Wretchedness in MIDDLEMARCH

Self loves the word “wretched.” One of her UCLA Extension students used it in a writing assignment, and she thinks it is probably becoming one of her favorite words. It says so much, “wretched” does.


She’s on p. 666 of Middlemarch. Poor Lydgate. Poor, poor Lydgate. He is riding home to his cold wife, Rosamond. She is the fairest woman in all Middlemarch, everyone considered it quite a feather in his cap when he married her, but after only a very short time, they have proved to be disappointments to each other. The cause of this disappointment and estrangement is money. Rather, the lack of it. The awful degradation of destitution. Apparently, it’s an awful humiliation. At least, it is to Rosamond.

Lydgate, after seeing a patient, returns home in a very miserable state of mind. His wife doesn’t even bother getting up to greet him, just lies on the bed, pale and still. And what does the poor man do?

He goes up to her and says, “Forgive me for this misery, my poor Rosamond! Let us only love one another.”

His wife looks at him silently, “blank despair” on her face. Finally, she tells Lydgate she will return to her parents.

“Do you object?” she asks her husband.

“Do as you like,” he replies.

She tells him she will not leave immediately. “I shall want to pack my clothes,” she says. “I won’t go till tomorrow.”

And that is all.

Lynne Sharon Schwartz: The Introduction to MIDDLEMARCH

Self avoided reading the Introduction to MIDDLEMARCH (The Barnes & Noble Classics edition) until she got to p. 649. Because she wanted to come to her own conclusions about the characters and their fates (less than 200 pages to go!)

But now, self thinks it is safe. That is, her feelings and responses are firmly established and she will not easily be confused or swayed by reading someone else’s opinion.

Schwartz’s Introduction is a long one. But self is most struck by what she writes in her third paragraph:

Its twin supporting pillars are the protagonists, Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate, each one as ardently ambitious as the author, each with an abundance of energy and a longing to do good in the world. Each is unhappily — in fact, wretchedly — married, each thwarted by chance and circumstance, but above all by the flaws of character that circumstance mercilessly elicits and nourishes. For all that, Dorothea and Lydgate are far from identical. Their differences are as acute as their personalities. Lydgate, the eager young doctor of progressive principles, enjoys the professional and social opportunities open to an educated, well-connected man. Dorothea, through her wealth and position, endures what Eliot calls the “gentlewoman’s oppressive liberty,” in 1829 a narrow field of operation indeed — the liberty to do nothing. Despite rigid local opposition, Lydgate can steer his energies into specific goals. Dorothea is afflicted by a “moral imprisonment,” “where everything was done for her and none asked for her aid.” Against that oppressive emptiness, her only weapons are her yearnings, her emotions, her high moral standards. With few practical means to achieve her vague ends, such assets can verge on the absurd.

To all of which self can only say: YES! YOU GO, LYNNE SHARON SCHWARTZ!

Stay tuned.

Our Dear Miss Dorothea Brooke: “Surely I am in a Strangely Weak Selfish State of Mind” (MIDDLEMARCH, p. 81)

The visit to her betrothed’s estate brings up a strange restlessness in Miss Dorothea Brooke. While dressing for her first public engagement as the fiancĂ©e of the pompous (ass) Mr. Casaubon, Dorothea asks herself the million-dollar question:

How can I have a husband who is so much above me without knowing that he needs me less than I need him?

This intelligent, passionate woman then proceeds to tie her thinking up in knots, thus:

Having convinced herself that Mr. Casaubon was altogether right, she recovered her equanimity, and was an agreeable image of serene dignity when she came into the drawing-room in her silver-gray dress — the simple lines of her dark-brown hair parted over her brow and coiled massively behind, in keeping with the entire absence from her manner and expression of all search after mere effect. Sometimes when Dorothea was in company, there seemed to be as complete an air of repose about her as if she had been a picture of Santa Barbara looking out from her tower into the clear air; but these intervals of quietude made the energy of her speech and emotion the more remarked when some outward appeal had touched her.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

That Fateful Moment When It All Comes Crashing Down: MIDDLEMARCH, p. 72

The old dotard Casaubon (HOW, self asks, how does one pronounce that simply ridiculous name?) has taken his future bride, Dorothea, to his rather meager estate (Remember Dorothea turned down a proposal from a young and attractive baronet, Sir James Chattam, in order to assert her preference for the much older and much sillier Casaubon). In the distance, they espy a figure, that of a young man lost in thought, wandering around with a sketchbook.

Dear blog readers, when a young man appears, attached to the estate of the much older man, and this older man is a silly and benighted person, who is bringing his young future bride for a first glimpse of his new home, there is only one way this can go down: Think Tennessee Williams. Faster than self can say “Desire Under the Elms,” Dorothea and her betrothed approach (What really clinches the deal is that the young man is toting around a sketchbook. Artists are crrrrazy. Crrrrazy attractive. Just ask the Bronte sisters)

Here is what transpires:

The young man had laid down his sketch-book and risen. His bushy light-brown curls (Think of Samson in the Old Testament! The appeal of the hair!), as well as his youthfulness, identified him at once . . .

“Dorothea, let me introduce to you my cousin, Mr. Ladislaw. Will, this is Miss Brooke.” (And what person can withstand a young man named Will? Certainly not self, who just this year fell in love with Will Herondale from Cassandra Clare’s Victorian Steampunk trilogy, The Infernal Devices!)

The cousin was so close now that, when he lifted his hat, Dorothea could see a pair of gray eyes rather near together, a delicate irregular nose (like Tom Hiddleston’s? The guy who plays Loki in those Thor movies?) with a little ripple in it (like Owen Wilson’s?), and hair falling backward . . . Young Ladislaw did not think it necessary to smile, as if he were charmed to this introduction to his future second cousin and her relatives, but wore rather a pouting air of discontent. (Heathcliff! Oh where art thou, Heathcliff!)

“You are an artist, I see . . . “

And self will pause here. Right here. So she can drive dear blog readers crazy with anticipation.

Stay tuned.

Ah, Middlemarch! Dorothea and Sir James Chattam, pp. 65 – 66

Self’s reading list is in complete disarray as the end of 2015 approaches.

It’s taken her an average of three months to get through one book.

She doesn’t have the slightest idea how to get through the behemoth of George Eliot’s Middlemarch. But every time she resumes reading, all she can think about is:


STUPID STUPID DOROTHEA! Believing she can have a happy marriage with someone three decades older than her, just because he quotes extensively from books! While there’s a perfectly attractive young baronet named Sir James Chattam who has fallen in love with her and proposed!

If self could, she would sprinkle emojis all over this post, such is her chagrin over early developments in this novel!

But even after Dorothea has turned down his proposal, Sir James is such a good sport that he maintains his friendship with Dorothea, and the most unlikely thing happens: a real friendship. Here’s how author George Eliot describes it:

Hence it happened that in the good baronet’s succeeding visits, while he was beginning to pay small attentions to Celia (Dorothea’s younger and much less bookish sister), he found himself talking with more and more pleasure to Dorothea. She was perfectly unconstrained and without irritation towards him now, and he was gradually discovering the delight there is in frank kindness and companionship between a man and a woman who have no passion to hide or confess.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Quote of the Day: MIDDLEMARCH, Book I, Chapter II (“Miss Brooke”)

From Middlemarch, by George Eliot:

“You admire a man with the complexion of a cochon de laite.”

— Dorothea to her sister Celia, about Mr. Brooke, who over dinner announced “I cannot let young ladies meddle with my documents. Young ladies are too flighty.”

(According to the Barnes & Noble edition self is reading, Cochon de laite is French for “suckling pig.”)

Privately, Celia thinks:

Learned men “must be dreadful to live with. Only think! At breakfast and always.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

ERAGON, p. 8

  • BUT WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH THE STONE? Eragon asks himself.

Whatever you do, boy, do not leave it in the forest.

It’s like that moment in The Matrix when Morpheus holds out the pills to Neo.

Well, Neo, which one do you pick? Which? (Of course we know what he is going to pick. Otherwise, END OF STORY)

Still, self fusses at Eragon like he wouldn’t know any better: Do not leave that stone on the ground, Eragon, do you hear me? DO NOT!

Of course Eragon is going to keep the stone. He’s fifteen, for crying out loud. Teen-agers never stop to consider consequences.

It’s simply ridiculous the way self gets into these books. Her reading material this year has veered widely from history (The Third Reich at War) to Mark Twain (Journey to the Equator) to The Infernal Devices to The 100 to Harold Jacobson’s The Act of Love to Eragon.

She also finds it amazing that every single teen-ager whose home she has had the privilege to share in the past year has shown her shelf after shelf of actual books.

Hey, weren’t we told in some distant past that the internet would destroy the printed book forevermore? Render printed matter (like newspapers) obsolete?

The people self sees with Kindles are all middle-aged. She hasn’t seen a single teen-ager with a Kindle. And neither has she met a single teen-ager who reads novels on their cell phones.

It is only self who madly scrutinizes her cell when there are at least three people ahead of her in line. What is she reading? Fan fiction of course, lol.

And then the reluctance of these teen-agers when she asks to bring one of their books to her room. Promise you won’t read them while you’re eating! They’re hardcover and, you know, PRICELESS.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

2nd Quote of the Day: 3rd Wednesday of August 2015

Self is back to reading Howard Jacobson’s novel, The Act of Love.

Oh, the places this book has traveled!

When she really likes a book, she cannot stand to finish it.

She’s on p. 247, when she encounters this fabulous sentence:

All the men in our family my father’s age had themselves whipped as a matter of course.

After self reads that fabulous sentence, she simply can’t stand to read anymore, so many FEELZ to process, so instead she turns to the books she has lined up to read after she finishes The Act of Love:

  • George Eliot’s Middlemarch
  • Leon Werth’s 33 Days, translated from the French by Austin D. Johnston
  • Richard Norton Taylor’s The New Spymasters: Inside Espionage From the Cold War to Global Terror
  • three books by Ruth Rendell (British mystery writer, one of self’s favorites. She passed away May this year): A Judgment in Stone, Tree of Hands, and A Sight for Sore Eyes

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Quote of the Day: 3rd Wednesday of August 2015

I don’t think writers are much smarter than other people. I think they’re more compelling in their stupidity.

— David Foster Wallace, quoted by Anthony Lane in his review of James Ponsoldt’s film about Wallace, in The New Yorker August 10 & 17, 2015

Self has never read David Foster Wallace. She resolves to add Infinite Jest and Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

Stay tuned.

Misery and Terror: Also Reading The Third Reich at War, by Richard J. Evans

Thank God for The Infernal Devices, that is all self can say.

If not for those books, she’d be stuck reading her way through The Third Reich at War, by Richard J. Evans.

Imagine going through London with those miserable pictures in her head: the German soldiers, at least some of them, kept diaries. And Evans is nothing if not painstaking as he sifts through each individual soldier’s journals, picking out passages that highlight the emotion.

Most of the time, what the German soldiers/diarists felt when they looked at the slowly starving, slowly dying Jewish population in the Occupied Territories was terror.

It is 1939. For months, the Jews have been confined to the ghettos, isolated and starved. The German soldiers look at the lines, hundreds of people long, full of resigned, awful, starving faces.

When they see a man fall over — which happens quite often — well, it’s all right, because these people are animals. Just look at them! Dressed in sacks and rags! And look at the children, wailing non-stop! The dehumanization is the only thing that can stave off the soldiers’ terror.

Terror is in itself dehumanizing. So the soldiers are as dehumanized as the objects of their contemplation.

Naturally, they hate being put in that position. Hate, hate, hate it.

Now and then, an occasional soldier will write something like: “The wretchedness of the children brought a lump to my throat.”

But, in the next breath: “I clenched my teeth.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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