Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Middlemarch: Martyrs to Circumstances

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Middlemarch: Martyrs to Circumstances

Article excerpt

Abstract

Middlemarch is a web of positive and negative reconciliations in political, social, marital and personal spheres of life. In teaching the novel, students' responses to the social, moral and psychological problems, which are encountered, should be focused on. With this purpose, short papers to be discussed in class should be assigned to students. For the protagonists the descent from lofty ambition to mundane realities is inevitable because of the discrepancy between the grandeur of their aspirations and the meanness of opportunity, which causes them to modify or abandon their goals.Dorothea, Lydgate and Ladislaw represent a wish to live by values higher than the values of Middlemarch. They seek to serve humanity through common sympathy, science and art. Dorothea and Lydgate end up submitting to the narrow-minded egoism of Casaubon and Rosamond respectively, as well as the prejudices of the Middlemarchers. Ladislaw's love for Dorothea leads him to his involvement in Reform and to abdicating his artistic preoccupations.

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Middlemarch offers itself as the history of a community, evolving slowly, usually unconsciously, and of the various people whose hopes and ambitions are interrelated, and whose growth requires that they abdicate youthful romance and idealism, and accept the limits life imposes (Thomas 49). Hence, while teaching the novel, it is necessary to draw students' attention to the moral, social and psychological problems the text involves. The omniscient narrator's psychological shrewdness and awareness allows him/her to unravel the webs enmeshing all human endeavour. The mistakes and misjudgements by which human beings frustrate their ambitions are exposed relentlessly. Bound by their illusions, the characters engage in faulty alliances, speculations, anticipations. Circumstances act as one more obstacle to the fulfilment of their dreams. As in many other novels of George Eliot, real greatness is reduced to mediocrity by the compulsion of an unfavourable environment. The narrator asserts that 'there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it' (896). Middlemarch is the work of a realist. It contains a compromise. Eliot avoids Dickens's escapism through fantasy, but she also resists a Thackerayan pessimism. Her idealism checks her realism. She assumes the pose of a novelist-historian, like Fielding, and uses the epic as an ironic correlative for actions which are unheroic. It is an epic which mourns the impossibility of an epic life for its characters owing to the collision between the characters' ideals and circumstances.

In Middlemarch the irony of events constantly thwarts all aspirations and produces effects exactly the opposite to those anticipated by the characters. Aspiration is one of the major causes of the conflict between the individual and society. The characters on which our attention is focused in the novel seek more than the kind of life Middlemarch offers; consequently, as the Prelude to the novel warns us, for the protagonists the descent from lofty ambition to mundane realities is inevitable. They will have to modify or abandon their goals because of the discrepancy between their 'spiritual grandeur' and the 'meanness of opportunity' (25). In fact, the growth of the characters is connected with their acceptance of the limits that life imposes and compromising with their environment (Chase 72). The narrow provincial life challenges their aspirations, resists all change and distrusts all that is foreign. Consequently, the teacher should concentrate on the main theme, which is the conflict between individual and society and the causes of the conflict. With this purpose, students should be assigned short papers addressing key elements of the text; such as, the weak and strong aspects of the characters; their aspirations, the moral conflicts they face in trying to actualise them; and the responses of the characters to the internal and external constraints. …

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