Books and Baked Goods 6

So, this time, (no really!) I have a valid excuse for failure. The excuse being, my entire family got hit with a world-historical stomach bug, and I spent the whole week feverishly making ginger tea, stroking fevered brows,  and trying to talk like Florence Nightengale.

Or at least, how I imagine she would talk, for I have not yet had the privilege of making that honored lady’s acquaintance.

See? You know it’s time when you’re talking like Casaubon.

But first, banana bread. This is the best banana bread I have ever made, and I have made a lot.  I dialed back the sugar (I used closer to half a cup), upped the spices, and added a dollop of molasses, because I like my fall quickbreads autumnally spicy, and duh, molasses makes everything better.

I also discovered an interesting variation on this recipe during one of my adventures in failure. Recently, for some reason that was probably not my fault, I forgot to add flour before putting the batter in the oven. Ten minutes later, as I was going about my business, I realized why I could not shake the nagging feeling that something was not right. I mixed in the the flour and put the bread back in the oven in a lame attempt at salvage, and when I took it out it was…a pudding. Or a bread, but an uber moist, rich, pudding-y bread that looked ugly but tasted quite delicious, especially served over ice cream. I don’t really recommend you try to replicate this freakish success, especially not by forgetting the flour or other vital ingredients, but if you’re bored it might be fun to fiddle around with baking times.

Ok, on to Middlemarch.

1. Fred! Penniless, spendthrift Fred! What will he do with himself? On the other hand, could the dashing of all his lazy hazy hopes finally spur him to steadiness and self-improvement? It remains to be seen, but I watch his career with growing interest.

On a related note, who is Joshua Rigg? Thoughts? I like the description of his frog-face. His impassability seems vaguely sinister, at least to the people of Middlemarch. This is one of the things I love about sprawling Victorian novels–new, intricately interconnected yet tangential characters are liable to pop up wherever, whenever. It’s kind of like The Silmarillion that way.

I love how important death and marriage both are to this society, specifically, in negotiating the transfer of property; we’ve seen marriage a couple of times, in Mrs. Cadwallader’s remarks and Ladislaw’s story about his parentage, but this is the first time we see death. And death is the more important of the two, I think–it  allows property to be named, allotted, shrouded in the mantle of sacred and impersonal law. Marriage creates the families that function as receptacles for property, but death itself effects its dynamic transfer. Property and death belong to each other, and both define the boundaries and obligations of human relationships, as we see with Will’s story. Is it worth noting that Dorothea and will are both orphans?

If anyone’s read The Mill on the Floss, the relationship between law, death, and property seems to be steady thread that runs through Eliot.

Ok, Lydgate and Rosamond: I thought it particularly interesting that, while Lydgate falls into a genuine if shallow passion for Rosamand, she does not do the same for him. She doesn’t seem to have any idea what that would look like–I think Eliot says that she sincerely believed that no one could be capable of loving more than she loves Lydgate. Poor stunted creature, she has no idea how to love, how to move beyond herself even in Lydgate’s flimsy fashion; she has no idea how to be anything but acted upon, and how to arrange and re-arrange the small circle of her self and accessory objects.

If she cannot be anything but acted upon, though, she is very determined to dictate how she is acted upon, and so poor stupid Lydgate .

“Lydgate relied much on the psychological difference between what for the sake of variety I will call goose and gander: especially on the innate submissiveness of the goose as beautifully corresponding to the strength of the gander.”

It is painful to watch his delusion–but after all, he never asks anything better of her. He is getting exactly what he wants, God help him.

And, last for best, Will and Dorothea. Casaubon is getting meaner and smaller by the minute, Will is very obviously falling very much in love with Dorothea, Dorothea is oblivious and unhappy and good.

There is one line about how she dresses as though she had taken a vow to always look different from other women. This is part of her problem, I think, that she has to set herself apart from other women. There is no place for Dorothea, and so the best she can do is attach herself to a man.

“I used to feel about that, even when I was a little girl; and it always seemed to me that the use I should like to make of my life would be to help some one who did great works, so that his burthen might be lighter.”

She can only envision herself as a helper or page. There is the hint of a great work of her own–Sir James speaks of her cottage plans as displaying real talent, and she seems to have a genius for sympathy and the itch for justice that hint at a vocation to reform–but neither she nor anyone else can recognize her own gifts, and so she puts her energies at the service of a parsing, precise intellectualism totally unrelated to her character, even before Casaubon’s vices enter the equation. Will Ladislaw doesn’t seem to help much here–his concern is all for her happiness, and how much that happiness depends on him. Very sweet, but not touching on the real problem.

But what do we think of the whole Will, Dorothea, Casuabon situation. Does anyone else think it makes it somehow much worse that Casaubon’s distrust of Ladislaw isn’t even motivated by sexual jealousy, but pure pride?

And all these local politics. They are making my head spin. This is a big age of reform, which is perhaps why the political dustups create such a poignant contrast to Dorothea’s seclusion at Lowick.

And I’ll leave you with this.

“I know the sort,” said Mr. Hawley; “some emissary. He’ll begin with flourishing about the Rights of Man and end with murdering a wench. That’s the style.”


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