Real Life: Opinions: Middlemarch: But Will They Be Happy?

Article excerpt

GEORGE ELIOT: "{Dorothea} . . . never repented that she had given up position and fortune to marry Will Ladislaw, and he would have held it the greatest shame as well as sorrow to him if she had repented. They were bound to each other by a love stronger than any impulses which could have marred it."

CLARE FRANCIS, yachtswoman and novelist: People feel that George Eliot sold out, don't they? Eliot sets herself an insoluble dilemma: Dorothea could have done more. I wanted her to get the money into a trust before she married Ladislaw, to find some way around that punitive will. But perhaps she was really an ineffectual person, or at least needed a driving force to give her visions shape. Maybe Ladislaw was perfect for her. (Lydgate was too cerebral.) But I only hope she was allowed to have opinions.

CLAIRE TOMALIN, literary critic: I don't think you can think about literature like that. George Eliot's version was that they were happy, and I think we have to trust that. But there were things Dorothea could have done. George Eliot was saying that most people's lives do have private effects, and that we shouldn't expect them to have more than private effects.

MALCOLM BRADBURY, professor and novelist: Middlemarch is the classic novel of compromise - think about the name itself - and Eliot's work was always about the little things being more important than big things. Casaubon represents the idea of being able to unlock all knowledge, but Dorothea sees his failure. By marrying Ladislaw she does have to give up certain dreams but he is going to be an MP, working at the smaller things. Will won't pursue enormous reforms but he will do good. Allegorically, Dorothea's marriage to Will represents the truth she's found.

HILARY MANTEL, novelist: No. I don't think Dorothea had a great capacity for happiness.

JOHN SMITH, museum curator at Stamford (aka Middlemarch): The question misses the whole point of the book: it is not about whether Dorothea and Ladislaw are happy or not. …