The Sunday Salon: Middlemarch, Book IV (Three Love Problems)

I’m now about halfway through George Eliot’s Middlemarch, and a fine Victorian novel it is.  This weekend was originally the scheduled date for Team Middlemarch discussion, but various events required dovegreyreader to defer discussion until late August.  Well, I know all about life interfering with reading plans, so that’s no problem, but I figured I’d better set down a few thoughts on Book IV now, before it’s a distant memory.

I was intrigued by the title of this book — Three Love Problems — and hoped for a bit of high romance.  That’s not what I found, but I still enjoyed the interwoven tales of Eliot’s varied characters.  The book opens with Featherstone’s funeral, and the reading of his will.  There were surprises right off the bat as we learned of a distant relative, and poor Fred Vincy did not come into the inheritance he’d hoped for.  This is all the more tragic, since we know Featherstone destroyed another version of his will just before his death, a version which might have been of greater benefit to Fred.  Not only does Fred now have to choose a profession (shock! horror!  working for a living!), but his diminished prospects could also affect his sister Rosamond’s prospects for marriage.  However, she remains steadfastly committed to Tertius Lydgate, and they accelerate their marriage plans.

Meanwhile, Casaubon is becoming increasingly grumpy with Dorothea.  He blames her for the arrival of his cousin, Will Ladislaw, when in truth Dorothea’s uncle, Mr. Brooke, invited him.  Will’s attraction to Dorothea is obvious to all but her, and Casaubon can hardly contain his jealousy.  Dorothea is blissfully unaware, and advocates for Will to inherit Casaubon’s wealth.  You can imagine how that went over.  Meanwhile, Casaubon asks Lydgate to give him the straight story about his health, which did nothing to improve his mood.  Things are quite strained in the Casaubon household these days.

I’m finding it useful to consult Spark Notes at the end of each book.  This is partly because of the group read’s slow pace. I read about a chapter a week, 10 chapters in all, and by the time I finished some of the early details had slipped my mind.  Also, Eliot explores a number of social issues, which the Spark Notes explain very well:  the dependence of women on men, the rise of industrialization, the rise of the middle class.  Reading up on these topics has provided much more insight to what Eliot was trying to do with this novel.

Book V, The Dead Hand, is about the same length as Book IV.  I will probably hold off on starting it until after the Book IV Team Middlemarch discussion so as not to get too far ahead of the group.  For the curious, here are my impressions of the earlier parts of this book:


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3 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Middlemarch, Book IV (Three Love Problems)

  1. The character of Casaubon is brilliantly drawn – without spoiling whats to come, you’ll find his relationship with Dorothea gets even more strained but no matter how horrible we think he is, Eliot manages to get us to feel some sympathy for this man who lives his life in the darkness. As you’re reading it, look out for the ways Eliot uses gossip to advance the narrative – she had this idea when she wrote the novel of showing how everyone’s lives are inter-connected so an action by one affects others.

    • Karen, those are interesting observations about Casaubon because I already find him sympathetic. And I’ll be on the lookout for gossip (there’s certainly been some already), and how it moves the story along. Thanks for the tip!

      • Middlemarch was on the last Open University course I did so I got to know it very well. There are so many layers of meaning its a novel that I think I could easily read it several times over and still find new aspects

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