Middlemarch, Books V-VIII
George Eliot
Novels
18:39 h
Level 9
Middlemarch, A Study of Provincial Life is a novel by the English author Mary Anne Evans, who wrote as George Eliot. It first appeared in eight instalments (volumes) in 1871 and 1872. Set in Middlemarch, a fictional English Midland town, in 1829 to 1832, it follows distinct, intersecting stories with many characters. Issues include the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism, self-interest, religion, hypocrisy, political reform, and education. Despite comic elements, Middlemarch uses realism to encompass historical events: the 1832 Reform Act, early railways, and the accession of King William IV. It looks at medicine of the time and reactionary views in a settled community facing unwelcome change. Eliot began writing the two pieces that formed the novel in 1869–1870 and completed it in 1871. Initial reviews were mixed, but it is now seen widely as her best work and one of the great English novels.

Middlemarch

by
George Eliot


Book V.
The Dead Hand

Chapter XLIII

“This figure hath high price: ’t was wrought with love
Ages ago in finest ivory;
Nought modish in it, pure and noble lines
Of generous womanhood that fits all time
That too is costly ware; majolica
Of deft design, to please a lordly eye:
The smile, you see, is perfect — wonderful
As mere Faience! a table ornament
To suit the richest mounting.”

Dorothea seldom left home without her husband, but she did occasionally drive into Middlemarch alone, on little errands of shopping or charity such as occur to every lady of any wealth when she lives within three miles of a town. Two days after that scene in the Yew-tree Walk, she determined to use such an opportunity in order if possible to see Lydgate, and learn from him whether her husband had really felt any depressing change of symptoms which he was concealing from her, and whether he had insisted on knowing the utmost about himself. She felt almost guilty in asking for knowledge about him from another, but the dread of being without it — the dread of that ignorance which would make her unjust or hard — overcame every scruple. That there had been some crisis in her husband’s mind she was certain: he had the very next day begun a new method of arranging his notes, and had associated her quite newly in carrying out his plan. Poor Dorothea needed to lay up stores of patience.

It was about four o’clock when she drove to Lydgate’s house in Lowick Gate, wishing, in her immediate doubt of finding him at home, that she had written beforehand. And he was not at home.

“Is Mrs. Lydgate at home?” said Dorothea, who had never, that she knew of, seen Rosamond, but now remembered the fact of the marriage. Yes, Mrs. Lydgate was at home.

“I will go in and speak to her, if she will allow me. Will you ask her if she can see me — see Mrs. Casaubon, for a few minutes?”

When the servant had gone to deliver that message, Dorothea could hear sounds of music through an open window — a few notes from a man’s voice and then a piano bursting into roulades. But the roulades broke off suddenly, and then the servant came back saying that Mrs. Lydgate would be happy to see Mrs. Casaubon.

When the drawing-room door opened and Dorothea entered, there was a sort of contrast not infrequent in country life when the habits of the different ranks were less blent than now. Let those who know, tell us exactly what stuff it was that Dorothea wore in those days of mild autumn — that thin white woollen stuff soft to the touch and soft to the eye. It always seemed to have been lately washed, and to smell of the sweet hedges — was always in the shape of a pelisse with sleeves hanging all out of the fashion. Yet if she had entered before a still audience as Imogene or Cato’s daughter, the dress might have seemed right enough: the grace and dignity were in her limbs and neck; and about her simply parted hair and candid eyes the large round poke which was then in the fate of women, seemed no more odd as a head-dress than the gold trencher we call a halo. By the present audience of two persons, no dramatic heroine could have been expected with more interest than Mrs. Casaubon. To Rosamond she was one of those county divinities not mixing with Middlemarch mortality, whose slightest marks of manner or appearance were worthy of her study; moreover, Rosamond was not without satisfaction that Mrs. Casaubon should have an opportunity of studying her. What is the use of being exquisite if you are not seen by the best judges? and since Rosamond had received the highest compliments at Sir Godwin Lydgate’s, she felt quite confident of the impression she must make on people of good birth. Dorothea put out her hand with her usual simple kindness, and looked admiringly at Lydgate’s lovely bride — aware that there was a gentleman standing at a distance, but seeing him merely as a coated figure at a wide angle. The gentleman was too much occupied with the presence of the one woman to reflect on the contrast between the two — a contrast that would certainly have been striking to a calm observer. They were both tall, and their eyes were on a level; but imagine Rosamond’s infantine blondness and wondrous crown of hair-plaits, with her pale-blue dress of a fit and fashion so perfect that no dressmaker could look at it without emotion, a large embroidered collar which it was to be hoped all beholders would know the price of, her small hands duly set off with rings, and that controlled self-consciousness of manner which is the expensive substitute for simplicity.

“Thank you very much for allowing me to interrupt you,” said Dorothea, immediately. “I am anxious to see Mr. Lydgate, if possible, before I go home, and I hoped that you might possibly tell me where I could find him, or even allow me to wait for him, if you expect him soon.”

“He is at the New Hospital,” said Rosamond; “I am not sure how soon he will come home. But I can send for him.”

“Will you let me go and fetch him?” said Will Ladislaw, coming forward. He had already taken up his hat before Dorothea entered. She colored with surprise, but put out her hand with a smile of unmistakable pleasure, saying —

“I did not know it was you: I had no thought of seeing you here.”

“May I go to the Hospital and tell Mr. Lydgate that you wish to see him?” said Will.

“It would be quicker to send the carriage for him,” said Dorothea, “if you will be kind enough to give the message to the coachman.”

Will was moving to the door when Dorothea, whose mind had flashed in an instant over many connected memories, turned quickly and said, “I will go myself, thank you. I wish to lose no time before getting home again. I will drive to the Hospital and see Mr. Lydgate there. Pray excuse me, Mrs. Lydgate. I am very much obliged to you.”