Milton, but she hadnever imagined him behaving in this way; and for a moment Mr. Casaubon seemed to bestupidly undiscerning and odiously unjust (Eliot 245). The gap between the imaginedand real man revealed through the proximity of marriage speaks to the gap between whatcan be desired and manifested within age-disparate marriage.

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31In writing of the Bront family, Robert Polhemus gives the example of the fathersfamily catechism and explains, each question masks a paternal desire, and eachanswer offers a means to fulfill it (151). In a fictional extension of this idea, Dorotheasaw her role of assistant to Casaubon as a means to fulfill what she imagines to be hisdesire for an intellectual helpmate who he can guide and develop (as she hopefullyimagines, to use Anna K. Nardos language, her latter-day Milton requires, page 16).Underlying this is a reciprocal desire, but one that is marred by a lack of agreement. Hewants, as has been explored, an agreeable companion, she wants to realize her desire for agrand life; more than that however, she wants to be useful to the work she believes isimportant, to be meaningful by association. As has been explored, however, Dorothea isunable to perform her role as adoring and unquestioning companion to Casaubon, and inthe end, he is revealed to be very much her faux Milton (Nardo 134). The pain of thisunhappy surprise reveals in part the source of her much older husbands attraction forher. In discussing Jane Eyre, Polhemus writes this daughters fantasy, transmuted tovisionary art, is a young womans marriage to a father-figure who will love her, talkintimately to her, give her a say (in every sense) over both their lives, and make her thecenter of his being and his destiny (Polhemus 161-162). We become aware ofDorotheas desire for a father-figure, one that echoes Janes, early in the novel, beforewe are introduced to Casaubons, and so in a way he acts to answer her desires. If this isthe case, then what is revealed is that Dorotheas rebellious and potentially problematicdesires are operating here, rather than this being a carefully considered and measureddecision, one marked by the influence of self-government. Desires, in fact, that areproblematic (according to the attitudes of the day) because they are on the one hand

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32intellectual and on the other, if they truly exist in a sexual capacity, particularly unsettlingto contemplate.Though Dorothea has struggled to assert and create a sense of herself throughmajor individual choices like marriage, as Middlemarch unfolds she also struggles tomaintain herself within those choices. Not only does Dorothea find her dreams ofintellectual development quashed, but her ability to freely speak her mind is alsochecked. She, of whom Mr. Brooke remarks, I thought you had more of your ownopinion than most girls. I thought you liked your own opinion, finds herself biting hertongue in her husbands presence (60). She was going to say more, but she saw herhusband enter and seat himself a little in the background. The difference his presencemade to her was not always a happy one: she felt that he often inwardly objected to herspeech (Eliot 276). Here the disparity between the life Dorothea had imagined and herreality is made blatant: the woman who eagerly anticipated she would be able to livecontinually in the light a mind she could reverence comes to find herself in painfulsubjection to a husband whose thoughts had been lower than she had believed (Eliot 63,399). The unhappy difference that Casaubon makes in the life of Dorothea is onlybrought to a close by Eliots choice to mercifully widow Dorothea (Brody 65). Freedfrom her bonds of pity-bound duty by learning of the shocking codicil of his willbarring her from keeping her inherited fortune if she marries Ladislaw (the resentedyoung rival for his young wifes affections), she begins to direct her energies outwardand searches for ways to use her now considerable fortune to benefit her community(Eliot 399). With the transformation in perspective the experience of her marriage toCasaubon has afforded her, it is unsurprising that she finds herself interested now in all

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33who had slipped below their own intention, as she herself has clearly done (Eliot 400).This interest also sheds light onto her attraction for Ladislaw, who throughout the novelfinds his talents squandered and unfocused, offering Dorothea a worthy career ofencouraging and supporting him in his eventual efforts as an ardent public man (Eliot638).Though she would seem to at last have the freedom and power to carry out herlong-cherished plans, the hopes Dorothea has in making an impact once she is liberatedfrom her life of duty to Casaubon are unmet by reality (Nicholes 118). Even as awidowed woman of fortune, she finds herself constrained: Dorothea is prevented fromengaging in any kind of sustained useful activity which would give her a sense of purposeand direct accomplishment (Mitchell 35). The sense of purpose she craves is meant tobe an antidote to her post-Casaubon life of motiveless easemotiveless, if her ownenergy could not seek out reasons for ardent action (431). The source of the constraint ofher ardent action is veiled as brotherly guidance designed to protect her fortune fromunnecessary risk, once again preventing her from exercising her liberally supported freeexpression of interests and concerns. As her sister Celia explains of her husbands councilto Dorothea: Now, Dodo, do listen to what James sayselse you will be getting into ascrape. You always did, and you always will, when you set about doing as you please(570). As we again see, the liberal espousement of choice does not necessarily in practiceapply to a woman in Dorotheas position, and though, of course, such choice must alwaysbe mindful as well as socially responsible, the impulse to do good for her communitywould seem to qualify. Instead, Celia is relieved that Dorothea now has James to thinkfor you. He lets you have your plansA husband would not let you have your plans

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34(570). Merely having her plans, and someone else to do her thinking for her, is of littlecomfort, however what Dorothea desires is to have something good to do with mymoney: I should like to make other peoples lives better to them (590). With nothingneeded to be done in the village, nor the resources for any great scheme of the sort Ilike best, Dorothea has little means to make a positive difference in her community, asshe has hoped to accomplish throughout Eliots novel (617, 589). Despite her significantresources, she is unable to manifest her desired goal of making the lives of other peoplebetter to them.Though Dorotheas choice to remarry surprises her family and community,particularly as her husband is to be Ladislaw, it is in fact logical as a continuation ofEliots exploration of marriage as a possible venue for self-expression and an expressionof her belief that in marriage lay fulfillment (Calder 128). As Hina Nazar proposes,thoughfeminist readers of nineteenth-century domestic fiction have argued that thenovelnaturalizes marriage as a restrictive apolitical telos of womens liveswecan critique the absence of meaningful vocation for women without identifyingmarriage in itself as a negative phenomenon. Marriageis awful in the nearness itbrings (797). Yet its awfulness or resemblance to the crushing sublime does notdetract from the value it can have in individual lives. (303)This identification of marriage as not inherently a negative phenomenon, but arelationship with value, is a validation of its potential as a venue for self-expression ofdesires. In addition, Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert, via Bege K. Bowers describeDorotheas marriage to Will as the most subversive act available to her within thecontext defined by the author, since it is the only act prohibited by the stipulations of thedead man, and by her family and friends (115). By joining herself to someone who is,in the words of Sir James, not a man we can take into the family, Dorothea removes

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35herself from the influence and disapproval of her family and community (Eliot 626). Infact, there is no other character appropriate for her, as Dorotheas ardor finds noanswering response in anyone but Ladislaw (Szirotny 21). As he explains of Dorothea,making his devotion to her clear, I never had a preference for her, any more than I havea preference for breathing. No other woman exists by the side of her. I would rather touchher hand if it were dead, than I would touch any other womans living (599), affirmingtheir mutual attraction and fitness for each other which it must be observed after hermarital trials with the much older Casaubon, is further supported by their nearness in age(which in turn offers the possibility that theirs is a love match).It is Dorotheas peace with the evolving events in her life that bring her story to aclose. Her eventual happiness depends on her choosing a life partner for her whole self,not just the portions of herself that she upholds as superior (such as her intellect overcorporeal sensuality). Her life with Ladislaw suggests that marriage offers the possibilityfor satisfaction and fulfillment, if only one exercises ones power of choice appropriatelyand heeds, and in turn manages, ones desires. Though Karen Chase suggests, it wouldbe hasty to claim that Middlemarch at the last overcomes the tension between epicambitions and domestic responsibilities as, in the face of not attaining these ambitions,Dorothea regards her life as a disappointment, there is no indication that she indeedregrets where her decisions have lead her (Eros 185). Though Celia points out that shehas now lost her ability to bring her plans to life, Dorothea replies, On the contrary,dearI never could do anything that I liked. I have never carried out any plan yet (Eliot628). On one hand, Dorotheas choice should be acceptable by standards of domesticfemininity since she is reinscribed into the domestic sphere, and better yet, one that is

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36middle-class, and not marked by disparity in age; on the other, however, since it ignoresthe standards of her community her choice is seen as problematic. Ultimately, despite thewidely-shared feeling that it was a pity that so substantive and rare a creature shouldhave been absorbed into the life of another, and be only known in a certain circle as awife and mother, we have no reason to believe that her marriage is an unhappy one(Eliot 638). As the narrator intones, Dorothea never repented that she had given upposition and fortune to marry Will LadislawThey were bound to each other by a lovestronger than any impulses which could have marred it. No life would have been possibleto Dorothea which was not filled with emotion, and she had now a life filled also with abeneficent activity which she had not the doubtful pains of discovering and marking outfor herself. Her husband became an ardent public man, which Dorothea could haveliked nothing better, since wrongs existed, than that her husband should be in the thick ofa struggle against them, and that she should give him wifely help (Eliot 638). Here, atlast, she is able to direct her energies to something that is both personally fulfilling andimpactful to the community, just as she had hoped throughout Middlemarch.To choose the life one imagines for ones self and create a life of personal meaningis, as I have suggested, a clear ideal of liberalism. While it is unclear if any society has orwill attain perfect support of liberal ideals, it is revealing to uncover who seems mosthampered in this struggle and what that says about the nature of the tyranny, to use Millslanguage, that a society practices. The gap between what one imagines and what one livesspeaks volumes both about the responsibility and possibility for individual choice; notliving what we imagine is possible reveals not just a failure of effort but also the presenceof damning limitations. The presence of such limitations makes clear just how far a

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37society is from attaining compliance with the ideals of liberalism, for as Hobhouseexplains they are rooted in a movement of liberation, a clearance of obstructions, anopening of channels for the flow of free spontaneous vital activity (22). This clearanceof obstructions that he suggests is part and parcel of liberalism acknowledges that thereare factors which limit the expression of free spontaneous vital activity though theyare also limitations that liberalism embraces, such as that of self-government. In theexample of Eliots Dorothea, we see the expression of those obstructions upon themanifestation of her desires those both internally and externally applied. For, whileEliot shows that though marriage can be problematic, for whatever the reason, it can alsobe fruitful for the individual, and though she chooses for herself, and there are issues withher choices within the text, Eliots heroine experiences growth and then happiness fromthose choices. In her marriage to Casaubon, she experiences those obstructions inunexpected and disappointing ways, illustrating the experience of living without a flowof free spontaneous vital activity. Instead, as is clear by novels end, it is far easier andmore satisfying to govern and manage the self if ones needs are being met and onesdesires are being answered, as is the case within Dorotheas marriage to Ladislaw.Dorotheas choice to remarry, and in that choice assume a role firmly fixed withinthe demands of the domestic sphere unavailable in her marriage to Casaubon, calls for afinal point of analysis. As Chase and Levenson explain, this reengagement with a wifelyrole within the domestic sphere is one that Dickens uses to validate his age-disparatemarriage. Of the now wiser and fully devoted young wife, they write that she long agolearned, and now must say openly, that the match would have been most wretched,because there can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose. Sat

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38next to this fatal disparity of temperament, the contrast in age disappears at a stroke(98). Dickens chooses to subdue the problematic aspects of his age-disparate couple byaffirming that their likeness in temperament is of greater importance than any issuesthat may arise due to their contrast in age. As they explain, what makes her a fit mateis that even as the lively daughter/wife she has learned how to be quiet; she knows how todistribute her pleasures and brightens, finding her satisfaction in the many little tasksrather than in the great romantic embrace (100). The now quiet daughter/wife ofDickenss story becomes a fit Victorian spouse though her manifestation and embraceof the values and behaviors of domestic femininity, seemingly offering hope that an age-disparate coupling can be successful and fulfilling. However, as Chase and Levensonexplain, the pleasing outcome cannot cancel the uneasiness, as the threat inherent inthese problematic pairings is too resonant (99). While Dickens attempts to affirm themarriage of his characters haunted by the problem of age, and does so for the most part,Eliot offers no such validation, instead affirming that problem within the pages ofMiddlemarch in the example of Dorothea and Casaubon, and reinforcing it is one that is astand-in for the larger problem of the inconsistent manifestation of desire.

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39Notes1 Both Selma B. Brody and Deborah Wynne compare Eliots novel and its heroine toother nineteenth-century novels, with the former exploring the similarities between themarital choices and experience of Dorothea and Henry Jamess Isabel Archer, and thelatter focusing on constricting social codes surrounding marriage and property asillustrated by Eliot and Dinah Mulock Craik (160). Other recent criticism has included adiverse number of interests. Andrew Leng and Joseph Nicholes explore Middlemarchsconnections to Pre-Raphaelite art, while Kathleen McCormack and James Harrisonexplore the novels presentation of the art of the Vatican museum and Rome. AlanShelston suggests that language may be an effective instrument of communication, ifproperly used and understood, giving Casaubon, the tragic hero of the first half ofEliots novel, as an example of a character who fails in this effort whether in writing orspeaking (26, 21). In his analysis of psychological aspects of Middlemarch, GordonHirsch presents the points within Eliots novel where emotion, society, and ethicalthought intersect particularly through the socially disruptive and binding aspects ofshame and ardor as seen within Dorothea and Casaubons marriage (83).2 As Sherry L. Mitchell explains, Eliot focuses on the wasted practical potential oftalented women like Dorothea who live at a time when the only approved vocation forwomen is marriage (33). This sentiment is an echo of Hobhouses lamentation that thelarger wrong done by the repression of women is not the loss to women themselves whoconstitute one half of the community, but the impoverishment of the community aswhole, the loss of all the elements in the common stock which the free play of thewomens mind would contribute (48). Lest one think this is solely a nineteenth-centuryconcern, Harvard President Lawrence H. Summerss recent remarks concerning thepossible role biological differences play in the under-representation of women inhigh-ranking positions within the sciences elicited a response that also echoed thatof Hobhouse. The presidents of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, PrincetonUniversity, and Stanford University wrote a letter expressing concern that increasingcompetition in technological innovation from abroad and the lagging performance ofAmerican students make encouraging more women to pursue careers in the sciences acrucial challenge. Until women can feel as much at home in math, science, andengineering as men, our nation will be considerably less than the sum of its parts(Bombardieri).3 As Mill explains of the demands of the domestic realm on wives and mothers: Thesuperintendence of a household, even when not in other respects laborious, is extremelyonerous to the thoughts; it requires incessant vigilance, an eye which no detail escapes,and presents questions for consideration and solution, foreseen and unforeseen, at everyhour of the day, from which the person responsible for them can hardly ever shake herselffree. If a woman is of a rank and circumstances which relieve her in a measure from thesecares, she has still devolving on her the management for the whole family of itsintercourse with others -of what is called society, and the less the call made on her bythe former duty, the greater is always the development of the latter: the dinner parties,concerts, evening parties, morning visits, letter-writing, and all that goes with them(Subjection 73).

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404 With the rise of the middle-class, came the development of specific female ideal, onethat privileged domestic femininity over previous centurys exaltation of aristocraticfemale qualities (Armstrong 8). This change in the female ideal was paired with thedevelopment of an ideology of domesticity which ties women into the home and stressestheir role as wife and mother, was one that soon came to become a standard by which allwomen were held (Hall 68). An additional area of the responsibilities associated with thisrole are ones that are concerned with the semiotics of the familys status: The home,often figured as a haven with its attending angel, can be decoded so that we recognize itas a theater for the staging of a familys position, a staging that depends on a group ofprescribed domestic practices (Langland 9). This attention to the theater of domesticpractices is another aspect of conventional domestic femininity that would demand theattentions of Dorothea. However, as Mr. Brooke admits, she is not fond of show, a greatestablishment, balls, dinners, that kind of thing. I can see that Casaubon's ways mightsuit you better than Chettam's (61). Once again, marriage to Casaubon offers relief fromthese and other unwanted distractions from the socially significant and impactful life sheimagines for herself.5 As June Skye Szirotny explains, many feminists are indignant that [Eliot] did notpresent models of successful womenBut she is wanted to expose the reasons of hersuffering, not celebrate her expensive victory (25). Barbara Hardy provides anadditional perspective on the lack of discernibly feminist sentiment in Middlemarch:Dorothea is embedded in her time, thirty years before the feminist movements andcontroversies of the eighteen-sixties making her more a product of the time the settingof her novel rather than the time of its writing (Narrators 104).6 Psychological aspects of Dorotheas sexual dissatisfaction provide credence to the fearthat its assumed existence in her marriage to Casaubon will cause marital disaster.Mildred S. Greene observes that the jagged fragmentariness of the ruins Dorotheaencounters in the Vatican museum suggests her sexual frustration in marriage (G.Eliots 27), a scenario of repression that is corrected by Dorotheas sexual expressionin her second marriage to Ladislaw (Another 31). Igns Sodr adds that Dorotheasspurning of her mothers jewelry seems to show that Dorotheas Puritanism andcontempt for her sisters femininity hide a fear that sexuality will cause a loss of controland regression to an infant state (202).

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41LIST OF REFERENCESArmstrong, Isobel. Middlemarch: A Note On George Eliots Wisdom. CriticalEssays on George Eliot. Ed. Barbara Hardy. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul,1979.Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel. NewYork: Oxford UP, 1987.Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002.Bombardieri, Marcella University Chiefs Chide Summers on Remarks. BostonGlobe. 12 Feb. 2005. .Bowers, Bege K. George Eliots Middlemarch and the Text of the Novel of Manners.Reading and Writing Womens Lives. Eds. Bege K. Bowers and Barbara Brothers.Ann Arbour: UMI Research P, 1990.Brody, Selma. Dorothea Brooke and Henrys Jamess Isabel Archer. George Eliot George Henry Lewes Studies September 1992 (Nos. 20-21): 63-66.Calder, Jenni. Women and Marriage in Victorian Fiction. New York: Oxford UP, 1976.Chase, Karen. Eros & Psyche: The Representation of Personality in Charlotte Bront,Charles Dickens, George Eliot. New York: Methuen, 1984.___________. Middlemarch. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991.Chase, Karen and Michael Levenson. The Spectacle of Intimacy. Princeton: PrincetonUP, 2000.Eliot, George. Middlemarch. Ontario: Broadview, 2004.Feinberg, Monica L. Scenes of Marital Life: The Middle March of ExtratextualReading. The Victorian Newsletter Spring 1990: 16-26.French, A.L. A Note on Middlemarch. Nineteenth-Century Fiction Vol. 26 No. 3 (Dec.1971), 339-347.Graver, Suzanne. Mill, Middlemarch, and Marriage. Portraits of Marriage inLiterature. Eds. Anne C. Hargrove and Maurine Magliocco. Macomb: WesternIllinois U, 1984.

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42Greene, Mildred S. Another Look at Dorotheas Marriages. Literature and PsychologyVol. XXXIII 1987 No. 1: 30-42.Greene, Mildred S. G. Eliots Middlemarch. The Explicator Vol. 42 No. 3: Spring1984: 26-28.Hall, Catherine. White, Male and Middleclass: Explorations in Feminisms and History.New York: Routledge, 1992.Hardy, Barbara. Particularities: Readings in George Eliot. Athens: Ohio UP, 1982.Hardy, Barbara. The Ending of Middlemarch. Narrators and Novelists: The CollectedEssays of Barbara Hardy. Vol. 1. Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble Books, 1987.Hardy, Barbara. The Miserable Marriages in Middlemarch, Anna Karenina, and EffiBriest. George Eliot and Europe. Ed. John Rignall. Burlington: Ashgate, 1997.Hardy, Barbara. The Novels of George Eliot: A Study in Form. New York: Oxford UP,1967.Harrison, James. Eliots Middlemarch. Explicator Winter 1999: 77-80.Hirsch, Gordon. Ardor and Shame in Middlemarch. Scenes of Shame: Psychoanalysis,Shame, and Writing. Eds. Joseph Adamson and Hilary Clark. New York: SUNY P,1999.Hobhouse, L.T. Liberalism. 1911. 19 November 2004 .Langland, Elizabeth. Nobodys Angels: Middle-Class Women and Domestic Ideology inVictorian Culture. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995.Leng, Andrew. Dorothea Brookes Awakening Consciousness and the Pre-RaphaeliteAesthetic in Middlemarch. AVMLA No. 75 May 1991: 52-63.Malthus, T. R. An Essay on the Principle of Population. New York: Cambridge UP,1992.Marotta, Kenny. Middlemarch: The Home Epic. Genre Vol. XV No. 4 Winter 1982:403-420.McCormack, Kathleen. Middlemarch: Dorotheas Husbands in the Vatican MuseumsVictorians Institute Journal Vol. 20 1992: 75-91.Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. Ontario: Broadview, 1999.Mill, John Stuart. The Subjection of Women. Mineola: Dover, 1997.

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43Miller, J. Hillis. The Roar on the Other Side of Silence: Otherness in Middlemarch.Others. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001.Mitchell, Sherry L. Saint Theresa and Dorothea Brooke: The Absent Road to Perfectionin Middlemarch. The Victorian Newsletter Fall 1997: 32-37.Nardo, Anna K. George Eliots Dialogue with John Milton. Columbia: U of Missouri P,2003.Nazar, Hina. Philosophy in the Bedroom: Middlemarch and the Scandal of Sympathy.The Yale Journal of Criticism Fall 2002 (Vol. 15, Iss. 2): 293-315.Nicholes, Joseph. Dorothea in the Moated Grange: Millaiss Mariana and theMiddlemarch Window Scenes. Victorians Institute Journal Vol. 20 1992: 93-124.Paris, Bernard J. Middlemarch Revisited: Changing Responses to George Eliot. TheAmerican Journal of Psychoanalysis 1999 (Vol. 59, No. 3): 237-255.Polhemus, Robert M. Lots Daughters: Sex, Redemption, and Womens Quest forAuthority. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2005.Poovey, Mary. Making a Social Body: British Cultural Formation 1830-1864. Chicago:Chicago UP, 1995.Rignall, John. Marriage, portrayal of. and Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life.Oxford Readers Companion to George Eliot. Ed. John Rignall. Oxford: OxfordUP, 2000.Sodr, Igns. Maggie and Dorothea: Reparation and Working Through In George EliotsNovels. The American Journal of Psychoanalysis 1999 (Vol. 59, No. 3): 195-208.Szirotny, June Skye. No Sorrow I Have Thought More About: The Tragic Failure ofGeorge Eliots St. Theresa. The Victorian Newsletter Spring 1998: 17-27.Wolfram, Sybil. In-laws and Outlaws: Kinship and Marriage in England. New York: St.Martins Press, 1987.Wynne, Deborah. George Eliots Middlemarch and Dinah Mulock Craiks A BraveLady. Notes and Queries June 2004: 160-162.

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44BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHSarah Bleakney received her B.A. in English from the University of Massachusettsat Amherst, after which she pursued a career and studies in technical communications.After her relocation to Jacksonville, Florida, she realized she missed the classroom andbegan taking literature classes. It was there that she made three discoveries: that she stillhad a facility for and enjoyment of working with literature, that technicalcommunications did not have the making of a lifelong career, and that the University of Florida would allow her to pursue graduate work in her newly discovered interest inVictorian studies. Sarah will continue on in Gainesville to pursue her Ph.D.


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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0011862/00001

Material Information

Title: 'Inconsistent' Desire: Self-Government and Age-Disparate Marriage in George Eliot's Middlemarch
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0011862:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0011862/00001

Material Information

Title: 'Inconsistent' Desire: Self-Government and Age-Disparate Marriage in George Eliot's Middlemarch
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0011862:00001


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Full Text












"INCONSISTENT" DESIRE: SELF-GOVERNMENT AND AGE-DISPARATE
MARRIAGE IN GEORGE ELIOT' S MIDDLEMARCH















By

SARAH WING BLEAKNEY


A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2005

































Copyright 2005

by

Sarah Wing Bleakney
















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I want to thank my family my parents, Joan and Hank Livingston, and Bob and

Sharon Bleakney; the "kids": Ezra, Emily, Nate, Zack, and Julia Livingston; as well as

members of my extended family for continually inspiring, supporting, and challenging

me. I owe of debt of gratitude to the many friends and teachers who have aided and

guided me towards intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and physical development and health

on my winding journey to the University of Florida. I am also grateful for the friends I've

made since coming to Gainesville, amongst which I must especially single out: my

roommates, Jonas Williams and Lindsey Collins; my Victorianist partner-in-crime, Ariel

Gunn; my academic partner, Anna Guest; and Rob Dolecki, who supplied conversation

and encouragement whatever the hour. Finally, I particularly want to acknowledge my

debt to the faculty of the University of Florida's English Department for their generosity

in sharing their extensive knowledge and guidance above all Dr. Pamela Gilbert and Dr.

Susan Hegeman, who shepherded me to the finish towards my M.A.
















TABLE OF CONTENTS

page

A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ...................................................................... ...................iii

A B ST R A C T .......................... ................ ................................................. . v

"INCONSISTENT" DESIRE: SELF-GOVERNMENT AND AGE-DISPARATE
MARRIAGE IN GEORGE ELIOT' S MIDDLEMARCH ...................................... 1

Notes ............. ....... ..... ............................ .............. 39

LIST O F R EFEREN CE S......... ......... ......... .......... ........................ .............. 41

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ......... ...................................... .............. 44
















Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts

"INCONSISTENT" DESIRE: SELF-GOVERNMENT AND AGE-DISPARATE
MARRIAGE IN GEORGE ELIOT' S MIDDLEMARCH

By

Sarah Wing Bleakney

August 2005

Chair: Dr. Pamela Gilbert
Major Department: English

Though George Eliot's Middlemarch is canonical, and therefore heavily analyzed

in the years since it was published in Britain in 1871-1872, elements of this novel have

remained thus far unexplored. This study explores Dorothea Brooke's struggle to come to

terms with her desires-whether socially inappropriate such as an interest in intellectual

development and having a large and meaningful impact on her community, or personally

troubling such as those that express her innate sensuality. Dorothea's struggle to be at

peace with and realize her desires is highlighted and brought to crisis within her marriage

to her much older first husband, illustrating just how problematic both her relationship to

her own desires and her attempt to express them through an age-disparate pairing can be.

This union, while socially acceptable due to his wealth, is also repellant due to the

disparity in their ages-and an exploration of those qualities that celebrate and

problematize age-disparate marriage allow for an analysis of those social and cultural









influences that simultaneously guide and offer the opportunity for the expression of

choice by the Victorian woman.
















"INCONSISTENT" DESIRE: SELF-GOVERNMENT AND AGE-DISPARATE
MARRIAGE IN GEORGE ELIOT' S MIDDLEMARCH

In the first chapter of Middlemarch, there is a curious and important moment that

evocatively reveals much about Dorothea's relationship to her own desires. As she and

her sister, Celia, sort through their mother's jewels, Dorothea will not accept any of her

mother's finery, until an emerald bracelet and ring is highlighted by a break in the clouds.

Previously guided by her (in Celia's words) "Puritanic superiority," she came "under a

new current of feeling, as sudden as the gleam" of the jewels themselves. Instead of

rejecting them, as her sister expects, Dorothea puts them on, and "all the while her

thought was trying to justify her delight in the colors by merging them in her mystic

religious joy." She rejects her sister's offer of the "pretty and quiet" agates, and decides

she will keep the ring and bracelet, though "Celia thought that her sister was going to

renounce the ornaments, as in consistency she ought to do." Instead, Dorothea "took up

her pencil without removing the jewels, and still looking at them. She thought of often

having them by her, to feed her eye at these little fountains of pure color," her "inward

fire" flashing in response to these gleaming bits of "pure color." The scene ends with

Dorothea "questioning the purity of her own feeling and speech" and Celia observing that

her sister's adherence to her own principles and opinions are sometimes "inconsistent."

It is this inconsistency and what it says about Dorothea that interests me. The tension

between her response to the jewels, her struggle to be at peace with her desire for them,

and her sister's resentment of Dorothea's lack of consistency all speaks of a lack of









resolution that belies her "Puritanic" tendencies (Eliot 38-40). Though these jewels never

reappear within the novel, what they say about Dorothea resonates throughout

Middlemarch, particularly within the context of her unhappy marriage to the much older

Casaubon.

Early in her novel Middlemarch, George Eliot expresses its fictional community's

discomfort with the pairing of an older man and a young woman with an almost Gothic

intensity: Dorothea and Casaubon's impending nuptials are objected to with a sense of

disgust that her "blooming full-pulsed youth" would be wedded to a seemingly decrepit

figure of a man with "one foot in the grave," who is "no better than a mummy" (239, 74).

Luckily for Casaubon, however, this disdainful attitude does not represent the full

spectrum of response within Middlemarch, as on the other hand, it is also admitted (in the

words of Mrs. Cadwallader) that he "has money enough; I must do him that justice,"

making Dorothea's a good, though unlikely, match (71). As these examples illustrate, the

pairing of a couple marked by disparity in age is one that can been seen as both

compelling and repellent, with practical considerations (such as the wealth, status, and

stability an older man can offer) coming up against the deeply felt discomfort that such a

difference in age elicits. The source of this tension can be traced to a variety of societal

factors that simultaneously celebrate and condemn, and in effect, problematize such

marriages, and as the example of Middlemarch illustrates, the culture of nineteenth-

century England offers no exception. However, it is not enough to say that Dorothea and

Casaubon's marriage is problematic because of age-disparity rather, it is necessary to

examine the reasons why the marriage was seen as simultaneously attractive and

problematic. An exploration of these qualities allows for an analysis of those social and









cultural influences -important for what they say about the experience of marriage and its

possibilities as a means for self-expression-that simultaneously guide and offer the

opportunity for the expression of choice by the Victorian woman.

Robert Polhemus's Lot's Daughters and The Spectacles of Intimacy by Karen

Chase and Michael Levenson explore the underlying social factors and attitudes

regarding age-disparate marriage, offering a means to investigate that which affirms and

troubles pairings of older men and younger women as expressed within Eliot's novel. In

turn, I revise the models of Polhemus and Chase and Levenson by examining how this

problematization of age-disparate marriage can be rooted within the Victorian ideals of

liberalism and domestic femininity. While providing insights into how the disquiet

regarding "inconsistent" expression of desire and older male-younger female pairings fits

into the larger social context of nineteenth-century England, these seemingly incongruent

value systems connect through their overlapping interest in self-government autonomy

of the self and restraint of the self, simultaneous power and suppression. And though

Dorothea is seen as being capable of self-restraint, what she also imagines is a life of

expression-whether within her community through good works, intellectualism, or

choosing a mate-putting her at odds with the values of self-government. Further, as the

scene with the emeralds reveals, Dorothea cannot fully "renounce" (and barely

acknowledges) her "inward fire," and instead leaves such troubling impulses potentially

unmastered. Though her decisions are often considered objectionable for a woman of her

class and status, it is the motivations behind her choice to marry her much older first

husband (as well as the reality of their married life) that highlights just how problematic

both her relationship to her own desires and her attempt to express them through an age-









disparate pairing can be. Dorothea, then, does not merely trouble the standards of

Middlemarch, but those of Eliot's day: for, while liberalism celebrates choice and

personal liberty, and domestic femininity dictates female choice as being determined by

strict convention, they both privilege the restraint of the self, speaking to the prevalence

and impact of this value and highlighting just how disturbing her "inconsistent" desire

truly is.

That Dorothea and Casaubon's age-disparate marriage has been seen as

problematic has been previously explored: criticism of Dorothea and her first marriage

has focused on a number of areas, including those qualities that make Casaubon

unsuitable for Dorothea. 1As Suzanne Graver terms it, her much older husband is both

"paternal and despotic," as well as an "oppressor" (61), while Selma Brody calls

Casaubon "a middle-aged benedict full of learning but of cold temperament" (63).

However, as Bernard J. Paris vividly clarifies, "what makes the marriage to Casaubon so

disgusting to other people-the age difference and his lack of 'red-blooded manhood"

(Ch. 8)--is part of his appeal to Dorothea. Since she has an idealized image of herself as

an ascetic who scorns worldly pleasures" life with Casaubon appears to be a perfect

match (Paris 243). That the choice is generally seen as "disgusting" (despite its apparent

appeal for Dorothea) cannot be denied, in part because of its impact. As Barbara Hardy

explains, "Dorothea is tragically married to Casaubon... What happens to her, in her

young hope and brilliance, is horrible, terrible, and miserable." This tragic quality is

enhanced by her "young, attractive, blooming, and physically active" qualities,

suggesting she possesses a vigour that is unseemly to match up with a man of Casaubon's









age and condition (The Miserable 66-67). To continue, women like Dorothea, Hardy

explains:

are sympathetic, well-born, intelligent, creative human beings, under-educated,
untrained, taught a few superficial accomplishments and manners, dressed and
cultivated, with marriage in mind, a marriage to someone of their own or a better
class, a marriage with money. They are all brought up in a culture where marriage
is what is expected of them and is all that is expected of them. The horror and
misery of such a system is demonstrated in marriages with men who are old enough
to be their fathers, who have little in common with them, and who in various ways
fail in sexuality and love. Casaubon is over forty-five, Dorothea nineteen. (The
Miserable 70)

The "culture" and "system" of nineteenth-century Britain that limits the choice and

expression of its "intelligent, creative" young women within marriage is fully exposed

and "demonstrated" within a marriage such as the one presented in Middlemarch.

In fact, this was an explicit concern for Eliot. The second to last paragraph of the

first edition (1871-1872) of Middlemarch included the following text (deleted by the

1874 edition): "Among the many remarks passed on her mistakes, it was never said in the

neighbourhood of Middlemarch that such mistakes could not have happened if the society

in which she was born had not smiled on propositions of marriage from a sickly man to a

girl less than half his age" (Hardy The Novels 52). Here Eliot, as Hardy does, places

blame squarely upon "society" for encouraging such an unequal and unkind pairing

(though it is also revealing that society does not recognize its complicity in "such

mistakes"). This subtext to marriage is one that can be seen in her novel, with the

community's disapproval of Dorothea and Casaubon's marriage (due to their disparity in

age, amongst other factors) balanced by his "handsome property" and "good" income,

elevating their marriage from shocking to acceptably good and affirming its suitability

despite the issue of age (60, 62). As June Skye Szirotny confirms, "vociferous as are









Dorothea's friends in objecting to her marriage, they do not fundamentally oppose the

match. For it satisfies their most deeply rooted concerns that she marry money and social

position" (24). This finger-pointing is echoed by Bege K. Bowers: Dorothea "is made to

feel useless by a society that offers few outlets for a woman's creative energy" leaving

her with few viable options outside of marriage, "just as Casaubon himself is a victim of

the socially 'sanctioned' belief that a 'man of a good position' must take as a wife 'a

blooming young lady--the younger the better, because more educable and

submissive-of a rank equal to his own, of religious principles, virtuous disposition, and

good understanding' (272; ch. 29)" (111). As Eliot and Bowers indicate, both halves of

the couple are impacted by their socially sanctioned but problematic pairing. How this

impact plays out for Dorothea within the novel, as well as those factors that sanction such

a pairing will be explored.

The desire to create and live a life of personal meaning is a common theme in

Middlemarch. A multitude of characters attempt to express themselves through vocation

or social maneuvering as a means of manifesting the life they imagine they are meant to

live; the former impulse shown in the example of Lydgate, who intends to create

sweeping change in medicine, while the latter is seen in the example of Rosamond Vincy,

who intends to live the life of a lady by marrying well. Dorothea Brooke, however,

follows neither example: her attempts to create a life of personal meaning challenge

expectations of appropriate choice while also transcending both vocational and social

concerns. It is not an accident that two of the preceding examples-Rosamond and

Dorothea-involve marriage. For women of the Victorian era, marriage offered an

opportunity to assert themselves, with varying degrees of possibility. For upper-class









women like Dorothea, though they are socially and economically privileged their

existence is also prescribed by the strictures of status, making the selection of a husband

one of the few areas where it is possible they can exercise some degree of will. Dorothea

does so, not once but twice within Eliot's novel, and in differing ways her marriage to

Casaubon and then Ladislaw can both be seen as expressions of her aspiration to make

life-determining choices expressive of her desires despite meeting with the disapproval of

her family and community. Motivated by an effort to strive against the "dreary

uselessness of a 'gentlewoman's oppressive liberty'" (Nicholes 115), Dorothea attempts

to circumvent expectations of conventionality and instead achieve a life that resonates

with personal meaning.

The expected path for "a Christian young lady of fortune"-charity, embroidery

and other such feminine niceties, conventional marriage, as Eliot suggests-is not for

Dorothea. The "amiable and handsome" Sir James is, in the words of Mr. Brooke "just

the sort of man" he imagines "a woman would like" -as well as desirable as a family

alliance that would unite their adjoining properties-but neither is important to his niece

(36, 60). Instead, as the narrator explains, "the union which attracted her was one that

would deliver her from her girlish subjection to her own ignorance, and give her the

freedom of voluntary submission to a guide who would take her along the grandest path"

(46). In "girlish subjection" to "her own ignorance," Dorothea instead wishes to submit

herself in "spiritual communion" to the calling of an older man whose qualities of

intellect and spirituality will allow her association with "the higher inward life" (46). In

Casaubon, Dorothea imagines she has found such a "guide": 'There would be nothing

trivial about our lives. Every-day things with us would mean the greatest things... I









should learn to see the truth by the same light as great men have seen it by. And then I

should know what to do, when I got older: I should see how it was possible to lead a

grand life here--now--in England. I don't feel sure about doing good in any way now"

(51). Prior to her marriage to Casaubon, Dorothea smarts under the confines of "the

shallows" of the "ladies' school literature" and "toy-box history of the world" education

she received and instead wishes to gain the knowledge and experience necessary to

accomplish truly great things that will make an impact on her community (47, 94).

Though Dorothea is sure that her cottages can do some good (if she can just get them

built), she does not feel that she possesses the intellectual resources to create a greater,

grander impact.

It is also here that another truth of Dorothea's aspirations emerge: they depend on

her association with another, one who she believes is endowed with the wisdom needed

to elevate her to the heights necessary to accomplish what she intends. There are reasons

for this limitation in vision, however. As Bernard J. Paris suggests, "Dorothea's dream of

glory chiefly takes the form of fantasies about marrying a great man... Because she is a

woman, she cannot dream of doing special deeds herself but must live vicariously

through a male... Casaubon seems to be exactly the man for whom she is looking" (243).

Though Dorothea does not intend to "live vicariously" through Casaubon but rather to be

his active and humble assistant in completing his great life's work ("what a work to be in

any ways present at, to assist in, though only as a lamp-holder," she thinks, page 42), the

suggestion is merited. Dorothea indeed uses marriage as her vehicle for the "grand life"

she cannot achieve herself, by attempting to make "Casaubon's scholarly vocation her

own" through tireless assistance (Nazar 306). The barriers towards female intellectual or









social achievement present in nineteenth-century Britain are not impassible (as Eliot

herself illustrates) but they are far-reaching. This concern with the limitations of the

female lot is, in fact, a common theme in George Eliot's writing. As Calder explains in

Women and Marriage in Victorian Fiction, Eliot's

profoundest interests lay with women who had hopes and aspirations beyond the
conventional, women who wanted to achieve things, however vague, who were
impatient of the aims usually attributed to them.., who are nevertheless symbolic of
the deeper stirring and frustrations of women's life in general. Her
heroines... [including] Dorothea Brooke... are all women who want more than
conventional attitudes would be ready to grant them. But they are not rebels, let
alone revolutionaries... It is as if George Eliot wished to anchor her heroines in
'normal' society...for the purposes of demonstrating that, if they were unusual in
terms of conventional assumptions about what women ought to do with themselves,
they were not unusual in terms of humanity, history and the needs and wants of
women in general. (126)

This positioning of Dorothea as unusual in the scope of her "hopes and aspirations" but

"not unusual in terms of humanity" common to the women of her time is one that reveals

much about the potential for frustration and disconnect present in the Victorian female

experience. In the case of Dorothea, her desire for "more than conventional attitudes

would be ready to grant" clearly includes choice in marriage (no matter the age of her

husband), as well as an interest in a life of influence beyond the domestic sphere that

such a marriage would enable. As Robert Polhemus explains: "the older man of power is

present and part of the revelation of the young woman's dreams," meaning, in this

fictional example, that Dorothea's choice of the older Casaubon potentially offers a

means to circumvent the social limitations under which she smarts (171). Unlikely to

realize greatness solely through their own efforts due to the social restrictions of the day,

a relationship such as the one shared by Dorothea and Casaubon potentially offers a









young woman access to that same "power" through association, allowing for "the

liberation of female aspirations" (Polhemus 4).

Dorothea's aspirations for a life that transcends the "light" and "trivial" clearly

illustrate that her marital ambitions deviate from romantic, pragmatic, or mercenary, as

the case may be, norms. They also deviate from that which others imagine of a woman of

her class and status. The qualities "prefigured" for her are to be shaped through education

and training, the primary purpose of which is to groom her "for courtship and marriage"

(Hall 63). In the words of Catherine Hall: "Music, di\\ ing, painting, French, fancy

work, gossip and fashion were the stuff of a Victorian girl's life all designed to prepare

her to catch a man... [and] to prepare them in the best possible way for their relative

sphere" (64, 89). This "preparation," and the person it is attempting to shape her into, is

one that Dorothea actively resists. This can be seen early in the novel, when Sir James

states that "every lady ought to be a perfect horsewoman, that she may accompany her

husband," and Dorothea's tart reply- "You see how widely we differ, Sir James. I have

made up my mind that I ought not to be a perfect horsewoman, and so I should never

correspond to your pattern of a lady" "shows her refusal to accept conventional

expectations of her behavior (45-46). This resistance is further reinforced in Eliot's novel,

when Mr. Brooke suggests that Dorothea should strive to play nicely on the piano in

order to make her intended's evenings pleasant, and receives the rejoinder that "'Mr.

Casaubon is not fond of the piano, and I am very glad he is not,' said Dorothea, whose

slight regard for domestic music and feminine fine art must be forgiven her, considering

the small tinkling and smearing in which they chiefly consisted at that dark period. She

smiled and looked up at her betrothed with grateful eyes" (79). In both cases, it is









Casaubon who offers Dorothea what appears to be a protective and fatherly escape from

these expectations of the performance expected for a woman of her "relative sphere,"

shedding further light on his attractiveness for her.

Dorothea's desire for "power" through association with the much older Casaubon is

confirmed in another expression of desire, namely that of her aspirations for a greater

intellect with which to enable a "grand life." Unfortunately for Dorothea, female

education was seen as presenting dangers for many Victorians, and was as potentially

problematic as the issue of sexual desire. Mr. Brooke expresses this concern, when he

hears that Dorothea is learning Greek: "Well, but now, Casaubon, such deep studies,

classics, mathematics, that kind of thing, are too taxing for a woman--too t.\ing. you

know." When Casaubon replies "Dorothea is learning to read the characters simply... she

had the very considerate thought of saving my eyes," Mr. Brooke responds: "Ah, well,

without understanding, you know--that may not be so bad. But there is a lightness about

the feminine mind--a touch and go--music, the fine arts, that kind of thing--they should

study those up to a certain point, women should; but in a light way, you know" (78-79).

This "lightness" requires preservation for a reason. As "Mrs Ellis, in her chapter on the

training of girls," states: "a woman, I would humbly suggest, has no business to be so far

absorbed in any purely intellectual pursuit, as not to know when water is boiling over on

the fire" (Hall 64). The disdain that Mrs. Ellis holds for a woman who does not know her

domestic business, so to speak, is one that can be linked to the common fear of that time

that education would over-intellectualize women and make them unsuited for their

primary purpose of being "faithfully employed in discharging the various duties of a wife

and daughter, a mother and friend." This misdirected focus would instead lead to a









"culpable neglect of the most important obligations" as women are instead "daily

absorbed by philosophic and literary speculations" (Armstrong 68). The unease that a

woman is incapable of incorporating intellectual pursuits with domestic concerns perhaps

also implies that while these concerns are ostensibly of paramount importance, they are

not as alluring as "philosophic and literary speculations," which is certainly true for

Eliot's heroine. Hina Nazar's observation that Dorothea "identifies marriage as the venue

for a particular kind of scholarship, an initiation into the mysteries of the Hebrew

alphabet rather than the mysteries of conjugal pleasure," suggests that her considerations

on selecting her older first husband are purely intellectual, making them seem all the

more problematic and unnatural by the standards of the day (306).

The desire to create a life of personal meaning, one Dorothea manifests throughout

Middlemarch, is one that finds resonance in many of the ideals and philosophies of the

Victorian era; specifically, this celebration of "personal freedom" and "liberty of the

individual" can be located within nineteenth-century British liberal thought and writing

(Hobhouse 53, 91). Though much of this writing is concerned with political and

economic expressions of those ideals, of interest for this discussion are those moments

that explore the rights of freedom and choice for the individual, as can be found in the

writings of Smith, Malthus, and Arnold, and more explicitly within that of L.T. Hobhouse

and John Stuart Mill. As the latter suggested, "the principle [of human liberty] requires

liberty of tastes and pursuits; of framing the plan of our life to suit our own character; of

doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow: without impediment from

our fellow-creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them, even though they should

think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong" (On 54-55). The invocation to have the









freedom to do "as we like" can be seen as an expression of a key liberal value that was

concerned with the influence of not only "the tyranny of political rulers," but more

importantly, "social tyranny" (Mill On 46). In the context of Eliot's novel, though her

community may see Dorothea's choice of Casaubon as "foolish, perverse, or wrong" it is

still hers to make. Framed as a "struggle between Liberty and Authority" (Mill On 43),

this celebration of self-expression in the face of resistance (the nature of which as it

impacts Dorothea will be explored in later pages) is expressed in works such as On

Liberty and Liberalism.

The self-expression that seems most powerful (and daring) is not necessarily what

is easily imagined: spending and wearing and eating and saying what we like, for

example. Rather, it is that which drives one in "framing the plan of our life to suit our

own character," as Mill states in On Liberty. The right to create a life that suits our tastes

(within the confines of safety for others, as the repeated caveat qualifies) is one that

suggests both the far-reaching authority of personal liberty but also the right of the

individual to fashion lives of difference. In his chapter titled "Of Individuality, as One of

the Elements of Well-Being," Mill explains "to give any fair play to the nature of each, it

is essential that different persons should be allowed to lead different liN cs" (109). A life

cannot be our own if it is meant to resemble all others in a difference of sameness.

Instead, the liberal embrace of individuality provides the room for a person to become

who they hope and intend to be: their "true self." The desire to frame the plan of her life

to suit her own character, to paraphrase Mill, is one that drives Dorothea Brooke. As

Jenni Calder explains, "she wants an identity other than that prefigured for her," one that

goes beyond the responsibilities and frivolities of an upper-class woman (149).









Disinclined to follow the conventions of her class and gender that were "prefigured for

her," she is instead driven towards participation in something far more significant and

epic. Eliot expresses this interest early in the novel as Dorothea restlessly searches for her

purpose: "For a long while she had been oppressed by the indefiniteness which hung in

her mind, like a thick summer haze, over all her desire to make her life greatly effective.

What could she do, what ought she to do?" (51). Dorothea's desire to make her "life

greatly effective" draws her away from the path of conventional domestic femininity and

into what she believes (incorrectly, as it turns out) will be far more exalted intellectual

and spiritual reaches via her marriage to her older husband.

If the "nineteenth century might be called the age of Liberalism," in the words of

Hobhouse, it was also an age during which the manifestation of opportunity was also

influenced by status, class, gender, race, and a myriad of other factors (91). The

predominance of ideals supporting the "liberty of the individual" are often checked from

full expression by social influences that also determine what is "prefigured" for that

"individual" (Hobhouse 91). However, despite a myriad of competing values to the

otherwise, liberal thinking indeed incorporates women like Dorothea into the ranks of

those allowed to choose. When writing of the need for "Domestic Liberty," Hobhouse

explains that "the movement of liberation" will also consist "in rendering the wife a fully

responsible individual, capable of holding property, suing and being sued, conducting

business on her own account, and enjoying full personal protection against her husband"

(18). The rights being proposed afford women economic and social empowerment and

protection both within and without the domestic sphere. This is in part due to pragmatic

concerns, as the isolation of women within that sphere deprives society of their intellect









and the progress that they may enable, as Hobhouse suggests in Liberalism.2 However, it

also represents an equal application of that "central idea of English life and politics... the

assertion of personal lilb'ciy" (Arnold 83). If a woman is to be a "fully responsible

individual" empowered to act in a "self-directing" manner, then expression of this

freedom of choice would include those rights listed above, as well as choice in marriage

(Hobhouse 53). Though Middlemarch does not explicitly propose the advances outlined

years later in Liberalism, it does make clear that Dorothea has little interest doing

anything but what she likes, to paraphrase Mill, no matter how at odds that puts her with

the expectations of custom (as her rejoinder that she intends to "never correspond" to the

limitations dictated by the "pattern of a lady" that has been provided her illustrates, page

46).

Mill would further explore the lot of nineteenth-century women in his later

publication, The Subjection of Women. Within that text, he objects to the perspectives that

"the natural vocation of a woman is that of a wife and mother," and that "all that has been

done in the modem world to relax the chain on the minds of women, has been a mistake.

They never should have been allowed to receive a literary education. Women who read,

much more women who write, are, in the existing constitution of things, a contradiction

and a disturbing element: and it was wrong to bring women up with any acquirements but

those of an odalisque, or of a domestic servant" (26, 28). Rather than being educated in a

manner that will allow their natural talents beyond the domestic sphere to be developed

and expressed for the betterment of society (the very desire that Dorothea possesses),

instead "women are schooled into suppressing them in their most natural and most

healthy direction" (98). As Mill states, this "relic" of "domestic oppression" makes









"marriage the only actual bondage known to our law" as "the generality of the male sex

cannot yet tolerate the idea of living with an equal" (16, 34, 79, 47). As I have explored,

these are sentiments expressed both within Eliot's novel and in the writing of the day,

giving credence to the validity and applicability of Mill's bluntly stated concerns. In fact,

this connection is one that has previously been made: as Suzanne Graver affirms, both

The Subjection of Women and Middlemarch "share a common subject matter: the lot of

women and relations between men and women in marriage" (55). There are, as she

explains, "remarkable correspondences between [Eliot's] depiction of marriage relations

and Mill's criticism of the practices governing the institution of marriage in The

Subjection....The critique of that novel of the beliefs, laws, and customs regulating

matrimonial arrangements is in its own way as powerful as Mill's" (55-56). It is clear,

then, that liberalism and its celebration of choice is meant by Eliot to include women.

What must be explored then are those other aspects of liberalism, as well as those of

domestic femininity that provide a counter-balance of influence against its full expression

in Victorian society.

As Dorothea's choice in Casaubon brands her as being motivated by interests other

than romance-which is perhaps hoped of her by her fictional community and the reader

since the idea of their marriage is apparently so repellent-and she has demonstrated that

her interests are not class- or gender-appropriate, she becomes a particularly problematic

and evocative example of the perils of expressing one's desires inappropriately. Though

liberalism embraces Dorothea's right to express herself though choice, this freedom is

paired with an emphasis on exercising it mindfully. This valuing of self-restraint is one

that is also expressed in the ideas and writing of nineteenth-century Britain. In On









Liberty, Mill explores the idea that extreme self-control and extreme passion are two

sides of the same coin: 'The same strong susceptibilities which make the personal

impulses vivid and powerful, are also the source from whence are generated the most

passionate love of virtue, and the sternest self-control" (106). Mill's language seems to

suggest that a person of deep passion is also capable of "the sternest self-control," that the

two extremes spring from the same "source," offering the promise that self-expression

does not have to equal unmanageable behavior. However, it also leaves open the

unsettling possibility that a firmly self-controlled person is hiding a heretofore-

unimagined depth of unexpressed passion, suggesting that it could only be a matter of

time before they swing to the other end of the behavioral spectrum. Though Dorothea has

successfully quashed her passions by choosing to "repress her physical joy, for example,

in horseback riding" (Greene "G. Eliot's" 27), her response to her mother's emeralds

refutes the completeness of that repression. Additionally, further putting into doubt her

ability to practice "the sternest self-control," Dorothea also resists the demands and

strictures of her class and gender in order to first express and develop herself

intellectually through an age-disparate marriage, and later through marriage for love

despite the condemnation of her community.

Lest we shirk from fully considering the impact of willfully passionate behavior, as

T.R. Malthus warns in An Essay on the Principle of Population, "an implicit obedience to

the impulses of our natural passions would lead us into the wildest and most fatal

e \i.ra\ .g.lnii'.s" (209). He acknowledges that while we cannot extinguish our "natural

passions," in order to secure "the greatest sum of human happiness" we must look to

"regulation" (213). In Malthus's discussions of the responsibilities of the individual to









bring about a more perfect society (in this case, one not burdened with the misery of

overpopulation), it is significant how much pressure falls upon the individual: "It is in the

power of each individual to avoid all the evil consequences to himself and society

resulting from the principle of population" (224). This regulation of sexual appetite is

trying, he admits, but should not be impossible, as man's "considerations of his own

interest and happiness will dictate to him the strong obligation to moral restraint.

However powerful may be the impulses of passion, they are generally to some degree

modified by reason" (227). I rather enjoy the qualifying "generally to some degree"

Malthus uses, as it acknowledges he's on slippery territory in attempting to use reason as

a shield against "the impulses of passion." However, ultimately his message remains

constant: the poor need to be undeceivedd with respect to the principal cause of their past

poverty, and taught to know that their future happiness or misery must depend chiefly

upon themselves" (242). According to Malthus, it is incumbent upon each of us to

practice "moral rcisin i" in order to ensure our "own interest and happiness." While

Dorothea is clearly not a poor mother with a brood of starving children, the message

found here is still worth considering. The only factor that protects one from the misery of

poorly conceived and passionately driven judgment is reason and the exercise of moral

restraint: Mathus does not pretend that such passions are not "natural" but insists we must

seek to regulate them. Unfortunately, as we see over the course of Middlemarch, Eliot's

heroine practices an imperfect application of socially necessary self-regulation, making

hers a "life... not ideally beautiful" but one rich with experience with her unhappiness

in marriage to Casaubon a reflection of her inability to both choose wisely for herself and

find a means to express her passions within the confines of that marriage (640).









Dorothea's problematic regulation and exercise of choice becomes particularly

troubling when we consider its context. As Mary Poovey outlines in Making a Social

Body, tying this celebration of self-control to larger social concerns of the Victorian era,

the liberal ideals of that time celebrated "individual happiness" while also demanding

participation in the diligent support of an orderly and productive society (24). As Poovey

explains, a liberal "society was 'free' in the sense that government interfered with the

economic not at all and ostensibly with the social as little as possible. It was 'free,' in

other words, in the sense that its members constituted individualized instances of a single

self-regulating subject, whose life was subdivided among the domains that claimed

autonomy but appeared to be alike" (24). Just as Malthus encourages the restraint of

"natural passions" in order to enjoy both the "happiness" promised by a well-regulated

life and the advantages of that restraint on the overall society, the ideas expressed by

Poovey privilege the needs of the society over that of the ostensibly "free" individual,

demanding regulation in order to preserve the smooth running machine of Victorian

society. That social body is comprised of individuals who take responsibility for

regulation upon themselves, rather than surrendering that responsibility to a regulating

agent or institution. This "self-government" was a crucial aspect, and again (as with

Malthus) we see the individual as responsible for the smooth and upward progress of

liberal society. What Poovey also explains is that this call for "self-government" (or, to

put it another way, "restraint") can be seen as natural (26). According to Adam Smith

(via Poovey), "the human capacity for self-government both derived from and

underwrote the sociality of human nature" (33). Not only is self-governing behavior

prudent then, but also natural, implying that to do otherwise is somehow perverse or









abnormal, highlighting how problematic (and dangerous, really) a lack of self-

government was seen to be.

The dangers regarding self-government are magnified when one considers the

standards of the day concerning domestic femininity. If we accept marriage as an avenue

for female choice, it is also a means to gain or cement status, class, and financial stability,

making it one fraught with social and economic importance. In addition to the importance

ascribed to savvy selection in marriage, the nature of a woman's responsibilities within

the home was also important within Victorian society. According to Nancy Armstrong, to

the domestic woman "went authority over the household, leisure time, courtship

procedures, and kinship relations" precisely the limit in scope that Mill bemoaned (3).3

According to these attitudes "marriage is the only real site for the exercise of female

agency." However, as becomes clear, the nature of this "agency" is one in which

Dorothea cannot imagine finding fulfillment (Nazar 306). Elizabeth Langland has pointed

out that in the example of Dorothea, Eliot shows women's lives within the domestic

realm as being limited and limiting. In contrast, many writers of the nineteenth century

offered portrayals of women that challenged "the historical portrait of Victorian women

as the passive, dependent, and idle creatures of prevailing ideology" (Langland 11). 4

Eliot conveys this portrait of domestic femininity in part by illustrating little in the way of

Dorothea's domestic management besides a mention or two of having "some memoranda

to write for the housekeeper" (499). In addition, Dorothea regularly expresses "disregard

for the conventionally feminine concerns" of domestic niceties and responsibilities that

are part and parcel with her upper-class domestic sphere, and instead prefers to direct her

energies towards the intellectual realm seemingly promised by association with a scholar









like Casaubon (Marotta 407). While it is true we see little mention of Dorothea's exercise

of household authority, and that this absence perhaps "belittles the life of a lady and

evacuates it of significance" (Langland 193), what this also indicates is that during the

period of her life that leads up to and includes her first marriage, Dorothea imagines

fulfillment outside that realm. In addition, Eliot's agenda in writing Middlemarch may

well have been to explore the very nature of the frustrations that dogged many of the

women of her time. 5

While Dorothea's decision to marry Casaubon has been shown to be problematic as

it exposes her desires and ambitions as socially inappropriate and potentially dangerous,

that is not the end of the story. Part of what makes age-disparate pairings so often

problematic for Victorians is that it appears to trouble values that celebrate marriage as an

expression of deeply felt attachment. As Sybil Wolfram explains, "the proper marriage in

England was and is a 'love match,'" one motivated by true and reciprocal feelings

between husband and wife (70). As the attitudes of the time dictated, in addition to the

usual considerations of compatibility that would ensure such a "match," with respect to

the issue of age, "ideally, a husband and wife are more or less of an age, with the husband

perhaps a little older" (Wolfram 70). What this preference meant for age-disparate

pairings is that "the marriage of a much older man with a much younger woman was

readily tolerated, although most usually thought of as unlikely to be a love match on the

woman's side" (Wolfram 70). The reasons for this tolerance as expressed within

Middlemarch has been and will be explored at a later point in this analysis, but what is of

immediate interest is that the wary eye regarding such a marriage is directed towards the

female half of this pairing, implying that there is an unnatural or troubling aspect









underlying her acceptance. This sentiment is echoed within Eliot's novel when Ladislaw

comes to perceive that through her role as his wife, Dorothea had intended to assist

Casaubon in his life's work, giving him "a new light, but still a mysterious light" in

understanding what called her to marry his cousin. Though he had earlier assumed she

must be somehow "disagreeable" to have consented to become Mrs. Casaubon, he comes

to realize, "she must have made some original romance for herself in this marriage"

(191). As is revealed over the course of the novel, the "original romance" that Dorothea

makes leading up to her first marriage is unable to refute the expectation that a

matrimony marked by disparity in age is indeed not a love match.

As Chase and Levenson term it, "the problem of age" is one that is easily

discovered in age-disparate pairings. "What keeps this seductive arrangement unsettled is

the fear that the wife/daughter cannot, and perhaps should not, give herself up" (96). The

language they use is revealing: that though it is "unsettling" (as has and will be explored),

a marriage of this sort is "seductive," and expressive of a compelling "dream of female

devotion" that such a pairing-between an older man and a spouse both wife and

daughter-seems to promise (96). It is just such a "dream" that inspires the scholarly

Casaubon, who has heretofore devoted himself to his expansive life's work, The Key to

All Mythologies, to ask a woman almost thirty years his junior, one in "the early bloom

of youth," to marry him (Eliot 63). Though he had previously not been inclined to take on

the distractions and demands of marriage, in meeting Dorothea he realized that he now

wanted "cheerful companionship" with a woman whose youth and devotednesss" made

her well "adapted to supply aid in graver labours and to cast a charm over vacant hours"

(Eliot 49, 62-63). According to Casaubon's "most agreeable previsions of marriage,"









Dorothea would attentively assist him in his intellectual pursuits (those "graver labours")

and provide "the solace of female tendance for his declining years" through her "ardent

submissive affection" (Eliot 77-78). It is apparent from the language used by both

Casaubon and the narrator that the "charm" and allure of Dorothea's beauty and youthful

but submissive enthusiasm make her a compelling match, rather than any real

understanding of the type of companion who would be best suited to a man seen by most

as a dusty, old scholar; it is however, a role that Dorothea eagerly and earnestly

anticipates. As is revealed over the course of the novel, however, her desire for this role

is problematic not only for readers and Dorothea's fictional community but for Eliot

herself, for she chooses to make this marriage not an avenue for satisfaction and

happiness but rather something far grimmer and dispiriting.

The previously explored ideals of the liberation of female choice and aspirations

are part of what makes age-disparate marriages so problematic. The language highlighted

at the start of this paper conveys the horror that a vibrantly attractive (and, as her

"blooming full-pulsed" qualities suggest, sexual) young woman like Dorothea will be

cozying up to the crumbling bones of Casaubon in their marital bed. Never mind that she

willingly and eagerly accepted his offer in marriage few within the novel can resist the

idea that Dorothea should be rescued from her fate as Mrs. Casaubon. Will Ladislaw, not

a disinterested observer to be sure, expresses this sentiment nicely: "Casaubon had done a

wrong to Dorothea in marrying her. A man was bound to know himself better than that,

and if he chose to grow grey crunching bones in a cavern, he had no business to be luring

a girl into his companionship. 'It is the most horrible of virgin-sacrifices'" (Eliot 302).

The language Casaubon himself uses to describe his life confirms the community's (and









reader's) anxiety in an evocatively dreadful manner: "I live too much with the dead. My

mind is something like the ghost of an ancient, wandering about the world and trying

mentally to construct it as it used to be, in spite of ruin and confusing changes" (Eliot 42).

Casaubon appears to be so sexually desiccated by his continual proximity "with the dead"

that his mind is not filled with appropriately conjugal interests but the "ghosts" of the

ancient cultures he studies. In this horror (expertly conveyed by the imagery of "grey

crunching bones" and "virgin sacrifices") one can detect the tension and conflict that

underlies a pairing marked by difference in age, and Chase and Levenson offer the means

to discover and tease out the nature of the fears that drive that discomfort. Their

discussion of Dickens explores the tension that is located within the "difference in age

between young wife and older) husband" (96). The older husband in their example "sees

what the reader is taught to fear: that youth will turn back to youth and the stable

settlement of home will be devastated by the return of suppressed desires," echoing

Casaubon's own jealousy of the friendship between Dorothea and Ladislaw (97). By

tying the anxiety regarding age-disparate pairings to fears of inappropriate expression of

female desire and agency, Chase and Levenson reveal the fear that the young wife will

not be able to govern her unmet desires-desires that cannot be fully expressed within

such a pairing-and be tempted to be led astray; that true self-restraint is not truly

possible within such a context.

As Robert Polhemus explains, the "patriarchal culture" of nineteenth-century

Britain supports "adult male projections," in both "real and fictional" guises (an example

of the latter being Casaubon's), of the suitability of nubile young wives as companions to

older men (45, 7, 5). The social sanction of marriage between young women and older









men-and the word sanction is useful here as it suggests both authorization and

restriction, highlighting the inherently conflicted and contradictory attitude towards age-

disparate pairings-are rooted in what Polhemus calls the "Lot complex," which is a

"dynamic configuration of wishes, sexual fantasies, fears, and symbolic imagery that has

worked to form generational relationships and structure personality, gender identity,

religious faith, and social organization" (4). His inclusion of "wishes" and "ic \til

fantasies" in the forming of "generational relationships" can be linked to the seductive

aspect that Chase and Levenson identified as an element of pairings of this sort. What is

"unsettling" (to revisit their terminology) is that the sexual fantasies include those of a

"father figure" directed or projected upon his wife/daughter, making them more or less

incestuous in association (Greene "Another" 32). That the expression of sexuality within

such a relationship is so unsettling and problematic as to be seen as vaguely incestuous

speaks to the prevailing discomfort such pairings engender. It also reinforces the older

husband's perceived incapability of meeting his young wife's desires ostensibly leaving

her open to temptation to stray from the confines of their marriage bed. 'This is the dread

that lives within the fantasy, the fear that the pattern of busy young wife and placid older

husband will come to grief on the shoals of the wife's desire," leaving the domestic

"charms" the older man had anticipated in choosing his spouse smashed amidst the ruins

of their marriage (Chase and Levenson 96-97). 6

The implications of this male fantasy for younger women are multiple. As Robert

Polhemus explains in his introduction, the Lot complex also includes "the power of

projection" and "the drive for female agency" (9-10). The former is connected to not only

male desire for younger women but the "projection and displacement of sexual desire by









mature, aging father figures onto young women," in effect making these young women

complicit in their own desirability (10). This is not to suggest, however, that fantasy

regarding younger women is never matched by a reciprocal interest in older men by

younger women. As Polhemus qualifies, though "in the Lot complex, the desires of the

father are projected upon the daughters, it doesn't follow that the daughter's desire for the

father...is inauthentic" (10). This suggestion that desire can be reciprocal in age-disparate

relationships positions the younger woman not as victim but as an active participant an

idea at odds with Dorothea as a "virgin sacrifice," indicating the degree to which this

positioning of female desire for her father-figure husband as "authentic" is discomfiting.

This model of choice is supported by the latter feature of the Lot complex, that of its role

in the development of "female agency." This is achieved, to use the example of Lot and

his daughters, through just such a "displacement": "by projecting upon the daughters the

moral onus for incest, the Scripture ironically allows them to become conspiratorial,

socially responsible agents. Women move from sacrificial objects to reasoning subjects"

(10-11). Through their participation in such a seemingly unequal partnership, one imbued

with a potentially erotic fixation by the older man, women can in fact be transformed into

"reasoning subjects." This desire for her own development into a "reasoning subject" is

just such an impulse that drives Dorothea in her choice of her first husband.

The idea that marriage can be an avenue for self-expression in the mode imagined

by Eliot's heroine is challenged both by the values of her day and by Eliot within the

events of the novel itself. Once Dorothea is married, though "she had married the man of

her choice," the bleak reality of that choice is revealed (179). Sadly, her anticipation of

"blending" a "higher initiation in ideas" with the joys of marriage is unmet by the









actuality of her existence with the much older Casaubon (94). Strikingly, Eliot doesn't

even allow Dorothea a honeymoon period of happiness but unveils the reality of her life

as Mrs. Casaubon from her first appearance as such within the novel. In fact, the trip to

Rome is "fundamentally about Dorothea's disillusionment, as, with great distress, she

begins to realize the fact that her relationship with Casaubon bears little resemblance to

her fantasies of an ideal union" (Sodr6 204). Instead, her experience of marriage and what

it suggests of a woman's ability to be her fully expressed self within the domestic sphere

illustrates that domestic femininity and the value of self-government complicates the idea

of marriage as liberal self-expression. Through her purposeful selection of Casaubon,

Dorothea believes she is embarking on a life of difference and meaning, but instead

discovers something very unlike that which she had envisioned. Upon her return to

Lowick the narrator reflects that "marriage, which was to bring guidance into worthy and

imperative occupation, had not yet freed her from the gentlewoman's oppressive liberty:

it had not even filled her leisure with the ruminant joy of unchecked tenderness... The

ideas and hopes which were living in her mind when she first saw this room nearly three

months before were present now only as memories: she judged them as we judge

transient and departed things" (239-240). Deprived of the "guidance" she craves, as well

as the "tenderness" of married companionship, the ardent and hopeful "maiden dream"

visions of her life with Casaubon are reduced to "transient and departed things" and

ghostly "memories" (181).

Though part of Dorothea's disappointment clearly relates to the lack of intimacy in

her life with Casaubon, her sense of loss also relates to the incomplete manifestation of

the role she had imagined for herself. As has been explored, Dorothea imagines that her









assistance of a great scholar, as she supposes Casaubon to be, will give her the

knowledge and understanding necessary to do great things (which, as Robert Polhemus

suggests, is a key element in the attraction older men can hold for young women).

Casaubon, unfortunately, is a weak vessel for such desires. Her too-late realization that

Casaubon's life's work, The Key to All Mythologies, is not worthy of such slavish

support is a jarring moment of disconnect between possibility and reality, and one that

poignantly reveals the thorough folly of her choice. Though she is surprised and saddened

that the "unchecked tenderness" of their marriage has not been expressed as expected,

more disquieting is Ladislaw's shared judgment-who sees Casaubon's life's work as a

sort of "groping after... mouldy futilities" -that it will "be thrown away... for want of

[Casaubon's] knowing what is being done by the rest of the world," who have thoroughly

disproved the grounds on which his work stands (188-191). The source of Dorothea's

distress appears to be rooted both in the piteousnesss" that "the labour of her husband's

life might be void," but also that his work is inherently flawed and limited in scope, and

therefore unlikely to provide her with the intellectual elevation she had been eagerly

anticipating (191). As Monica L. Feinberg explains "Dorothea herself marries Mr.

Casaubon's text as much as she marries Mr. Casaubon's person... It is not surprising that

Eliot articulates Dorothea's disillusionment with her marriage in a lament for her loss of

faith in Mr. Casaubon's text" (19). Her disillusioned realization that his "voluminous

notes" are "nothing but dryasdust pedantry" turn her devotion to Casaubon and his text

into the very kind of joyless duty she had thought she was avoiding in her unconventional

choice of husband (Szirotny 23).









This "loss of faith" in her husband and his work can also be tied to his resistance to

her assuming the active role she had imagined for herself. "Even drawing Dorothea into

use in his study, according to his own intention before marriage, was an effort which he

was always tempted to defer, and but for her pleading insistence it might never have

begun. But she had succeeded in making it a matter of course that she should take her

place at an early hour in the library and have work either of reading aloud or copying

assigned her" (244). That he sees her assistance as "an effort which he was always

tempted to defer," though it had been "his own intention" illustrates that Casaubon, as

Eliot's narrator assures us, is also caught off-guard with the reality of their life together.

The unquestioning and adoring secretary he had expected to find in Dorothea- "A wife,

a modest young lady, with the purely appreciative, unambitious abilities of her sex, is

sure to think her husband's mind p %\\ ci ful" -has in the light of reality, been replaced by

someone much more troublesome (243). As Selma B. Brody explains, Casaubon "turns

bitter and unloving, expecting only a passive female adorer, he finds that the wife of his

bosom observes and judges him, and has ideas" (64). Casaubon indeed resents

Dorothea's transformation from "the young creature who had worshipped him with

perfect trust...into the critical wife," violating his fantasies of how their age-disparate

marriage would be manifested (344). To his surprisingly (to her, anyway) conventional

mind, she is not meant to have her own agenda of formidable intellectual development

and positive impact on her community. The fundamental incompatibility in vision of their

life together spells that there can be no true union for Dorothea nor potential for the

degree of mentoring and guidance she craves. She has chosen her husband neither wisely

nor too well.









At first, it appears that Dorothea will ably perform the role Casaubon imagines for

her. One of Dorothea's models for the relationship she imagines she will have with

Casaubon is that of Milton and his daughters: allowed to "minister" to the needs of a

great man and therefore better herself through this service (Eliot 77). She celebrates their

part in his great works, little imagining the bleak reality of their experience. As Robert

Polhemus explains, Milton forced his daughters "to read by rote material in languages

they did not know and could not understand. They did this hour by hour, day by day, to

tedium and exhaustion." Milton's daughters were not truly participants in the creation of

his greatness, as their father treated them like "a superior pair of mynah birds," called

upon to read aloud what they could not understand (109). "What the father wanted was

selfless labor and total dedication to his imagination. They had to serve, but were shut out

of his life and kept ignorant of the codes that made the diverse human record meaningful

to him" (Polhemus 110). Milton's daughters were expected to live in "ignorant" service

to "his imagination" making it all the more fascinating that while Dorothea first sees

them as "naughty" for their resistance to this role, in the end she finds herself refusing to

perform just such a dispiriting role with "total dedication" within her marriage to

Casaubon. As she discovers, serving an ostensibly "great" man "whose odd habits" she

imagined "it would have been glorious piety to endure" is wholly unsatisfying (Eliot 36).

"Dorothea had thought that she could have been patient with John Milton, but she had

never imagined him behaving in this way; and for a moment Mr. Casaubon seemed to be

stupidly undiscerning and odiously unjust" (Eliot 245). The gap between the imagined

and real man revealed through the proximity of marriage speaks to the gap between what

can be desired and manifested within age-disparate marriage.









In writing of the Bronte family, Robert Polhemus gives the example of the father's

"family catechism" and explains, "each question masks a paternal desire, and each

answer offers a means to fulfill it" (151). In a fictional extension of this idea, Dorothea

saw her role of assistant to Casaubon as a means to fulfill what she imagines to be his

desire for an intellectual helpmate who he can guide and develop (as she hopefully

imagines, to use Anna K. Nardo's language, her "latter-day Milton" requires, page 16).

Underlying this is a reciprocal desire, but one that is marred by a lack of agreement. He

wants, as has been explored, an agreeable companion, she wants to realize her desire for a

"grand life"; more than that however, she wants to be useful to the work she believes is

important, to be meaningful by association. As has been explored, however, Dorothea is

unable to perform her role as adoring and unquestioning companion to Casaubon, and in

the end, he is revealed to be very much her "faux Milton" (Nardo 134). The pain of this

unhappy surprise reveals in part the source of her much older husband's attraction for

her. In discussing Jane Eyre, Polhemus writes "this daughter's fantasy, transmuted to

visionary art, is a young woman's marriage to a father-figure who will love her, talk

intimately to her, give her a say (in every sense) over both their lives, and make her the

center of his being and his dciini (Polhemus 161-162). We become aware of

Dorothea's desire for a "father-figure," one that echoes Jane's, early in the novel, before

we are introduced to Casaubon's, and so in a way he acts to answer her desires. If this is

the case, then what is revealed is that Dorothea's rebellious and potentially problematic

desires are operating here, rather than this being a carefully considered and measured

decision, one marked by the influence of self-government. Desires, in fact, that are

problematic (according to the attitudes of the day) because they are on the one hand









intellectual and on the other, if they truly exist in a sexual capacity, particularly unsettling

to contemplate.

Though Dorothea has struggled to assert and create a sense of herself through

major individual choices like marriage, as Middlemarch unfolds she also struggles to

maintain herself within those choices. Not only does Dorothea find her dreams of

intellectual development quashed, but her ability to freely speak her mind is also

checked. She, of whom Mr. Brooke remarks, "I thought you had more of your own

opinion than most girls. I thought you liked your own opinion," finds herself biting her

tongue in her husband's presence (60). "She was going to say more, but she saw her

husband enter and seat himself a little in the background. The difference his presence

made to her was not always a happy one: she felt that he often inwardly objected to her

speech" (Eliot 276). Here the disparity between the life Dorothea had imagined and her

reality is made blatant: the woman who eagerly anticipated she would be able "to live

continually in the light a mind she could reverence" comes to find herself in "painful

subjection to a husband whose thoughts had been lower than she had believed" (Eliot 63,

399). The unhappy difference that Casaubon makes in the life of Dorothea is only

brought to a close by Eliot's choice to "mercifully widow" Dorothea (Brody 65). Freed

from her bonds of pity-bound duty by learning of the "shocking" codicil of his will

barring her from keeping her inherited fortune if she marries Ladislaw (the resented

young rival for his young wife's affections), she begins to direct her energies outward

and searches for ways to use her now considerable fortune to benefit her community

(Eliot 399). With the transformation in perspective the experience of her marriage to

Casaubon has afforded her, it is unsurprising that she finds herself "interested now in all









who had slipped below their own intention," as she herself has clearly done (Eliot 400).

This interest also sheds light onto her attraction for Ladislaw, who throughout the novel

finds his talents squandered and unfocused, offering Dorothea a worthy career of

encouraging and supporting him in his eventual efforts as "an ardent public man" (Eliot

638).

Though she would seem to at last have "the freedom and power to carry out her

long-cherished plans," the hopes Dorothea has in making an impact once she is liberated

from her life of duty to Casaubon are unmet by reality (Nicholes 118). Even as a

widowed woman of fortune, she finds herself constrained: "Dorothea is prevented from

engaging in any kind of sustained useful activity which would give her a sense of purpose

and direct accomplishment" (Mitchell 35). The "sense of purpose" she craves is meant to

be an antidote to her post-Casaubon life of "motiveless ease-motiveless, if her own

energy could not seek out reasons for ardent action" (431). The source of the constraint of

her "ardent action" is veiled as brotherly guidance designed to protect her fortune from

unnecessary risk, once again preventing her from exercising her liberally supported free

expression of interests and concerns. As her sister Celia explains of her husband's council

to Dorothea: "Now, Dodo, do listen to what James says... else you will be getting into a

scrape. You always did, and you always will, when you set about doing as you please"

(570). As we again see, the liberal espousement of choice does not necessarily in practice

apply to a woman in Dorothea's position, and though, of course, such choice must always

be mindful as well as socially responsible, the impulse to do good for her community

would seem to qualify. Instead, Celia is relieved that Dorothea now has "James to think

for you. He lets you have your plans... A husband would not let you have your plans"









(570). Merely "having" her plans, and someone else to do her thinking for her, is of little

comfort, however what Dorothea desires is to "have something good to do with my

money: I should like to make other people's lives better to them" (590). With "nothing"

needed "to be done in the village," nor the resources "for any great scheme of the sort I

like best," Dorothea has little means to make a positive difference in her community, as

she has hoped to accomplish throughout Eliot's novel (617, 589). Despite her significant

resources, she is unable to manifest her desired goal of making the lives of other people

"better to them."

Though Dorothea's choice to remarry surprises her family and community,

particularly as her husband is to be Ladislaw, it is in fact logical as a continuation of

Eliot's exploration of marriage as a possible venue for self-expression and an expression

of her belief "that in marriage lay fulfillment" (Calder 128). As Hina Nazar proposes,

though

feminist readers of nineteenth-century 'domestic fiction' have argued that the
novel... naturalizes marriage as a restrictive apolitical telos of women's lives.., we
can critique the absence of meaningful vocation for women without identifying
marriage in itself as a negative phenomenon. Marriage...is 'awful in the nearness it
brings' (797). Yet its 'awfulness' or resemblance to the crushing sublime does not
detract from the value it can have in individual lives. (303)

This identification of marriage as not inherently "a negative phenomenon," but a

relationship with "value," is a validation of its potential as a venue for self-expression of

desires. In addition, Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert, via Bege K. Bowers "describe

Dorothea's marriage to Will as 'the most subversive act available to her within the

context defined by the author, since it is the only act prohibited by the stipulations of the

dead man, and by her family and friends'" (115). By joining herself to someone who is,

in the words of Sir James, "not a man we can take into the family," Dorothea removes









herself from the influence and disapproval of her family and community (Eliot 626). In

fact, there is no other character appropriate for her, as "Dorothea's ardor finds no

answering response in anyone but Ladislaw" (Szirotny 21). As he explains of Dorothea,

making his devotion to her clear, "I never had a preference for her, any more than I have

a preference for breathing. No other woman exists by the side of her. I would rather touch

her hand if it were dead, than I would touch any other woman's living" (599), affirming

their mutual attraction and fitness for each other which it must be observed after her

marital trials with the much older Casaubon, is further supported by their nearness in age

(which in turn offers the possibility that theirs is a love match).

It is Dorothea's peace with the evolving events in her life that bring her story to a

close. Her eventual happiness depends on her choosing a life partner for her whole self,

not just the portions of herself that she upholds as superior (such as her intellect over

corporeal sensuality). Her life with Ladislaw suggests that marriage offers the possibility

for satisfaction and fulfillment, if only one exercises one's power of choice appropriately

and heeds, and in turn manages, one's desires. Though Karen Chase suggests, "it would

be hasty to claim that Middlemarch at the last overcomes the tension between epic

ambitions and domestic responsibilities" as, in the face of not attaining these "ambitions,"

Dorothea regards her life as a disappointment, there is no indication that she indeed

regrets where her decisions have lead her (Eros 185). Though Celia points out that she

has now lost her ability to bring her plans to life, Dorothea replies, "On the contrary,

dear... I never could do anything that I liked. I have never carried out any plan yet" (Eliot

628). On one hand, Dorothea's choice should be acceptable by standards of domestic

femininity since she is reinscribed into the domestic sphere, and better yet, one that is









middle-class, and not marked by disparity in age; on the other, however, since it ignores

the standards of her community her choice is seen as problematic. Ultimately, despite the

widely-shared feeling that it was a "pity that so substantive and rare a creature should

have been absorbed into the life of another, and be only known in a certain circle as a

wife and mother," we have no reason to believe that her marriage is an unhappy one

(Eliot 638). As the narrator intones, Dorothea "never repented that she had given up

position and fortune to marry Will Ladislaw... They were bound to each other by a love

stronger than any impulses which could have marred it. No life would have been possible

to Dorothea which was not filled with emotion, and she had now a life filled also with a

beneficent activity which she had not the doubtful pains of discovering and marking out

for herself." Her husband "became an ardent public man, which "Dorothea could have

liked nothing better, since wrongs existed, than that her husband should be in the thick of

a struggle against them, and that she should give him wifely help" (Eliot 638). Here, at

last, she is able to direct her energies to something that is both personally fulfilling and

impactful to the community, just as she had hoped throughout Middlemarch.

To choose the life one imagines for one's self and create a life of personal meaning

is, as I have suggested, a clear ideal of liberalism. While it is unclear if any society has or

will attain perfect support of liberal ideals, it is revealing to uncover who seems most

hampered in this struggle and what that says about the nature of the tyranny, to use Mill's

language, that a society practices. The gap between what one imagines and what one lives

speaks volumes both about the responsibility and possibility for individual choice; not

living what we imagine is possible reveals not just a failure of effort but also the presence

of damning limitations. The presence of such limitations makes clear just how far a









society is from attaining compliance with the ideals of liberalism, for as Hobhouse

explains they are rooted in "a movement of liberation, a clearance of obstructions, an

opening of channels for the flow of free spontaneous vital activity" (22). This "clearance

of obstructions" that he suggests is part and parcel of liberalism acknowledges that there

are factors which limit the expression of "free spontaneous vital activity" though they

are also limitations that liberalism embraces, such as that of self-government. In the

example of Eliot's Dorothea, we see the expression of those obstructions upon the

manifestation of her desires those both internally and externally applied. For, while

Eliot shows that though marriage can be problematic, for whatever the reason, it can also

be fruitful for the individual, and though she chooses for herself, and there are issues with

her choices within the text, Eliot's heroine experiences growth and then happiness from

those choices. In her marriage to Casaubon, she experiences those obstructions in

unexpected and disappointing ways, illustrating the experience of living without a "flow

of free spontaneous vital activity." Instead, as is clear by novel's end, it is far easier and

more satisfying to govern and manage the self if one's needs are being met and one's

desires are being answered, as is the case within Dorothea's marriage to Ladislaw.

Dorothea's choice to remarry, and in that choice assume a role firmly fixed within

the demands of the domestic sphere unavailable in her marriage to Casaubon, calls for a

final point of analysis. As Chase and Levenson explain, this reengagement with a wifely

role within the domestic sphere is one that Dickens uses to validate his age-disparate

marriage. Of the now wiser and fully devoted young wife, they write that "she long ago

learned, and now must say openly, that the match would have been 'most wretched,'

because there can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose.' Sat









next to this fatal disparity of temperament, the contrast in age disappears at a stroke"

(98). Dickens chooses to subdue the problematic aspects of his age-disparate couple by

affirming that their likeness in "temperament" is of greater importance than any issues

that may arise due to their "contrast in age." As they explain, "what makes her a fit mate

is that even as the lively daughter/wife she has learned how to be quiet; she knows how to

distribute her pleasures and brightens, finding her satisfaction in the many little tasks

rather than in the great romantic embrace" (100). The now "quiet" "daughter/wife" of

Dickens's story becomes a "fit" Victorian spouse though her manifestation and embrace

of the values and behaviors of domestic femininity, seemingly offering hope that an age-

disparate coupling can be successful and fulfilling. However, as Chase and Levenson

explain, "the pleasing outcome cannot cancel the uneasiness," as the threat inherent in

these problematic pairings is too resonant (99). While Dickens attempts to affirm the

marriage of his characters haunted by "the problem of age," and does so for the most part,

Eliot offers no such validation, instead affirming that "problem" within the pages of

Middlemarch in the example of Dorothea and Casaubon, and reinforcing it is one that is a

stand-in for the larger problem of the inconsistent manifestation of desire.









Notes

SBoth Selma B. Brody and Deborah Wynne compare Eliot's novel and its heroine to
other nineteenth-century novels, with the former exploring the similarities between the
marital choices and experience of Dorothea and Henry James's Isabel Archer, and the
latter focusing on "constricting social codes surrounding marriage and property" as
illustrated by Eliot and Dinah Mulock Craik (160). Other recent criticism has included a
diverse number of interests. Andrew Leng and Joseph Nicholes explore Middlemarch's
connections to Pre-Raphaelite art, while Kathleen McCormack and James Harrison
explore the novel's presentation of the art of the Vatican museum and Rome. Alan
Shelston suggests that "language may be an effective instrument of communication, if
properly used and understood," giving Casaubon, "the tragic hero of the first half' of
Eliot's novel, as an example of a character who fails in this effort whether in writing or
speaking (26, 21). In his analysis of psychological aspects of Middlemarch, Gordon
Hirsch presents "the points" within Eliot's novel "where emotion, society, and ethical
thought intersect" particularly through the socially "disruptive" and "binding" aspects of
shame and ardor as seen within Dorothea and Casaubon's marriage (83).

2 As Sherry L. Mitchell explains, "Eliot focuses on the wasted practical potential of
talented women like Dorothea" who "live at a time when the only approved vocation for
women is marriage" (33). This sentiment is an echo of Hobhouse's lamentation that "the
larger wrong done by the repression of women is not the loss to women themselves who
constitute one half of the community, but the impoverishment of the community as
whole, the loss of all the elements in the common stock which the free play of the
women's mind would contribute" (48). Lest one think this is solely a nineteenth-century
concern, Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers's recent remarks concerning the
possible role biological differences play in the under-representation of women in
high-ranking positions within the sciences elicited a response that also echoed that
of Hobhouse. The presidents of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton
University, and Stanford University wrote a letter expressing concern that "increasing
competition in technological innovation from abroad and the lagging performance of
American students make encouraging more women to pursue careers in the sciences a
crucial challenge. 'Until women can feel as much at home in math, science, and
engineering as men, our nation will be considerably less than the sum of its parts'
(Bombardieri).

3 As Mill explains of the demands of the domestic realm on wives and mothers: "The
superintendence of a household, even when not in other respects laborious, is extremely
onerous to the thoughts; it requires incessant vigilance, an eye which no detail escapes,
and presents questions for consideration and solution, foreseen and unforeseen, at every
hour of the day, from which the person responsible for them can hardly ever shake herself
free. If a woman is of a rank and circumstances which relieve her in a measure from these
cares, she has still devolving on her the management for the whole family of its
intercourse with others -- of what is called society, and the less the call made on her by
the former duty, the greater is always the development of the latter: the dinner parties,
concerts, evening parties, morning visits, letter-writing, and all that goes with them"
(Subjection 73).









4With the rise of the middle-class, came "the development of specific female ideal," one
that privileged domestic femininity over previous century's exaltation of aristocratic
female qualities (Armstrong 8). This change in the "female ideal" was paired with the
development of an "ideology of domesticity which ties women into the home and stresses
their role as wife and mother," was one that soon came to become a standard by which all
women were held (Hall 68). An additional area of the responsibilities associated with this
"role" are ones that are concerned with the semiotics of the family's status: "The home,
often figured as a haven with its attending angel, can be decoded so that we recognize it
as a theater for the staging of a family's position, a staging that depends on a group of
prescribed domestic practices" (Langland 9). This attention to the "theater" of domestic
practices is another aspect of conventional domestic femininity that would demand the
attentions of Dorothea. However, as Mr. Brooke admits, she is "not fond of show, a great
establishment, balls, dinners, that kind of thing. I can see that Casaubon's ways might
suit you better than Chettam's" (61). Once again, marriage to Casaubon offers relief from
these and other unwanted distractions from the socially significant and impactful life she
imagines for herself.

5 As June Skye Szirotny explains, "many feminists are indignant that [Eliot] did not
present models of successful women...But she is wanted to expose the reasons of her
suffering, not celebrate her expensive victory" (25). Barbara Hardy provides an
additional perspective on the lack of discernibly feminist sentiment in Middlemarch:
"Dorothea is embedded in her time, thirty years before the feminist movements and
controversies of the eighteen-sixties" making her more a product of the time the setting
of her novel rather than the time of its writing (Narrators 104).

6 Psychological aspects of Dorothea's sexual dissatisfaction provide credence to the fear
that its assumed existence in her marriage to Casaubon will cause marital disaster.
Mildred S. Greene observes that "the 'jagged fragmentariness of the ruins Dorothea
encounters in the Vatican museum suggests her sexual frustration in marriage" ("G.
Eliot's" 27), a scenario of "repression" that "is corrected by Dorothea's sexual expression
in her second marriage to Ladislaw ("Another" 31). Ignes Sodre adds that Dorothea's
spurning of her mother's jewelry "seems to show that Dorothea's Puritanism and
contempt for her sister's femininity hide a fear that sexuality will cause a loss of control
and regression to an infant state (202).
















LIST OF REFERENCES

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Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel. New
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Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002.

Bombardieri, Marcella "3 University Chiefs Chide Summers on Remarks." Boston
Globe. 12 Feb. 2005. .

Bowers, Bege K. "George Eliot's Middlemarch and the 'Text' of the Novel of Manners."
Reading and Writing Women's Lives. Eds. Bege K. Bowers and Barbara Brothers.
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Brody, Selma. "Dorothea Brooke and Henry's James's Isabel Archer." George Eliot
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Calder, Jenni. Women and Marriage in Victorian Fiction. New York: Oxford UP, 1976.

Chase, Karen. Eros & Psyche: The Representation ofPersonality in Charlotte Bronte,
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Middlemarch. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991.

Chase, Karen and Michael Levenson. The Spectacle ofIntimacy. Princeton: Princeton
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Eliot, George. Middlemarch. Ontario: Broadview, 2004.

Feinberg, Monica L. "Scenes of Marital Life: The Middle March of Extratextual
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French, A.L. "A Note on Middlemarch." Nineteenth-Century Fiction Vol. 26 No. 3 (Dec.
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Graver, Suzanne. "Mill, Middlemarch, and Marriage." Portraits ofMarriage in
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42


Greene, Mildred S. "Another Look at Dorothea's Marriages." Literature andPsychology
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Greene, Mildred S. "G. Eliot's Middlemarch." The Explicator Vol. 42 No. 3: Spring
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Hall, Catherine. White, Male and Middleclass: Explorations in Feminisms and History.
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Hardy, Barbara. Particularities: Readings in George Eliot. Athens: Ohio UP, 1982.

Hardy, Barbara. "The Ending of Middlemarch." Narrators and Novelists: The Collected
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Hardy, Barbara. "The Miserable Marriages in Middlemarch, Anna Karenina, and Effi
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Hardy, Barbara. The Novels of George Eliot: A Study in Form. New York: Oxford UP,
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Harrison, James. "Eliot's Middlemarch." Explicator Winter 1999: 77-80.

Hirsch, Gordon. "Ardor and Shame in Middlemarch." Scenes of.\lhane: Psychoanalysis,
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Langland, Elizabeth. Nobody's Angels: Middle-Class Women and Domestic Ideology in
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Leng, Andrew. "Dorothea Brooke's 'Awakening Consciousness' and the Pre-Raphaelite
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Malthus, T. R. An Essay on the Principle ofPopulation. New York: Cambridge UP,
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Marotta, Kenny. "Middlemarch: The 'Home Epic.'" Genre Vol. XV No. 4 Winter 1982:
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McCormack, Kathleen. "Middlemarch: Dorothea's Husbands in the Vatican Museums"
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Miller, J. Hillis. "The Roar on the Other Side of Silence: Otherness in Middlemarch."
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Mitchell, Sherry L. "Saint Theresa and Dorothea Brooke: The Absent Road to Perfection
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Szirotny, June Skye. "'No Sorrow I Have Thought More About': The Tragic Failure of
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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Sarah Bleakney received her B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts

at Amherst, after which she pursued a career and studies in technical communications.

After her relocation to Jacksonville, Florida, she realized she missed the classroom and

began taking literature classes. It was there that she made three discoveries: that she still

had a facility for and enjoyment of working with literature, that technical

communications did not have the making of a lifelong career, and that the University of

Florida would allow her to pursue graduate work in her newly discovered interest in

Victorian studies. Sarah will continue on in Gainesville to pursue her Ph.D.