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Woman Question in Middle March

Woman Question in Middle March

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Published by Tathagata Dutta

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Published by: Tathagata Dutta on May 25, 2009
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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06/10/2013

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THE WOMAN QUESTION in MIDDLEMARCH
 By the way,The works of women are symbolical,We sew, sew, prick our fingers, dull our sight, Producing what? A pair of slippers, sir To put on when you’re weary…Or else at best, a cushion, where you lean And sleep, and dream of something we are not  But would be for your sake. Alas, Alas!
(Aurora Leigh: Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
In 1855 she wrote a sympathetic essay
‘Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft’ 
thatanticipates the concerns she takes up in
 Middlemarch’ 
: women’s natures, their need for work,men’s presumption of superiority and its destructive consequences. Eliot says of Fuller, “
 some of thebest things she says are on the folly of absolute definitions of woman's nature and absolutedemarcations of woman's mission”
. She quotes Fuller 
: “I think women need, especially at this juncture, a much greater range of occupation than they have, to rouse their latent powers”
if theyare to avoid
the ennui that haunts grown women.”
George Eliot sets her novel nearly 40 years before the period in which it is written. This period in which she grew to adulthood was one that saw an increasing number of studies of the
 
condition of women, some of which had outcome in action. The state of legislation, about propertyrights and about divorce, held women in a state of dependency. This was completed by their lack of education, which leads to their economic dependence on the home either of husband or father. In
‘Felix Holt’ 
, and even more in
‘Daniel Deronda’ 
, she continuously explores the condition of women, apparently at ease, living privileged lives, and yet atrophied by their condition of slavery.Mrs. Transome, Mrs. Glasher and Gwendolen all share this imagery. Thus she is able to explore aseries of connections and analogies between present and past. In one sense, the whole period of growth of the women’s movement is excluded from the novel. In another, as narrative discourse andas reader’s retrospect, it becomes the matter of the novel’s irony and of melancholy idealism.
‘Middlemarch’ 
begins and ends with Dorothea. Even in its revised state the
‘Finale’ 
stillcompletes the theme launched in the
‘Prelude’ 
. That theme concerns what may be called the
“Saint Theresa syndrome”
, the state of a soul that aspires to epic life but finds no channel for 
“far-resonant action”
, and so achieves only a blundering life, its aspirations
“dispersed among hindrances”
. Thisfate is specifically feminine. The
‘Prelude’ 
concerns itself with
“the natures of women”
. The ardor that appears extravagant because its object is so vague alternates with the
“common yearning of womanhood”.
If she tries to take her stand anywhere but at the level that defines her by sex, whichEliot hardly recommends, calling it a
‘lapse’ 
, a woman's character becomes liable to the oddcondition of 
“indefiniteness
”.
 
Upper-middle and upper class Victorian women were expected to
“marry money”,
stay hometo raise the family, and be responsible for the management of domestic affairs. On the other hand,Dorothea Brooke is an intelligent and independent young woman; she yearns to be more than her society would allow her to be. While other Victorian ladies worried about fashion and marriage, sheconcerns herself with issues of philosophy, spirituality, and service. Eliot points out Dorothea'sgenuine beauty while describing her physical appearance by emphasizing the plainness of Dorothea'sclothing, alluding to paintings of the Virgin Mary to describe her, thereby accentuating her dignityand purity. Because Dorothea does not concern herself with fashion, most people in Middlemarch perceive her to be odd. Eliot mocks the social norm by praising the purity of the young and
"inexperienced 
" Miss Brooke.Dorothea finds it hard to distinguish between love and learning: this problem that bears particularly hard on women. The mentor-pupil relationship in its male-female form presents the manas teacher and the women as pupil. The pattern traditionally extends across intellectually and sexualexperience. Men teach women sexually and intellectually. To Dorothea, passion and knowledge areidentified. She seeks to know more than her meager education has so far allowed her, and thereby todo more than her society designates as appropriate to her. Casaubon does not represent a way out, asthe power of intellectual synthesis does not guarantee emotional power or sexual feeling. On theother hand, the attraction to Will grows through the play of spirit and learning between them: theyteach each other. He frees her from desiring martyrdom; she gives him a great project.

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