George Eliots Middlemarch is a novel embroidered by social relations, marriages, gender roles and a plain perspective on the Victorian society. Adopting a feminist perspective, Eliot aims at putting forth some matters of gender roles within the time

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                                         George Eliot’s Middlemarch

George Eliot’s Middlemarch is a novel embroidered by social relations, marriages, gender roles and a plain perspective on the Victorian society. Adopting a feminist perspective, Eliot aims at putting forth some matters of gender roles within the time and she successfully portrays the state of the society with her complex characters and marriages full of frustration and disappointment. At this stage it would be suitable to analyze the novel from a feminist point of view and to take a closer look at the characters and social relations revealed in the novel. Some of the major themes stated in the novel can be considered as disillusion, gender roles and frustrated love relations and marriages especially with the marriages of some major characters such as Dorothea, Casaubon, Lydgate and Rosamond. Through the details which Eliot uses to portray her characters it becomes possible to deeply analyze the themes mentioned above.

Taking a closer look at the novel, it would be suitable to take a closer look at some major characters such as Dorothea.  She draws the character of a young lady who is idealist and who stands against the patriarchal law of the Victorian society. She is hungry for knowledge and believes that she can do more in the world other than being just a simple and ordinary woman which the Victorian society asks her to be. As stated in Middlemarch:

And how should Dorothy not marry? - a girl so handsome and with such prospects? Noting could hinder it but her love of extremes, and her insistence on regulating life according to notions which might cause a wary man to hesitate before he made her an offer, or even might lead her at last to reuse all offers. (7)

The portrait of Dorothea draws a contrary Picture of the classical Victorian woman who is limited in receiving a proper education and whose major goal is to marry a rich gentleman. As stated in the novel, “Women were expected to have weak opinions (7)”. T.R. Wright comments on Dorothea's character in his book titled George Eliot’s Middlemarch saying:

Dorothea is portrayed as perpetually battling against limitations in her education, refusing to be satisfied with fashion, embroidery and a girlish instruction comparable to the nibbling and judgments of a discursive Mouse and insisting on a wider focus for her energies than village charities and the occasional Perusal of Female scripture Characters.(75)  

Despite Dorothea’s rebellious character there is also a feminine side of her which makes Eliot draw similarities between Saint Theresa and Dorothea in the Prelude. The similarity between Saint Theresa and Dorothy comes from Dorothea's learned Notion of self-sacrifice, which is imposed on her by the society which she lives in. Despite being a rebellious woman, Dorothea inevitably carries the traces of the society she lives in and adopts a Notion of self –sacrifice in her marriage. Dorothea, thinking that it is a virtue, sacrifices herself for her husband Casaubon, who is far from showing her any sort of affection. Dorothea, being an emotional woman and seeking fort his in her marriage, continually acts in accordance to please her husband and shows absolute loyalty to him, despite her emotional needs are not fulfilled. At the beginning of the novel, Dorothea refers to Casaubon as “a scholar” and she admires his knowledge.  She starts to learn Latin and Greek to be able to help her husband in his business. It appears to the reader that she does this under the virtuous act of “being able to help her husband”, which is again related to the theme of self-sacrifice. However, deep within herself, she is unaware that she names it as the desire to help her husband due to the society she lives in, while in reality she does it to gain more knowledge.  Unaware of her own desire Dorothea feels glad for doing something that would lift the spirits of her marriage and that would be of great help to her husband. The act of self-sacrifice is present in Dorothea’s many actions throughout the novel, but it comes plainly to the surface when she begs Lydgate to tell her the reason of Casaubon’s disease.  Dorothea blames herself for his illness for not being able to take care of her husband in proper terms. Drawing parallel lines between Saint Theresa and Dorothea’s self-sacrificing act, Masako Hirai, in his book titled, Sisters in Literature-Female Sexuality in Antigone, Middlemarch, Howards End and Women in Love, states:

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By comparing Dorothea’s feelings and error, her faith and illusion with those of Saint Theresa, and by pointing to the gap between their ages, Eliot weaves the pattern of a continuous, emotive history against a social background which makes imperfections less heroic. This leads her to change the meaning of sacrifice itself. (75)

        The theme in disillusion is thus directly related to Dorothea’s Notion of self-sacrifice, since she fools herself in to thinking that she wants to marry and devote herself to a man who has knowledge and wisdom. Thinking that this would be the quality that would make ...

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