Friday, December 4, 2009

The Start: TOK & Middlemarch

My first entry on my first blog!!! Gulp. Now I have to think of things to say! Important and deep things. But until that happens...

Everyone has been recommending I have a focus for this blog! So I thought I'd start out with feminism. I'm a feminist. But what the hell does that mean? For me, for someone else, to the world in general? And is it necessary? Was it at one time, and not now? Does it send the wrong message? Do I hate men? (I do not hate men. At all.)
I have always been interested in feminism. In school, all my essays, no matter what the topic assigned, turned into feminist essays. Sometimes I wouldn't even realize it till half way. But I never felt like I was repeating the same thing. It's such a flexible word and idea. I find I have so much to say, or to think, on the subject, that I might even be able to fill a blog.

So that (MY version of feminism, as well as feminism in general) will be my focus, for now; it might mutate, but at this moment it looks promising. An issue however with something so damn VAGUE and AMBIGUOUS is that I might be tempted to be either to complicated or too simple in my discussions. It's just a word! I might think one day. Why am I writing a blog about it? They could just look it up in the dictionary!!!!! Another day I might think, what the hell did I get myself into? Hundreds of books has been written on this shit subject!!!! How can I cover this or even pretend to have something new to say?
HOWEVER I happen to have taken the class TOK, Theory of Knowledge. And for the subject of one of my essays for that class, I chose '“Seek Simplicity, and distrust it” (Alfred North Whitehead). Is this always good advice for a knower?'. This is a strand of thought for me that dates back to when I first started thinking. I will include the essay here. In brief, however, I will try not to measure my remarks in terms of simplicity OR complexity. I will ignore that issue completely. Ah. I feel better already.
After my TOK essay, I will also include my first full-fledged essay on WHAT THE HELL feminism is anyway, specifically provincial feminism: "How Dissappointing is Middlemarch, Really? A Study of Provincial Feminism". The book I study with this feminist lens is "Middlemarch" by George Eliot.

Here is the text of this amazing masterpiece provided by Project Gutenberg:

I worked on it the summer between my junior and senior year at highschool for the IB (International Baccalaureate) Program. I ended up dropping out in the middle of senior year :( so no credit for this essay now exists! Haha but it was worth it and it is totally awesome READ it.

Here is my TOK essay (both to get things rolling, but it will also give you real/imaginary readers a picture of me and the way I think, to find out whether you like it or not):

[Jo Bingo]

TOK Essay Fall Term

Word Count: 1595

Essay Title #4

“Seek Simplicity, and distrust it” (Alfred North Whitehead). Is this always good advice for a knower?

The quest for knowledge focuses on ease of comprehension in order to encompass more data; however, this must be balanced against the probability of over generalization, confusion, and prejudice. Whitehead’s “Seek simplicity, and distrust it” is excellent advice in that it naturally encourages a methodical, scrupulous approach towards the ability to differentiate truth from function, the tangible from the conceptual. Taxonomy, logic, and discipline can be considered as three modes of knowing that have deviated from the truth in at least specific instances due to the attractiveness of simplicity.

The debate and general mayhem over the scientific classifications of the various species of sea horses speaks towards the irrelevancy of mere simplicity as a way of knowing, or a way of understanding the varied and simple aspects of sea horses, at least. For instance, a scientific name H. histrix is generally erroneously associated with spiky sea horses and H. kuda with smooth (1), and many supposed “new” species are “discovered” because known seahorses had the ability change color and grow skin filaments (2); also there has been in past scientific study of seahorses, a dependency on photographic sources, which easily allowed the overall obvious similar appearances to override the subtle, yet significant differences (3). This shows that the scientific method can be (and has been, at least in this circumstance) haphazardly applied in order to achieve a cohesive result – however the true result, is the very real lack of knowledge as to the life span of a sea horse (except in captivity), a lack of certainty as to species population, and communication ambiguities in the scientific community. However I will boil down the issue to an even narrower focus to make my point clear: the most well known fact concerning sea horses is the ability to become pregnant is solely the male’s, unlike any other animal. The supposed “ignorant masses” here chides that the male should then be called the female; the scientific community chastises that, as what they call the female still produces eggs and the male, sperm, and furthermore that the males still compete to attract a female mate, that the scientific nomenclature is correct (4). However the philosopher following Whitehead’s advice would recognize that it is the “simple,” black-and-white concept of male and female classifications being separate entities that is at fault, not the sea horses. The reason why the male sea horses would seem to fall under both categories and thus uproot the fundamentals of our understanding, is because the original, “simple” premise that something must be either female or male is – not necessarily wrong – but dangerous to get comfortable with.

Though music is not a formal or entirely accepted way of knowing, it is a medium through which each individual can and often reapplies their method of learning to all ways of knowing. I have personally experienced a controversy in music, which lives on due to simplicity of argument. I attended Rocky Mountain fiddle camp for four years, in which I often heard the idea of “classical music” disparaged, the phrase of condemnation most often used being “it’s just notes on a page.” These critics themselves were proponents of good, “simple,” absorbing of fiddle tunes by ear and in jam sessions. I do not disbelieve in such simplicity – my quarrels are with their argument that the apparent complexity of classical music is a negative, that all that rise from it are stuffy repressed bores who have no imagination and thus must read from “notes on a page” and require the participation of an entire orchestra to produce repetitive patterns without vitality. This is due to their ignorance – in the first stance, that classical music does not always arise in the form of an orchestra, does not require “notes on a page,” and can even be done ad lib – in the second, that just because the classical set up may seem complex to the ignorant eye, reality that it seeks simplicity as do all disciplines which teach a mode of putting form and quality to talent and “language,” and that it, too, is seeking simplicity along with the rest of mankind, despite its great diversity. There is more to it than just Mozart, just as there is more to a cello (my instrument) than an hourglass shape, and yet they are all designed more or less to the Greek Golden Mean of simplicity of relationships. I may have set such differences of opinion to the fact that I and the fiddlers generally came from different cultural backgrounds, in that they came from the west coast of America and I from the east – however I know that, too, to be an over-simplification and not the real origin of our differences. Following Whitehead’s advice, I may surmise that this select group of fiddlers are so saturated in the enjoyment of their congenial simplistic ideal of a “tune” to be tweaked by anybody and made personal, that they do not consider that such an ideal, just as social and alive, could exist in another form. The same is true, I am sorry to say, for certain proponents of classical music and their intolerance for rap. Just as classical music should not be judged on poorly executed Mozart by a group of uncommitted, uniformed individuals, so to cannot rap be judged by the everyday Tom, Dick, or Harry which claims he can carry a meter, and institutes everyday pornographic tendencies as his subject matter.

I realized that as far as logic was concerned, its syllogisms and most of its other methods serve only to explain to someone else that which one already knows, or even... to speak foolishly of things one does not know, rather than to actually learn anything”(5): Descartes here expresses the opinion that logic, in attempting to teach the ignorant how to phrase their simplicity of instinct in the process of comprehension, is in fact too complicated to hold worth. However again Descartes along with the rest of the world is dabbling in the mistake of confusing complexity (which may simply be due to a lack of study) with that which is incorrect. However, Descartes, the founder of analytic geometry, is write in the sense that logic, even by those who understand its inner functions and rules completely, can be misapplied due to an inherent bias which was not addressed fundamentally by logic’s inner workings in the first place. I have seen this in Introductory Logic of the Mars Hill textbook series from which I studied in eighth grade when home schooled. It was first-rate in that it defined such logical rules as the law of excluded middle, which states that any statement is either true or false; however it was designed by and for evangelical parents who wanted to safeguard their children from the hellfire of public schools through home schooling. Thus it taught that such statements as “The Bible is the Word of God” as true and the sentence “God does not exist” not even the dignity of being a false statement, but rather a nonsense, non-statement (6)! The authors sought to teach the simplicity of logic but forgoed distrusting it and the result was a biased lesson in the guise of absolute undeniable truth! Putting aside the ipse dixit component of my argument (Descartes said it, and one textbook made a similar mistake, so it must be true) for the moment, let us consider a definition inherent in logic: a tautology, which is a statement which is undeniably true by virtue of its logical structure. Would that not mean, that it defines logic no longer as an approach to truth but truth itself? Though the tautologies “A seahorse is either male, or it is not” and “Classical music is either better than fiddling music, or it is not” may seem solid and undefeatable statements, logic, despite its apparent egotism in believing its rules to be the only guide necessary to approach truth, must be questioned throughout its use, “distrusted” if you will, in order for it to be useful.

When I considered how many different opinions there had been about the same subject put forward by learned men, whereas only one of them could have been correct, I considered that anything which was only probable was as good as false. . . .” (7): as Descartes wrote in his Discourse on Method in 1637, the very variety of the human condition contaminates the multitude of possible truths which exist because they make the reasons for choosing one truth as the only truth are too potentially complex, with a high probability for error. This was honorable in that he, in inventing analytical geometry through deduction, was seeking simplicity in order to increase his confidence in his competence, and to decrease the amount of superfluous leaps of reasoning for no apparent reason that would be necessary if he were given a pile of scattered data and prevented from categorizing it. However there is much merit to the idea, that simplicity, though often efficient and dependable, is not the end all be all; just as scientists are not all meticulous, classical music does not immediately indicate stuffy bores who hate rap and can’t fiddle because their soul has been drained away by discipline, and logic is not synonymous with winning an argument. Simplicity must be taken at face value, as an approach to knowing, and knowing more comprehensively, and thus must be doubted along with everything else a knower comes across – it is a tool, not a postulate.


(1) Project Seahorse. Biology of a Sea Horse.

(2) Project Seahorse. Seahorse Taxonomy. Copies of Lourie, Vincent and Hall (1999), Seahorses: an identification guide to the world's species and their conservation

(3) Project Seahorse. Frequently asked questions about seahorses.

(4) Science in Africa. Merck. Male Pregnancy: seahorse style!. Jim Morel.

(5) René Descartes: Discourse on Method. Reading About the World, third edition, Vol. 1, ISBN 0-15-56725-0. Harcourt Brace College Publishing:

(6) Mars Hill, Third Edition. Introductory Logic. Wilson, Douglas. Canon Press: Idaho (pg 7, 8)

(7) Ibid. (5) Descartes: Discourse on Method

As to the difference between the male and female seahorse, here is the stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan's HILARIOUS take THAT. (One of my all-time favorite guys!)

Here is my Middlemarch essay.

[Jo Bingo]

Advisor: -------

Group 1 Category 1

How Disappointing is Middlemarch, Really?

A Study of Provincial Feminism

WordCount: 3989

Contents Page

Title Page....................1

Contents Page.............2



Works Cited Page......17


This essay focuses on the controversy surrounding Middlemarch’s emphasis on the ambiguous nature of womanhood. Modern critical opinion, influenced by the rhetoric of compromise and failure surrounding the main character Dorothea, is inclined to categorize the novel as anti-feminist; however, this essay seeks to refute such ideas and promote instead the concept of George Eliot possessing her own idiosyncratic prefeminism. This analysis intends to rediscover George Eliot’s original viewpoint through a study of her method and technique in exposing and explaining a stilted society and its impotent women. The minor characters and events, Sir James, Celia, and a portion of Lydgate’s past, embody both the “masculine” shallowness, the antithesis of a “feminine” indeterminate nature, and the self-imposed boundaries in their thoughts’ methodology, arising from their “provincial” love of tranquility. The sole sibling relationship, the closest non-consummation interaction between the sexes possible in this society, reflects the possibility of commonality between the two; the disintegration of Fred and Rosamond’s bond is an indication that their “traditional Victorian” atmosphere does not allow human cerebral relationships to thrive. Rosamond, Dorothea, and Mary, the three major feminine roles, can thus be studied in terms of George Eliot’s presentation in their level of coherent thought despite appearances, degree of significance, and choice for and in marriage; in short, questioning the presence of stereotype. The problem with how women’s lives were measured was that their success or failure needed to be parallel with a certain archetype; George Eliot is attempting to liberate her reader from that handicap. By the end of Middlemarch, Dorothea is not a failure but has become independent of success. In conclusion, it is important to acknowledge that George Eliot was both a feminist and a realist.

“Since I can do no good because a woman,

Reach constantly at something that is near it."

— The Maid’s Tragedy : BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER, (Eliot 1)

In this opening quote lies both the premise and the controversy of George Eliot’s masterpiece, Middlemarch: The Study of a Provincial Life. Though the author was initially suspected of having ambitious claims of Woman’s capacity to function, modern times have brought an increasingly bleak critical opinion of her feminist ambition. Though the intricacies of the novel’s five hundred seventy-eight pages and its overwhelming number of highly developed characters will be permanently praised for successfully contributing to a holistic and cohesive extended metaphor, George Eliot’s deliberately sustained position on the indeterminate and compromising nature of womanhood, along with the rhetoric of failure, induces many to classify that “Study” as a tragedy. Its narrator’s tenacious belief in the Victorian woman’s ambiguous nature, using repeatedly such questionable words as “ardent” and “indefinite,” suggests a feminist viewpoint, which I believe to have been George Eliot’s. First, this analysis will demonstrate the shallow barriers constraining nineteenth-century women which are often found in the minor players Sir James, Celia, and Laure, and second, it will explore the ever-changing definitions of success and failure among the characters in more complex situations, the three largest feminine roles, Rosamund, Dorothea, and Mary. This essay seeks to refute the popular modern approach to analyzing George Eliot’s peculiar breed of proto-feminism and discover that original viewpoint through a study of George Eliot's method and technique in exposing and explaining a society and its impotent women.

The simplicity of Sir James Chettam's character is demonstrated in the plainness of his thoughts and the simplicity with which he perceives other characters. Notably, his belief in marriage as a cure for virgin eccentricity: “ As to the excessive religiousness alleged against Miss Brooke, he had a very indefinite notion of what it consisted in, and thought that it would die out with marriage." (Eliot 12) Sir James seeks tranquility through a rendition of the chivalric code, old fashioned, but functional for his limited needs:

"It was wicked to let a young girl blindly decide her fate in that way, without any effort to save her. [...] his heart was satisfied with his engagement to Celia. But he had a chivalrous nature (was not the disinterested service of woman among the ideal glories of old chivalry ?) [...] He could remain her brotherly friend, interpreting her actions with generous trustfulness." (Eliot 197)

The verb 'save' represents in Sir James his truism: that women need guidance. 'Satisfied' suggests that Sir James' approach, even in choosing his life partner, is casual and deliberate. These mental boundaries are self-imposed. Sir James is not the main character, nor would he have it that way: "He[...] had the rare merit of knowing that his talents, even if let loose, would not set the smallest stream in the county on fire” (Eliot 12). For him, passion of epic life is neither desirable, suitable, or practical. Lastly, Sir James' reliance on 'old chivalry' represents his implicit dependence and respect for a prescribed, archaic, and traditional code of behavior; innovation, which would be essential for the progression of the state of Victorian womanhood, is repugnant. According to George Eliot, Sir James, the individual, is not harmful. However, his love of equilibrium forces a two-dimensionality in women like Dorothea and men like Will, who are open enough with their passions and struggles to feel ambiguous, who ask the question of themselves, "Who am I?"

One character who never asks but knows the answer to these expansive questions is Celia Brooke. As yet another of George Eliot’s shallow but human characters, Celia thinks in absolutes: “She was seldom taken by surprise in this way, her marvelous quickness in observing a certain order of signs generally preparing her to expect such outward events as she had interest in.” (Eliot 30) Significantly, ‘outward’ ensures the reader does not confuse Celia’s astuteness with the ability to absorb the abstract. Far from the caricature this description could present, Celia is aware that her tendency toward consistency has its own practicality: “‘Many things are true which only the commonest minds observe’/ ‘Then I think the commonest minds must be rather useful.’” (Eliot 31) Thus Celia interprets Dorothea’s outwardly impractical engagements to first, an old and second, a poor man as Dorothea liking discomfort. Despite Dorothea’s correction, early on, that “if that were true [...] my giving up would be self-indulgence, not self-mortification”(10), Celia’s conviction in the unequivocal persists. Direct tangible comparisons only are within her reach: “And then it is all so different from what you have always been. You would have Mr Casaubon because he had such a great soul, and was so old and dismal and learned ; and now, to think of marrying Mr Ladislaw, who has got no estate or anything. I suppose it is because you must be making yourself uncomfortable in some way or other.” (Eliot 566) Celia feels there can be only one opinion: Dorothea must have married both times out of similar ascetic denial. Living with Casaubon and Ladislaw demanded effort, whereas living at the Chettams was safe, stable, and amicable. Celia could see nothing wanting. As to the irrelevancy of asceticsm or anything resembling it, Celia felt that, having gone through the motions of being a Christian, she had neglected no duty. Her belief in consistency and the finite was, therefore, satisfied. Celia’s penchant for avoiding discomfiture, as even a “yoked creature”(Eliot 7), sensing inferiority to Dorothea, materializes through quiet judgements rather than rebellious independence. She is aware of her “feminine” inferiorities and “common” mind but recognizes her right to function.

Critics tend to ignore Lydgate’s interlude with Laure, perhaps considering it a literary mistake. Rather than being an oddity, the qualities that distinguish this section of the novel of Middlemarch merit special attention. Not only does Lydgate’s “impetuous folly” take place outside the namesake of the title, it also takes place in the past of a strange newcomer. Firstly, George Eliot’s writing style with regard to subject matter, genre, and word choice becomes decidedly novelistic. The change in writing style suggests a self conscious and abrupt break in the pattern she had actively established:

“Lydgate was in love with this actress [...]. She was [...] with [...] rounded majestic form having that sort of beauty which carries a sweet matronliness even in youth, and her voice was as soft cooing. [...] Lydgate's only relaxation now was to go and look at this woman, just as he might have thrown himself under the breath of the sweet south on a bank of violets for a while, without prejudice to his galvanism, to which he would presently return. [...]. At the moment when the heroine was to act the stabbing of her lover, and he was to fall gracefully, the wife veritably stabbed her husband, who fell as death willed. A wild shriek pierced the house, and the Provencale fell swooning.” (Eliot 103-104)

In terms of word choice, dramatic, cliched, and even forced words and phrases occur such as ‘actress’, ‘in love’, ‘majestic’, ‘cooing’, ‘breath of the sweet south’, ‘bank of violets’, ‘drama’, ‘catastrophe’, ‘stabbing’, ‘lover’, ‘death’, ‘wild shriek’, and ‘swooning’. This blatant repetition and over-emoting are deliberately reminiscent of the penny-dreadfuls of the era. The overused plot of the voluptuous actress thrown into bloody misfortune by means of “lady-like weakness” presents Lydgate’s view that women are a pastime for diversion from galvanism: “Lydgate, who felt that all science had come to a stand-still while he imagined the unhappy Laure” (Eliot 104) This demonstrates Lydgate’s inability to sustain focus on scientific inquiry and the female sex simultaneously. Lydgate splits reason and feeling, finding it inappropriate for women to calculate: “‘I did not plan : it came to me in the play — I meant to do it.’ Lydgate stood mute, [...]. He saw this woman — the first to whom he had given his young adoration — amid the throng of stupid criminals.” (Eliot 105) In Lydgate we find the extreme of self-imposed limitations - disappointing in a man of his potential. He fences himself in with romantic yet simplistic preconceptions about women: hence the quick transition with which he moves her from the “usual quietude which seemed to him beautiful as clear depths of water” (Eliot 104), to a member “amid the throng of stupid criminals” (Eliot 105). Her reasoning for her actions diverged too far from his fantasies and definition of womanhood.

Before we can understand the conventional theoretical ‘woman’, as expressed through Lydgate, she needs to be assessed through a brother’s as well as a lover’s eyes. Fred and Rosamond represent the optimal example of the relationship between the sexes sans romantic attachment. They present the opportunity to judge how the commonality of character progresses between two people brought up in the same traditional Victorian household:

“Really, Fred, I wish you would leave off playing the flute. A man looks very silly playing the flute. And you play so out of tune.’ ‘When next any one makes love to you, Miss Rosamond, I will tell him how obliging you are.’”(Eliot 70)

Fred and Rosamond are imitating their parents’ and their respective schools’ old ideas. Their light generalizations appear harmless. As Rosamond begins to be courted and Fred begins to court, they are often seen incidentally in the same company but their interaction is limited to light hearted condemnations of each other. Their platitudes increase in severity as they continue their banter in public and discontinue all other subject matter. Whilst they live under the same roof, Rosamond clings to the facade of closeness throughout Fred’s illness primarily to appropriate closeness to Dr. Lydgate; Fred’s thoughts are absorbed by his failing courtship and self pity. Eventually, through Rosamond’s marriage and Fred’s priority changes in anticipation of his future wife, their fraternal intimacy is lost and the loss is not mourned: “Fred and Rosamond had little to say to each other now that marriage had removed her from collision with the unpleasantness of brothers.” (Eliot 414) There was no need or interest in maintaining the ties of siblings now that each had been influenced divergently by their significant others. In traditionalist Middlemarch, sibling relationships represented nonsexual interactive potential. Through focusing on the “unpleasantness of brothers” Rosamond indirectly prepares herself to have nothing in common with her husband.

Why might George Eliot include a female character like Rosamond, seemingly shallow and selfish? Despite her egocentricity, and besides the limitations in her education obviously causing some of her manipulativeness, Rosamond retains a human and strategic sequence in her actions. She is not one to trust in unknowns, to ignore the missing variables her husband left which were the causes for his castigations and commands. She had no experience with mysterious imperatives and followed a rule of behavior that reflected her husband’s: if he were to regulate her without consultation then she might do the same: “But Rosamond went home with a sense of justified repugnance towards her husband. What had he really done — how had he really acted ? She did not know. Why had he not told her everything? He did not speak to her on the subject, and of course she could not speak to him.” (Eliot 522) George Eliot is clearly stating here that Rosamond did not put herself in this situation nor does she deserve it. Rosamond’s decision-making may rarely be motivated by virtue but is always endowed with a sense of logic. Rosamond is no less a thinking, deliberating woman for having a “swan neck”, egocentric tendencies, and a limited scope and world view:

“She was oppressed by ennui, and by that dissatisfaction which in women's minds is continually turning into a trivial jealousy, referring to no real claims, springing from no deeper passion than the vague exactingness of egoism, and yet capable of impelling action as well as speech. There really is nothing to care for much, said poor Rosamond inwardly, [...] that perhaps Tertius when he came home would tease her about expenses. She had already secretly disobeyed him by asking her father to help them, and he had ended decisively by saying, ‘I am more likely to want help myself.’” (Eliot 415)

Here Eliot indicates that even women that conform to the vixen stereotype don’t get there on their own. Rosamond is not only reacting as an animal would to pain but also as a thinking person would to an uncomfortable situation. Women found themselves in that position from a sequence of human reactions to the pressures of isolation for which their upbringing and learned faculties left them ill-prepared.

Similarly, Dorothea is no more an angel than Rosamond is a demon. Dorothea, despite being chosen by her narrator as the moral constant within Middlemarch, is malleable in form as the various plots progress, both in her roles and in her name. This correlation is causal, rather than accidental, and reflective of the inner workings of Middlemarch society that George Eliot chose to study; thus, Eliot's pseudo-feminist heroine's mutability indicates a hidden statement concerning the possibilities of a "heroine" in the chosen setting. Dorothea, not by her own design, explores all the possible respectable options provided her as a lady. As the novel evolves, she is single, a sister, courted, a jilter, a wife, a mourning widow, an active widow, a married widow, and a mother. Her names more or less correspond with this shifting sequence: Dodo, Dorothea, Ms. Brooke, Mrs. Casaubon, and Mrs. Ladislaw. Dorothea provides George Eliot with the convenient opportunity to critique all permissible roles and the inherent limitations for Victorian gentlewomen. In addition, George Eliot means to redefine the concept of the Victorian woman, too often defined by an assigned role or an inherited name from the closest connected male, by leaving no road left untraveled for Dorothea. Therefore, as Dorothea constantly changes shape in the eyes of the Middlemarchers, the woman remains the same character throughout. She retains that piece of her not connected to her surname or her duties. This was a conviction Dorothea held to herself, however quietly, despite the townspeople: When Mrs. Cadwallader chattered after Dorothea's husband Casaubon had died, "You will certainly go mad in that house alone, my dear. ...but think what a bore you might become yourself to your fellow-creatures if you were always playing tragedy queen and taking things sublimely" (Eliot 371), "Dorothea wished to acknowledge that she had not the less an active life before her because she had buried a private joy." (Eliot 545). Her "man" being dead did not make her less of a woman, and it need not encroach upon her sanity.

It is important to note that George Eliot stresses Dorothea’s failures; however, Dorothea and George Eliot are nonetheless feminist. Dorothea’s disposition demanded an epic life but, considering the impediment of Middlemarch itself, she was prevented from realizing this goal. George Eliot is attempting to redefine success. By Middlemarch’s conclusion Dorothea is independent of success, content with helping others in small ways. The problem with how women’s lives were measured was that they needed to parallel a certain archetype:

“Theresa's passionate, ideal nature demanded an epic life [...] Many Theresas have been born who found for themselves no epic life [...]; perhaps only a life of mistakes [...] With dim lights and tangled circumstance they tried to shape their thought and deed in noble agreement ; but after all, to common eyes their struggles seemed mere inconsistency and formlessness ; for these later-born Theresas were helped by no coherent social faith and order which could perform the function of knowledge for the ardently willing soul. Their ardour alternated between a vague ideal and the common yearning of womanhood”. (Eliot xiii)

In George Eliot’s mind, rather than measuring against St. Theresa’s life works, Dorothea should be measured against St. Theresa’s potential. St. Teresa was a figure of agency. Dorothea is a character both of agency and of compromise. St. Teresa’s vehicle and channel for her actions was God; Dorothea’s corresponding motivational guide is ‘sympathy’. She is not the most sensitive in the beginning but she gradually forms a practical approach to aiding those around her, rather than focusing on unachievable lofty ideals:

“A new Theresa will hardly have the opportunity of reforming a conventual life, [...]: the medium in which [her] ardent deeds took shape is for ever gone. But we insignificant people with our daily words and acts are preparing the lives of many Dorotheas, [...] But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive : for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts ; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” (Eliot 577-578)

The St. Theresa paradigm serves as an important yardstick from which the reader becomes weaned, as evidenced by the ease of authoritative transition from “Theresas” to “Dorotheas” in the book’s close: Dorothea becomes her own paradigm, has found her own identity. By the conclusion, George Eliot articulates glorification of the mundane. The word choice of ‘diffusive’, ‘unhistoric’ and the plurality of ‘Theresas’ and ‘Dorotheas’ indicate the summation of the everyday as significant, as heroic to the individual. George Eliot is more the feminist because she has the insight to make the imperfect heroine. George Eliot lays things out as they are; she wrote “Middlemarch” to promote the understanding of real issues and real women.

Victorian society was not open to widows remarrying; the choice to remarry was viewed as selfish and even vulgar, indicating disloyalty beyond the grave. In Dorothea’s case, a second marriage was generally viewed as unnecessary, as she had a competent income left her, and no prospects of nobility - “blood, beauty, and bravery” (Eliot 379) - making an appearance. There were certainly no incentives as to connection or fortune. “‘ would have to feel with me, else you would never know’” (Eliot 567): Dorothea’s frank usage of the verb “feel” and avoiding explanation suggests her association between marriage and love. She emphasizes the subtleties and private nature entailed by that association.

Many who knew her, thought it a pity that so substantive and rare a creature should have been absorbed into the life of another, and be only known in a certain circle as a wife and mother. But no one stated exactly what else that was in her power she ought rather to have done — not even Sir James Chettam, who went no further than the negative prescription that she ought not to have married Will Ladislaw.” (Eliot 576):

The backward logic of ‘negative prescription’ indicates that not only is George Eliot specifically relaying the opinions of Middlemarchers en masse but also that society held the concepts of marriage and choice separate. This backwardness is the characters’ point of view, not that of the narrator. The current critical conception ironically coincides with that of the Middlemarchers: she rushed into it as an escape from idleness, Will is unworthy; critics overlook her statement of fondness for Will (Eliot 566), her complete lack of idleness during her entire widowhood, and Eliot’s intentional emphasis in only speaking meanly of Will through the most provincial and conventional Middlemarchers’ empty accusations: “Nobody thinks Ladislaw a proper husband for you” (Eliot 566). Dorothea’s choice of second husband should not be coupled with her fate. That Sir James and Celia disapprove of Will Ladislaw as a choice does not mean that Will is of an inferior mind. He is subtle, understanding, is conversational and attentive to Dorothea, and treats her with the respect and affection appropriate in a husband. Dorothea sees this in Will and therefore views him as distinct from the concept that Middlemarchers hold of second marriage. The second marriage is a separate issue from Dorothea’s failure; it is not a part of her resume or career. They are the only young couple in Middlemarch that actually discuss with each other matters of substance other than Fred and Mary Garth.

Many critics condemn Dorothea’s “unfeminist” choice for matrimony. The question often posed is: why didn’t George Eliot construct her heroine more like herself? A more fitting question is why George Eliot did not make those characters like her the protagonist? Mary Garth shares much with her author: their first names, “Mary” and “Mary Anne,” a father whose career was an estate agent, and country living. Mary Anne Evans did not leave her father until his death. Mary Garth similarly avoided work as a governess so she might live at home. Mary Garth, like George Eliot, is a published writer - “Mary wrote a little book [...] ' Stories of Great Men, taken from Plutarch,' and had it printed and published” (Eliot 573). It was thought by the Middlemarchers to have been written by Fred, just as George Eliot’s pseudonym presented her works as those of a man. They were both considered plain, yet did not attract fewer men. Yet Mary Garth is left out of the main plots because she combines sensibility, judgement, and maturity that aids her in avoiding dramatic situations between her two suitors. Dorothea’s less mature or “channeled” mind was, doubtless, because unfamiliar, more compelling. Middlemarch is really meant to herald the unheralded, visit the “unvisited” (Eliot 578): a sympathetic portrait of passion without coherent focus. There was no need for George Eliot to imbue Dorothea with her own qualities: qualities of decision, career, and success. First, George Eliot only gained independence because her father left her a modest income, allowing her to leave the country to the liberal environment of town. Second, George Eliot’s opportunities were not available in the historical setting of the novel. Third, it would have been detrimental to her thesis to study women in Victorian society who felt a sense of purpose:

“these blundering lives are due to the [...] indefiniteness with which the Supreme Power has fashioned the natures of women: if there were one level of feminine incompetence as strict as the ability to count three and no more, the social lot of women might be treated with scientific certitude. Meanwhile the indefiniteness remains, and the limits of variation are really much wider than any one would imagine from the sameness of women's coiffure and the favourite love-stories in prose and verse.” (Eliot xiv)

George Eliot wished to study without “scientific certitude” but with sympathetic and undeniable accuracy life’s “sameness” for women like Dorothea.

It is important to acknowledge that George Eliot was both a feminist and a realist. Caricatures and satire never touch her work, but neither do models of future feminist hopes, goddesses of power. The prescriptive and inspiring angle to feminism in fiction has nothing to do with George Eliot. Her men and women enter into a range of degrees of understanding. Some are more capable of maturation by others. All are either hindered or assisted, for right or wrong, by conventional moral codes upheld by that Provincial Society, in which Eliot explodes a highly detailed criticism of the interaction of the sexes. There is a growing rhetoric among modern critics that George Eliot is “pleading” for women’s case; it would be more insightful to write that she is describing and analyzing women’s case. George Eliot encourages sensitivity towards the humane and helpful qualities of limited, diffusive, and decisive Victorian women alike. Her depiction is independent of circumstance, decision, and fate, solely in terms of the inner workings of their minds. So perhaps one can ask, with hope for an answer in the negative: “How Disappointing is Middlemarch, really?”

Works Cited

Allingham, Philip V. “George Eliot, 1857-1876: A Biographical Introduction.” The Victorian Web. 18 Feb 2001. 5 Aug. 2008 []

Austen, Zelda. “Why Feminist Critics Are Angry with George Eliot.” College English <>

Blake, Kathleen. “Middlemarch and the Woman Question.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction <>

Eliot, George. Middlemarch. Norton Critical ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1977

Fernando, Lloyd. “Special Pleading and Art in ‘Middlemarch’: The Relations between the Sexes.” The Modern Language Review <>

George Eliot: A Biography. “From Mary Anne Evans to George Eliot.” 1991. University of Virginia Library. 5 Aug. 2008 []

Matus, Jill L. “Saint Teresa, Hysteria, and Middlemarch.” Journal of the History of Sexuality <>

Patrick, Anne E. “Rosamond Rescued: George Eliot’s Critique of Sexism in “Middlemarch.” The Journal of Religion. Vol. 67. No. 2. Women and Religion. April 1987: 220-238. JSTOR. 3 Aug. 2008 <>

Pearce, T. S. George Eliot. Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1973

“Saint of the Week- Episode 1: Teresa of Avila.” 1 Nov. 2007. YouTube. Empressive Productions. Aug 7 2008. <>

Yeazell, Ruth. “Fictional Heroines and Feminist Critics.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction Vol. 8, No. 1, Autumn 1974: 29-38. JSTOR. 4 Aug. 2008 <>

Ok, so this is my first post. Ta-da! Looking forward to the future :)


  1. Joseph Conrad is not my favorite writer by a long shot, but I must quote him after reading your blog on women's health- the horror, the horror. I bookmarked your blog. Love, Aunt Peg