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    Main themes in George Eliot's novels

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    This entry explains how the characters in Ms. George Eliot's Middlemarch mirror others in the novels Silas Marner, and Mill on the Floss, which she also wrote. Understanding of this entry requires a student to already have some background on Silas Marner and Mill on the Floss. It was specifically written for students who are holistically studying the work of author George Eliot.

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    The complex characters and plots of George Eliot novels all make for interesting reads and challenge readers to think more seriously about choices in love, their personal ambitions and deepest inhibitions. The three mentioned in this excerpt are Middlemarch, Silas Marner, and Mill on the Floss. We only briefly touch on these three novels to explain how the character traits of our protagonists parallel each other, but nevertheless, the piece is still valuable.

    Ms. George Eliot, Mary Ann (Marian) Evans, intricately weaved several underlying themes in Middlemarch, like love, duty and jealousy. Getting married is "almost" every girl's dream, but the novel questions people's reasons for justifying marriage and explains what can happen when those reasons involve selfish pursuit. What's interesting about this novel, in particular, is that the main female characters marry for what we call "all of the wrong reasons:"
    -Social Status

    But is there really anything wrong with marrying for reasons other than love? Money may not be able to buy love, but Eliot proves that it does bring happiness in many ways. We see this with Silas Marner (the main character of Ms. Eliot's Silas Marner novel) who is framed and then robbed of his wealth, which is later returned. We also see this in Rosamund Vincy from Middlemarch, who initially marries for money, but later faces hardship and embarrassment when her husband, Tertius Lydgate, isn't able to maintain their lavish lifestyle. Lydgate has tons of bad debt owed to well-to-do individuals in his community, but when he's later relieved of having to pay anything back, things begin to work out between the two, and they live happily ever after. Of course Lydgate has a few other issues to deal with like his cases with Nicholas Bulstrode and John Raffles, and the fact that Ms. Vincy's parents think he's a fraud, but they do manage to overcome the odds and prove that their marriage might certainly last. Dorthea Brooke, doesn't marry for money, but for prestige. After finding out that her much older husband might soon pass away, and the details of his will, she is forced to make brash decisions about life and love. Certainly love after death is a possibility since she is so young, but money matters too. This lesson teaches readers that having to choose between newfound love and a place to live can all have an emotional bearing on a person, and can definitely play a key role in one's happiness.

    The theme of duty also appears in Middlemarch. Why Dorthea Brooke feels that it is her "duty" to save the world is not apparent. Sure she grows up with the expectation of reliving the life of Saint Theresa, but her actions almost always seem forced and seldom genuine. She's so disingenuous that she even fools herself into believing that she does not have desires. She doesn't seem be enjoying life, but doesn't come to this realization until she meets a young cousin (Will Ladislaw—also from Middlemarch) of her husband, Edward Casaubon, who is suddenly able to breathe life into her. I guess her excuse for living such a dull life and dedicating herself to the work of her husband until his death is recompense for sufferings in the afterlife. Dorothea Brooke kind of seems to be a phony character who gets herself into more trouble than she has bargained for. She marries Casaubon with the intention of gaining love, but it is apparent from her descriptions of love that she has no clue what she is getting herself into. It is not until after she is married to Casaubon for a while that she realizes that her "savior" is extremely vindictive, unfeeling, and only out for himself.

    Rosamond Vincy is also a character who lets duty take over her life. It is not that she doesn't genuinely love Lydgate, but he has put her in a position where she has to choose between her marriage and her family. She does not want to be bound for life to someone who does not know how to handle financial responsibility, but she also desperately wants to prove everyone wrong about her loyalty to Lydgate. This devotion is fuelled by selfish desire, and contingent upon whether her efforts will allow her to keep her prestigious place in society, but she ultimately stands her ground and doesn't abandon duty. She defends Lydgate to her parents during a brash of arguments, but never completely loses site of her responsibility to be a good wife.

    In addition to duty, jealousy also makes its presence known in the novel. Although Celia Brooke doesn't seem to be jealous of the fact that her sister is "holier" than her and even more beautiful than her, she is a little disgruntled that she can't win her sister's approval on anything. This could possibly be why she does not want Dorothea to remarry with Will Ladislaw upon the passing of Casaubon. If Dorothea were to remarry, that would mean that she might possibly be able to have children, which would ultimately eliminate the possibility that Celia's offspring would inherit anything from their parents' estate. Dorthea is originally slated to marry a neighbor, Sir James Chettam, but after choosing Casaubon, Celia instead pursues him and wins the estate for the "family," as originally planned. If that isn't duty, and an act of jealousy, I don't know what is.

    It's apparent that Mr. Casaubon also reeks of jealously when he decides to create a ridiculous will that forbids Dorthea from marrying Mr. Ladislaw. If she does follow through with the act, she will have to forfeit all of the property and financial gains that were acquired during their marriage. It can be assumed that the demands that Casaubon makes in his will are cruel, but who wouldn't make that decision if they suspected that their spouse were cheating, and was only hanging around because of ulterior motives. Ultimately, Casaubon gets the last laugh even in death. Dorthea is miserable with him, and truly miserable without him for a while because she has to choose between maintaining her fortune and continuing Casaubon's work, or experiencing true love with Ladislaw. Duty rears its ugly head here again with the decision to initially hold off on remarrying Ladislaw because Dorthea would have then also been depriving herself of real happiness, but things work themselves out and she begins to value love over duty.

    There is so much that could be said about Middlemarch. In addition to the aforementioned themes, it seems that George Eliot was very fond of animals. If she weren't, she wouldn't have compared humans to them so much. Just as Maggie Tulliver (from Mill on the Floss) is likened to horses and other animals, Dorothea Brooke also has a tendency to compare her sister, Celia, to several animals, but mainly calls her kitten. The development of pet names is characteristic to Eliot's writing, so much that every main character seems to have a pet names lavishly poured on them by loved ones. This attribute makes her stories realistic, but one has to acknowledge that it can be overbearing at times, and seem like she's trying too hard.

    Trying too hard rears its ugly head again when Eliot tries to make the reader sympathize with Mr. Rev. Edward Casaubon because he is such a hideous character, but the descriptors that she uses to define him don't compare to those of Silas Marner or Mill on the Floss' Phillip Wakem. Unlike Wakem or Marner, Mr. Casaubon seems to have an evil quality, and deep dark secrets that loom over him like lava boiling in a dormant volcano that's just waiting to explode.

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