In which we discuss Middlemarch, Ch. 1-4.
But first, the important stuff. As in, food. Since summer is rapidly slipping away, it seemed best to capitalize on seasonal desserts while we still can. So, here is an easy key lime pie recipe.
Two things that will make it much, much better: buy key limes and juice them yourself (I find it’s easiest to cut them in half and press down on each half with a fork), and make your own whipped cream. Just beat heavy cream with sugar added to taste until it forms stiff peaks. Easy peasy, even if you do it by hand (this is what I owe any and all definition in my arms to). Also, if you make your own whipped cream, you can add all kinds of fun stuff to it, like, I don’t know, tequila?
To make the graham cracker crust, just crush a packet and a half or so of graham crackers into little crumbs (this is so. much. fun), zest a lime into half a cup of sugar and rub together with fingers, melt half a stick of butter (or however much it takes to hold your crust together) and mix it all up. Press into a pie pan. Ok, now you know what to do. The great thing about key lime pie is that the lime juice really controls the taste. If you like a tart pie, as I do, go crazy with the lime juice–I definitely used more than half a cup. Of course, if you are afraid of raw eggs, like normal people, and therefore unwilling to taste the concoction through various stages of limeyness, you should probably just stick with the recipe. Also, after the pie is cooked and chilled and topped with mounds of fresh whipped cream, zest another lime all over the top. It makes it look so purty.
Ok, on to Middlemarch. Here are my basically unconnected thoughts.
1. This book is going to be all about Dorothea, at least on some level. All the book’s energy and our emotional responses so far center on her and this intimate, loving portrait Eliot is drawing of her soul’s travails–yet Eliot also goes out of her way to draw our attention to a specific moment in a specific cultural context. In the first four chapters, she name-drops Pascal, Jeremy Taylor, William Wilberforce, and John Locke (am I missing anyone?) and alludes more than once to an uncomfortable triangulation of Puritanism, Catholicism, and comfortable middle-class Anglicanism. What gives? Notable that Dorothea herself is compared first to St. Teresa of Avila, and then to a Puritan–these are two wildly different religious traditions.
2. Dorothea. She already drives one of my friends crazy. Full disclosure, I loved her from the first page of my first reading all the way to the end, and probably will again. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t drive me crazy too.
Eliot seems very aware of her flaws–her tone alternates between fond mockery and respectful compassion, I think. In Dorothea’s first appearance of the novel, Eliot connects her asceticism with her notions of gentry and ladyhood—Dorothea’s religious impulses are tied to class boundaries, and for all her eccentricity, her religion is part of a larger conception of self that depends on the lines her fervor transgresses. It seems to me that D’s inability to extricate herself from these boundaries is a gentle jab at her, but even more so, a pointed and serious indictment of how far the limits imposed on her bind her ardent mind.
Also, we first learn about her piquant character, her devotion and austerity through her distaste for adornment. We are introduced to the quality of her mind through the contours of her clothes–there seems no way to escape the primacy of female decorativeness–not even in the narration of it’s rejection. Something to keep an eye on.
On a side note, can I just say how much I love Celia? That willingness to forgive and be forgiven combined with the discomfiting acuity that sees through Dorothea’s playacting–this seems very characteristic of sisters, to me, especially sisters so different.
And Dorothea does a lot of playacting; I think this dishonesty will come up more as the novel progresses. In the scene where she rejects Sir James’s gift of a lapdog, she echoes what Eliot says of her own narrow female existence two paragraphs above. She can only accurately assess her own situation and voice her own discontents when she applies them to a creature of a much lower order. Which may be somehow why she sees in Causaubon a creature of a much higher order, when everyone else can already tell he’s a complete wet fish? It is telling that she sees in him a “mirror.”
Dorothea seems to want to play the part of eromenos. She is completely cut off from any intellectual or public life–we see it with the constant dismissal of her intellect, the inanity of her expected pursuits, the fact that she can only put her plan for the cottages into action through Sir James’ courtship–and so for her, marriage is initiation and access to the world of men. She casts herself into a stereotypically wifely and feminine submission and self-abnegation in order play a much more ambiguously gendered and typically male role. Remember that Eliot describes her as a “beautiful boy,” in the dinner party scene where she snubs Sir James (who is happy to let her dominate intellectually and practically because the terms of any erotic relationship between them cannot threaten his fundamental male privilege.)
Ok, I will stop rambling and leave you with this quote.
“Sir James had no idea that he should ever like to put down the predominance of this handsome girl, in whose cleverness he delighted. Why not? A man’s mind–what there is of it–has always the advantage of being masculine,–as the smallest birch-tree is of a higher kind than the most soaring palm,–and even his ignorance is of a sounder quality. Sir James might not have originated this estimate; but a kind Providence furnishes the limpest personality with a little gunk or starch in the form of tradition.”
Now, get to it!
Sorry I didn’t put this up sooner! Will try to get it up earlier in future. For now, just think of this as a weekend-long book club thread.
How did everyone find the length? Too long, too short, just right? I hope you now feel like literary Goldilockses. Let me know, and I will update this post with how far we’ll go next time, determined by consensus, or by me if no one chimes in.