In the novel Middlemarch, what are the different sources of the dissatisfaction which Dorothea Brooke finds throughout the novel? Overall, is her dissatisfaction down to poor choices, or events beyond her control? The novel Middlemarch was written by a famous English novelist, and released from 1870-71, and it was set about 40 years previously, in an England on the brink of political reform. It focuses on the town of Middlemarch and primarily on the character of Dorothea Brooke an intelligent, pretty and kind young woman, who is so laden with naivety it could be seen as funny. Dorothea meets and marries a certain Mr. Casaubon, but the marriage is frowned upon by many residents of Middlemarch, and Dorothea finds it a great burden. However, Casaubon was getting on a bit and leaves Dorothea widowed before too long, and she is left with a choice, marry his cousin, whom she truly loves, but become poor. Or, remain longing for Will, and retain her inheritance.
In this essay, I will discuss and compare the many different sources of dissatisfaction that Miss Dorothea Brooke finds throughout the novel. Ultimately deciding upon whether I think that her dissatisfaction is a result of poor choices or due to events beyond her control. From the very start of the novel, the theme of the traditional feminine role plays a big part in the story. Dorothea finds it limiting, and this is one of the first things we learn about her. “For a long while, she had been oppressed by the indefiniteness which hung in her mind, like a thick summer haze, over all her desire to make her life greatly effective. What could she do, what ought she do? – she, hardly more than a budding woman, but yet with an active conscience and a great mental need, not to be satisfied with girlish instruction comparable to the nibblings of a discursive mouse.” The quote tells us about how Dorothea wishes for something more, with vast quantities of enthusiasm and willingness but no way in which to expend it.
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I think one of the keywords is girlish because it demonstrates that Dorothea sees the feminine role as almost demeaning, and immature. She finds the uncertainty regarding which direction to take her life oppressive and is at a loss. Tradition is definitely not a factor that Dorothea could control, and I sympathize with her, I don’t think I could have lived in the days when women were considered inferior and disallowed from following their dreams. I think most audiences from today find this completely outrageous. However, at the time it was considered normality, and almost every woman was forced to comply, so audiences at the time may not have seen things in the same way, they could even see Dorothea as a bit of a drama queen, creating problems for herself. I certainly believe, that the attitude in which she approached things quite negative, she should probably have just made efforts to find small ways to make a difference instead of procrastinating.
The first factor is very closely linked with that of Society and Class, Dorothea was a member of the middle-upper class, which along with it brought several expectations as to her demeanour. “A social life which seemed nothing but a labyrinth of petty courses, a walled-in maze of small paths that led nowhither…”. I think one of the keywords is petty, she sees her life as pointless, with no real value. I believe that both myself and any other audience would pity anybody who feels like this. In my opinion, life is about seizing the opportunities we are given and making the best out of the worst, but Dorothea can’t see this. I also believe that the fact the labyrinth is walled-in is of significance. It suggests that Dorothea feels trapped by society, and sees no way of escaping this.
Society and Class is not a factor which Dorothea could determine. It was decided before you were even born, a result of the behaviours of our ancestors. I think audiences at the time would have been divided, some would believe that it is selfish of Dorothea, in comparison to the majority of the population she was very privileged, yet still unhappy. However, I think that this was possibly a feeling experienced by many other people at the time. The marriage between Dorothea and Mr. Casaubon is the first in the novel, and it was certainly a controversial one. Many other characters forewarned Dorothea that it could be a poor choice, however, her defiance led her to continue with the marriage regardless of all the differences: “Mr. Casaubon apparently did not care about building cottages and diverted the talk to the extremely narrow accommodation which was to be had in the dwellings of the ancient Egyptians…”
This quote demonstrates something that becomes a familiar scenario throughout the novel, Dorothea has taken to building cottages for the poor in Middlemarch, as a way to overcome her insignificance, however, Casaubon doesn’t care and promptly returns the conversation to himself. Mr. Casaubon seems removed from the community which he is living in, being more interested in the Ancient Egyptians, I think this is a reflection of just how behind the times Casaubon is. I don’t think that Casaubon really cares about Dorothea or her interests, and this infuriates her. The marriage in my opinion is mismatched, but her defiance led her to ignore the signs, and refuse the advice of more intuitive characters. I think that this marriage is a source of dissatisfaction for Dorothea, and one which she did inflict upon herself.
The next quote which I shall look at is not exclusively referring to Dorothea, however, I think it is important to mention because, in my opinion, it is fairly significant: “We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to many enquiries say ‘Oh, nothing!’ Pride helps us, and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts – not to hurt others.” The narrator makes use of the first person plural we, and I think this is in fact possibly the most important word in the quote. It demonstrates that disappointment affects everyone, the audience, the narrator and all of the characters. I think it is supposed to demonstrate to the reader that Dorothea is not alone, it is something we all have to cope with, but some of us cope more proficiently than others.
In my opinion, one of the more foolish ways in which Dorothea copes with disappointment is blaming it on others, or factors in the past. Whilst in Rome on her honeymoon, Dorothea struggles to see the beauty in the art and the meaning of all the spirituality, and she proceeds to blame this on an inadequate education: “…fed on meagre Protestant histories and on art chiefly of the hand-screen sort…” I think that Dorothea’s inability to comprehend the wonder of Rome is due to the fact she is simply overwhelmed by it. She is looking too deep, not just accepting it at face value, and struggling to find the truth. I think the inadequate education is just Dorothea trying to protect herself, but the true reason for her disappointment is her rigidity and inability to adapt to new situations, so in a way, it is brought upon herself, and I think many readers would pick up on this.
Whilst in Rome, Dorothea again sees society as a source of dissatisfaction, describing it as “…the gentlewoman’s oppressive liberty”. Technically as a result of her class, Dorothea’s life is entirely at liberty, she is not required to have a job, and she has ample servants to fulfil her every whim. However, she believes that this liberty is in fact oppressive because everyone around her is actually limiting it with their social expectations. I think this quote really touches an audience because many people would like to believe that they follow their hearts, and do not conform for the sake of conforming. Nevertheless, it is something we all do, through no particular fault of our own, and Dorothea is no exception. I believe that this particular factor is completely beyond Dorothea’s control.
The final factor which I shall look at is the realization of reality. I believe that for a lot of the novel, Dorothea has been denying quite how negative her predicament really is, but upon her return to Middlemarch, she begins to see quite how bad things have gotten, and her emotion is described to us in this quote: “Her blooming full-pulsed youth stood there in a moral imprisonment which made itself one with the chill, colourless, narrowed landscape, with the shrunken furniture, the never-read books, and the ghostly stag in a pale fantastic world that seemed to be vanishing from the daylight.” She has realized her life is not what she wants, yet she has no way to escape from it, she is imprisoned. At the time it was impermissible to get a divorce except in extreme cases such as an affair, so really her situation wasn’t going to change. I also think that the description of the surroundings is important, the shrunken furniture and the narrowed landscape.
I think this could be an example of pathetic fallacy, her interior state, projected on the exterior world. As a reader, this is a very emotional part of the novel, we can see how miserable Dorothea’s life is, and this is the point where I began to question whether or not it was her fault. The time has arrived for me to begin to draw my conclusions. I believe that no one factor caused Dorothea’s dissatisfaction; it is definitely a multi-causal scenario. Some of the factors were brought upon herself, for example, the mismatched marriage, the denial throughout the novel, and the final realization of her predicament. On the other hand, some factors were beyond her control, for example, tradition, society and class, and the expectations of others. Overall, I believe that the majority of factors were beyond her control, however, depending on the attitude she had approached each problem with, they may not have caused disappointment as such. Her obtuse attitude just made things worse, magnifying insignificant flaws in everybody’s lives.