Books and Baked Goods 5

In which I am the worst. Also in which we discuss Middlemarch, chapters 23-30.

Three quick recipes:

1. Key lime custard cups are simpler, smaller, quicker, and as almost as magically delicious as key lime pie in an inexplicably different way. I discovered this a few weeks ago during a disagreement with my oven. To make them, just whip up key lime filling and pour it into a glass baking dish. Bake on a high heat, around 450, for 10-20 minutes. Note that this arrangement is the product of my temperamental oven: you might have to fool around with yours a little until you find a combination that works. The filling should thicken to the consistence of custard, which you can dole into cute little cups, top with crumbled graham crackers, lime zest, and a dollop of whipped cream, chill, and serve.

2. Stuck in an non-air-conditioned apartment? Grinding end-of-summer heat making you want die or giving you global warming nightmares? Well, fear not, because I have discovered the most refreshing thing ever. Take a big tall glass of seltzer water, squeeze a lemon slice or two into it, and then get out your grater and grate in a few tablespoons of ginger root (or less, if you are not a ginger fanatic). Garnish with mint leaves or a healthy dose of gin.

3. This seems ideal for birthday parties.

Ok, on to the book. I know I said I would have the post up by yesterday, it’s just that, as I said, I am the worst, and this adjusting-to-new-job thing is really slowing me down. Who knew whether to do our Latin word of the day before or after our daily protest song would be such a fraught scheduling decision? And to top it all off, I am too brain dead to come up with anything of real interest to say.

I have nothing to say for myself. I can only offer this is atonement.



So anyway, here are my super lame and short thoughts on chapters 1-30.

1. Poor, poor, wretched selfish Casaubon.

2. Awful, awful, wretched selfish Casaubon.

I think Eliot is acutely aware of both the corrosiveness and pervasiveness of selfishness, and so you get this damning moral portrait side by side with incredibly tender pity for everyone–often in the same sentence.

3. Dorothy and Ladislaw:  can this possibly be going anywhere good? On the other hand, how long will Casaubon be with us? Speculation, anyone?

4. Oh Dorothea. It’s so painful watching her wake up.  I love her because the things that make her angry and the things she doesn’t get (like her discomfort with art when she knows so many people are shut out from it) are things that make me really angry, and things that I don’t get. I viscerally feel her emotions as I’m reading them , which is odd because in point of character I’m nothing really like her. Does this say anything about the type of character she is, or just Eliot’s skill as an author?

5. Fred! Fred Fred Fred. Why?? You and Mary seemed the one budding romance that might grow, that wasn’t doomed to tragedy, that just needed light and air and hard work to build a strong melodrama-free happiness. And now look what you’ve done.

Also, way to take the life savings of your poor, overworked love interest and the funds meant to secure the future of her little brother to pay your stupid debts, and be most worried about whether she’ll stay mad at you. How do you have the nerve to voice this concern to her? This is where Mary Garth becomes somewhat alien to me as a character. She feels a motherly pang of concern for Fred; I’d probably try to inflict maximum physical damage.  Still, I love Mary, and Caleb. Fred I suspend judgement on for now.

6. Speaking of relationships that seemed doomed to tragedy, Rosamond and Lydgate? There’s a reason they can’t meet each other’s eyes.  Rosamond wants lovely objects that marriage and an establishment provides, and the freedom to carefully curate her lifestyle it will afford. Lydgate wants the lovely object Rosamond and the carefully curated lifestyle of which a flirtation with her is part of. Their wants are the same; the only difference is that Rosamond has to marry him to achieve her goals. Also, this:

“For Rosamond never showed any unbecoming knowledge, and was always that combination of correct sentiments, music, dancing, drawing, elegant note-writing, private album for extracted verse, and perfect blond loveliness, which made the irresistible woman for the doomed man of that date.”

It always strikes me how Rosamond is such an impenetrable wall of perfection, so irreproachable and lovely, and also so deliberately vapid and suppressed. Every single physical and intellectual feature seems to have been pressed into the service of this facade.

What’s the equivalent of that today? What would that woman look like–superficially perfect, free of all substance but (and I think this is the key point) in a way that inspires admiration in those with genteel tastes?

Ok folks, that’s all I’ve got. Supply my deficiencies with what you noticed.

And here’s this.

“…his soul was sensitive without being enthusiastic:  it was too languid to thrill out of self-consciousness into passionate delight; it went on fluttering in the swampy ground where it was hatched, thinking of its wings and never flying.”


4 thoughts on “Books and Baked Goods 5

  1. Reading this section, where we first see Dorothea and Casaubon as a married couple, it struck me how totally absent sex is as a topic in this book. In any modern novel with a similar plot and characters, we’d find out whether Dorothea and Casaubon’s marriage is consummated, what Dorothea makes of this, this affects or reflects their relationship and excpectations, etc. It’s not even like some Victorian novels in which there’s clearly a sense of sex seething under the surface, though untalked about, it’s simply not an issue here. Almost as if people just didn’t.

    It feels a bit odd, because as a modern reader one has become accustomed to a certain voyeurism in regards to characters. If it seems like sex would obviously be an issue between two characters, we expect to hear about it — at least in the relationship impact if not in the details (actually, one can’t think of anything quite so unappealing as the details between Casaubon and Dorothea.)

    Maybe because of the device whereby when we first see Dorothea as a married woman she’s compared to a nun or to the Virgin, I couldn’t shake this question as how this is a problem between this singularly poorly patched pair, but Eliot has none of it.

  2. I’ve got to say, Fred’s a lot less charming when he’s casually ruining people’s lives.

    Seems like the three town families we get to know form a continuum: Bulstrode, securely rich with his solid bank; the Garths, not so secure financially but talented and virtuous enough to make it through anything; and the Vincys, parked precariously in between.

    Sir James is too rich to be liked in the same way you can like the Garths, but all the same he’s a character it’s easy to be fond of. Like Caleb, he’s got a strong moral compass and fierce loyalties. Of the Brooke sisters, Celia still does seem like the better match for him.

    • Yeah, I think Cecilia and James are good for each other, and both pretty loveable. It’s a huge point in James’ favor that he seems (to me at least) so genuinely disinterested in his concern for Dorothea after she rejects him.

      Darwin, I agree about the lack of voyeuristic access a bit odd feeling (on that note, can we have a two minutes hate for Jane Austen “sequels” that are just an excuse to insert agonizingly bad sex scenes?)

      I do think we can infer that the couple does not exactly enjoy a robust and healthy married intimacy–Casaubon can barely have Dorothea touch him. Of course, when you think about it at all it becomes gross and disturbing–takes our discomfort with/dislike of their marriage into a new key. And precisely because you can’t think about it, and Eliot won’t write about it, I think it is an unspoken tension–to me, at least, it seemed the tacit objection behind much of the disgust on Sir James’ part re Casaubon’s age.

      I think it’s probable that Dorothea didn’t have a vivid idea of what married life would entail–her tendency to intellectualize everything, the lack of female authority or mentoring in her life, her age and class and sex–which makes her bewilderment more poignant and grotesque.

  3. Pingback: Books and Baked Goods 7 | Babes in Babylon

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