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She disliked anything which reminded her that her mother’s father had been an innkeeper” (pg 101). She actively seeks to increase her social standing by marrying Lydgate, a doctor, a man of ‘good birth’. At first, Lydgate seemed to shy away from Rosamond, but she soon got her prey and enticed Lydgate into proposing to her.
Once married, Rosamond groomed herself into the model upper-middle-class lady, she played the piano, took up sketching, dressed appropriately, and read novels and poetry.
She was also obsessed with material goods; her obsession for all things expensive eventually began to break the marriage down and proved to be the demise of their relationship and lifestyle. This proves a massive difference in personalities between Dorethea and Rosamond, whilst one is driven by money, the other relinquishes of a vast amount of money for love.
But although they are very different, they are still very similar in their connection to ‘the ideal woman’.
As females, both women are expected to follow certain norms that hinder their personal objectives, material in Rosamond’s and intellectual in Dorethea’s, and although both women want to be independent, they are both dependant on the males in their lives and submit to societies expectations. The Garth family women are two very dominant characters within Middlemarch, but both very different in their view towards marriage and the women’s role within society.
Mrs Garth was a teacher before she was married, she is generous and intelligent, but adheres to the belief that women should subordinate their interests to those of men.
She is very stereotypical of a Victorian woman. In chapter 24, it can be clearly seen just how typical of society’s beliefs of women she is “Mrs Garth at certain hours was always in the kitchen, and this morning she was carrying on several occupations at once – making her pies at the well scoured deal on the table on one side of that airy room, observing Sally’s movements at the oven and dough tub through an open door, and giving lessons to her youngest boy and girl, who were standing opposite to her with their books and slates before them” (pg 244).
Whilst educating her children she shows extreme traits of a subordinate woman and seems to pay particular attention to her son rather than her daughter, in fact when her son plays up she seems to be constructive towards him but when her daughter plays up she tells her off. Mrs Garth is the model women in Middlemarch, running a happy and successful household, playing the doting and devoted wife to her husband and raising and educating her children well. Mrs Garths daughter Mary Garth is not so subordinate to the norms of society.
Mary is in fact the complete opposite of characters such as Rosamond. Mary is a very plain girl, she seems too be very sensible and useful. Mary earns her own living as a house maid for Mr Featherstone, which is acceptable in society but only due to the fact that Mr Featherstone is a relative. She is a very loyal person, Mr Featherstone is quite cruel to Mary though she stays by him and is faithful to her boss, maybe she believed she has no other choice after all, ‘home sweet home’ is ‘the suitable garnish for girls’ (pg 116).
Although Mary was very clever, having a good education from her mother and was a very loyal woman, she would still not be seen as suitable wife material for the majority of men in Middlemarch. The fact that she is very plain, works for her bread and is not the typical subordinate women means she would not be accepted. One man in Middlemarch loves Mary for the women she is, Fred Vincy. Fred fights for the attention of Mary throughout the novel but is knocked back on several occasions due to the fact that he wants to become a clergyman and fails to find himself a steady occupation.
This though is a very patriarchal view to have and could be seen as a contradiction on Mary’s behalf. She did eventually marry Fred and her condition seemed to save Fred from an unhappy entrapment in an occupation he wouldn’t have enjoyed. Their marriage was very successful unlike that of Dorethea and Casaubon and Roasamond and Lydgate, maybe this was due to the fact that they married for love and not for social stability.
Middlemarch society was very defined by the ideas of what people of each gender should do within the society, and people, especially women, who deviate from this norm are looked down upon. George Elliot herself lived a very radical life, but this is not really portrayed in any of the characters in Middlemarch. She began writing this novel in 1869, but her writing was based on English life in the 1830’s. “From the 1860’s, however, more direct pressure in the form of the women’s movement had been gathering strength.
A series of campaigns to extend women’s rights and opportunities, led by a notable group of middle-class feminists, produced debates and legislation on prostitution, women’s education, divorce, property rights, and the suffer age” (Harrison 1990, pg 169). You would think that George Elliot living in such a radical time and lived a radical life would have included more powerful or non subordinate women into her novel. Maybe she was trying to write true to the time the novel was set in?
The novel is riddled with patriarchy from dominant males controlling society and the lives of their wives, to women working as house maids and marrying for money and status. George Elliot does seems to look at the way in which women lived in a middle class patriarchal society but she does not deal with the ‘women question’ as it effects the rest of society outside of Middlemarch or even the middle class’s. Although in the eyes of today’s readers, the women in Middlemarch may not seem very radical, the complex story lines and relationships within the novel were very unconventional for the time in which they were written in.
Nineteenth century women writers were generally confined to writing about conventional romance, which is why Mary Anne Evans wrote under the name of George Elliot. Surely this is the biggest key to just how much George Elliot or Mary Anne Evans concerned herself with the ‘women question’, the sheer fact that was willing to conform to male dominance in society and change her name must mean that she was not as radically feminists as allot of critics like to believe.
Bibliography Elliot, G (1994) Middlemarch, London: Penguin Books Harrison, J (2002) Late Victorian Britain 1875 – 1901, New York: Routledge Marsden, G (1990) Victorian Values, Essex: Longman Group Ltd Nead, L (1988) Myths of Sexuality, Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd Peck, J (1992) Middlemarch Contemporary Critical Essays, London: Macmillan Education Ltd Thompson (1999) Victorian Women Writers and the Women Question, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.