Where Dorothea struggles to be the perfect wife, Rosamond Vincy aspires to attain the perfect life in her efforts and schemes to win the courtship of Tertius Lydgate and propel herself into a higher class. Eliot illustrates Rosamond as a conditioned woman who knows the rules of Victorian rules backwards and forwards and exploits the loopholes her femininity creates so that a man “remaining a bachelor will usually depend on her resolution rather than on his” (Eliot 102). Wanting to distance herself from her working class upbringing, Rosamond sets her sights on Lydgate as the perfect specimen to advance her to the class she believes is owed to her.
Unfortunately for her, Lydgate does not possess the riches she needs and the two begin a bittersweet dance, where they both try (and fail) to live up to the “flattering versions of stereotyped gender expectations” (Moscovici 526). Lydgate is an idealistic man with aims to decrease Middlemarch’s dependency on drugs and focus more on a holistic approach to foster and encourage long-term recovery and not take the shortcut for the sake of the townspeople’s health, but unfortunately is unable to realize his goals and reform medical procedures as his wife distracts him in her demands to keep up with the dresses and baubles that catch her eye.
She seeks to serve him so long as he ensures that she is in possession of a comfortable means and eventually pushes their household into debt because of this. The growing resentment between the characters is temporarily stalled; however, when Rosamond becomes pregnant, giving her even less freedom to move about.
It’s through this increase in her femininity that she struggles to continue her warped adherence to the status quo.
Much like Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair, Rosamond is uncompromisable and determined to do what she wants when she wants with little to no regard for consequence. She returns to manipulating and acting out, likely due to the fact that neither she nor Lydgate truly appreciates or understands the wants and needs of the other – which is in conflict with their ardent claims that they do (Mitchell 319). This manifests best in Rosamond’s decision to go horseback riding during her pregnancy in defiance of Lydgate’s explicit orders not to do so. Naturally, Eliot uses this instance to criticize the strict adherence to the ideals of society that women must follow by punishing Rosamond with a miscarriage. As a result, the characters return to their old behaviors of miscommunication with one another, which leaves them the time and freedom to sink deeper into debt so that Rosamond can entertain her delusions of grandeur and fill the void of the missing child-that-could-have-been with more jewelry, flatware, and tapestries. Of course, when Lydgate orders Rosamond to choose possessions to return and sell so that they may stall their descent into poverty, she proceeds to employ tearful theatrics to defy him and distract him, yet again, so that she may keep everything and stall change. It’s in her marriage to Lydgate that Rosamond’s usual under-footed machinations to manipulate herself into a better life become more obvious. Furthermore, her unhappiness in her marriage leads her to retaliate outwardly and is particularly vicious when she relays to Will Ladislaw the codicil in Casaubon’s will, inciting conflict outside of her marriage so that she can be entertained and distracted from the bitterness within her own. Once that bores her, however, and reality sets back in, Rosamond’s indifference to her rising debts push her to go behind Lydgate’s back to beg for assistance from her father since Lydgate is doing a less than adequate job. It’s through her determination to sustain the lies and deceit she’s created that her reputation is put up for metaphorical auction, and their house falls prey to the scandal surrounding her husband’s proximity to the peculiarity surrounding John Raffles’s death.
Consequently, she and her husband are further encouraged to leave Middlemarch, thereby fulfilling her novel-long aspiration. Unfortunately, however, it is at the cost of their name and their financial security. The couple’s resentment carries through to Lydgate’s untimely death years and Rosamond accepts the occurrence and her eventual second marriage “as ‘a reward’…for her patience [in dealing] with Lydgate,” thus highlighting her belief that she was the sole sufferer in their marriage (Eliot 899). Much like Dorothea and Casaubon, Rosamond and Lydgate do not fully express their expectations in their marriage to one another and cling to exaggerated ideals. Because of their deference to the gender roles of the time – where the man provides and the woman obeys quietly – the two sacrifice their happiness. Here, Eliot critiques marriages built upon incompatibility, especially those where women marry men for greed and their class. Rosamond’s veiled adherence to the status quo that manifests from her selfishness leads to the irrevocable ruin of Lydgate, and the oft half-fulfilled satisfaction of Rosamond and her fleeting attention span.