December 11, 2020
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
Last week, I wrote a blog dedicated to understanding the nature of Rosamond’s and Lydgate’s love in George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch. Though I had previously argued against the idea that they were actually ever in love, I have since changed my mind. In fact, this passage might best explain it all. I do contend that their love was complicated and imperfect, as all love probably is, but here is a spark which filters throughout the rest of the novel. It is likely important to include the quote from Canterbury Tales that Eliot uses to introduce the chapter: “He had more tow on his distaffe/ Than Gerveis knew.” In other words….there is more going on here than we know.
In this scene, the final scene of Book I, Rosamond is singing for her elderly, sickly uncle, Mr. Featherstone. As a new doctor in town, Lydgate has been called to visit Mr. Featherstone. Lydgate is unfamiliar with provincial ways, imagining the country folk to be somewhat backward thinking. Rosamond desires a husband who is unfamiliar with Middlemarch life, someone from outside of this community. And thus, they meet. George Eliot writes:
Mr. Featherstone was still applauding the last performance, and assuring Missy that her voice was as clear as a blackbird’s, when Mr. Lydgate’s horse passed the window.
His dull expectation of the usual disagreeable routine with an aged patient – who can hardly believe that medicine would not ‘set him up’ if the doctor were only clever enough – added to his general disbelief in Middlemarch charms, made a doubly effective background to this vision of Rosamond, whom old Featherstone made haste ostentatiously to introduce as his niece, though he had never though tit worthwhile to speak of Mary Garth in that light. Nothing escaped Lydgate in Rosamond’s graceful behaviour: how delicately she waived the notice which the old man’s want of taste had thrust upon her by a quiet gravity, not showing her dimples on the wrong occasion, but showing them afterwards in speaking to Mary, to whom she addressed herself with so much good-natured interest, that Lydgate, after quickly examining Mary more fully than he had done before, saw an adorable kindness in Rosamond’s eyes. But Mary from some cause looked rather out of temper.
“Miss Rosy has been singing me a song – you’ve nothing to say against that, eh, doctor?” said Featherstone. “I like it better than your physic.”
“That has made me forget how the time was going,” said Rosamond, rising to reach her hat, which she had laid aside before singing, so that her flower-like head on its white stem was seen in perfection above her riding-habit. “Fred, we really must go.”
“Very good,” said Fred, who had his own reasons for not being in the best spirits, and wanted to get away.
“Miss Vincy is a musician?” said Lydgate, following her with his eyes. (Every nerve and muscle in Rosamond was adjusted to the consciousness that she was being looked at. She was by nature an actress of parts that entered into her physique: she even acted her own character, and so well, that she did not know it to be precisely her own.)
“The best in Middlemarch, I’ll be bound,” said Mr. Featherstone, “let the next be who she will. Eh, Fred? Speak up for your sister.”
“I’m afraid I’m out of court, sir. My evidence would be good for nothing.”
“Middlemarch has not a very high standard, uncle,” said Rosamond, with a pretty lightness, going towards her whip, which lay at a distance.
Lydgate was quick in anticipating her. He reached the whip before she did, and turned to present it to her. She bowed and looked at him: he of course was looking at her, and their eyes met with that peculiar meeting which is never arrived at by effort, but seems like a sudden divine clearance of haze. I think Lydgate turned a little paler than usual, but Rosamond blushed deeply and felt a certain astonishment. After that, she was really anxious to go, and did not know what sort of stupidity her uncle was talking of when she went to shake hands with him.
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