December 4, 2020
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
The tricky nature of love never ceases to amaze me. George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch explores many complicated examples love. Today’s blog will focus on the relationship between Tertius Lydgate and Rosamond Vincy. Rosamond is Lydgate’s second love. Before moving to Middlemarch, he had fallen for an actress. Though we don’t know much about this experience, the narrator does tell us that he when he confessed his love to her, she explained that she had just killed her husband. He left this train wreck of a situation and entered life in Middlemarch. To all outside observers, and even to Lydgate himself, he seemed to have life figured out. He is savvy, intelligent, and dedicated to the medical profession profession for which he has good ideas and insights. In starting the new hospital, of course, he had to fight against custom and culture, which caused more personal upheaval than he expected.
After a period of flirtation with Rosamond, Lydgate decides to steer clear of her for a total of ten days, without explaining why. She grows nervous that he does not care for her. When he finally visits, she overflows with emotion. As she cries, somehow, quickly, the two are engaged. The narrator relates:
“Rosamond had never been spoken to in such tones before. I am not sure that she knew what the words were; but she looked at Lydgate and the tears fell over her cheeks. There could have been no more complete answer than that silence, and Lydgate, forgetting everything else, completely mastered by the outrush of tenderness at the sudden belief that this sweet young creature depended upon him for her joy, actually put his arms around her, folding her gently and protectingly – he was used to being gentle with the weak and suffering – and kissed each of the two large tears away. This was a strange way of arriving at an understanding, but it was a short way. Rosamond was not angry, but she moved backward a little in timid happiness, and Lydgate could now sit near her and speak less incompletely. Rosamond had to maker her little confession, and he poured out words of gratitude and tenderness with impulsive lavishment. In half an hour, he left the house an engaged man, whose soul was not his own, but the woman’s to whom he had bound himself” (346).
They are quickly married, and quickly in debt. In fact, after the marriage, Lydgate’s debt grows so quickly that he finds himself in a desperate position. He considers asking for money from others, but the thought completely galls him. His morale is at an all-time low, but Rosamond seems only to feel pinched when Lydgate asks her to live more simply. She refuses to change her behavior and believes that Lydgate is insensitive to her situation.
Furthermore, ignoring Lydgate’s wishes, Rosamond rides a horse while pregnant. Lydgate, who had warned against it, finds out and scolds her because he feels it is too dangerous while pregnant. Despite his warning, she goes again, falls off, and miscarries the baby. Lydgate says, “I think it is enough that I say you are not to go again” (479B). In response, Rosamond asks him to help her with her hair. As he does, he is softened, but not calmed. In fact, the narrator states: “He swept up the soft festoons of plaits and fastened in the tall comb….and what could he do then but kiss the exquisite nape which was shown in all its delicate curves? But when we do what we have done before, it is often with a difference. Lydgate was still angry, and had not forgotten his point” (480A). In other words, Rosamond’s response does not address Lydgate’s anger, and in not addressing it, I wonder how communication will continue. I wonder what “difference” Lydgate feels.
Somehow, Rosamond makes each situation work to her advantage. She finishes this argument by asking Lydgate not to tell her what to do again and the narrator explains, “Lydgate said, ‘Very well,’ with a surly obedience, and thus the discussion ended with his promising Rosamond, and not with her promising him” (480A). At this point, the relationship seems decidedly one-sided.
Rosamond is a peculiarly obstinate and selfish creature. In fact, much of the novel refers to her as a creature of some sort, lovely, selfish and determined. Furthermore, she knew that her beauty surpassed all others which she used to her advantage. She also knew that Lydgate was sensitive to her beauty. After she continually disregards his advice, he realizes that his will has been overpowered. This is often true of love. One finds an inner turmoil which can never be fully resolved, that between love of self and love of another. Eliot writes: “He had no doubt that the affection was there, and had no presentiment that he had done anything to repel it. For his own part he said to himself that he loved her as tenderly as ever, and could make up his mind to her negations; but – well! Lydgate was much worried, and conscious of new elements in his life as noxious to him as an inlet of mud to a creature that has been used to breathe and bathe and dart after its illuminated prey in the clearest of waters” (480B). Alone, Lydgate had been poor without feeling this murky sensation. But with Rosamond, he feels constrained and restricted, compromised in a vital way. This probably often appears in situations where we bind ourselves to another, though each couple in Middlemarch reacts to this very differently.
Realizing that he must ask Rosamond to give up some of the wedding purchases, Lydgate begins to see Rosamond’s cold attitude. While dwelling on this, he is reminded of Dorothea’s ardent appeal for Causabon’s life. Lydgate thinks: “That voice (Dorothea’s) of deep-souled womanhood had remained within him as the enkindling conceptions of dead and sceptred genius had remained within him (is there not a genius for feeling nobly which also reigns over human spirits and their conclusions?): the tones were a music from which he was falling away…” (484A). Lydgate feels drawn to the power in Dorothea, a power that does not exist in Rosamond.
Rosamond disrupts these momentary thoughts with a cup of tea. She sets it next to him without looking at him. In return, Lydgate realizes that perhaps he has not been fair to her. She is not ardent like Dorothea, but he decides that she “was sensitive enough” (484A). This, in my mind, does not appear to be a glowing example of love. Perhaps he is reconciled to the vow that he made, which is honorable, but is it love? Furthermore, after Lydgate and Rosamond discuss their financial situation, Lydgate asks for a kiss. The narrator explains, “She received his kiss and returned it faintly, and in this way an appearance of accord was recovered for the time” (487A). Again, these do not appear to be the embers of a growing love, but perhaps a fading ember.
It would be difficult to argue that Rosamond is in love with Lydgate. Rather, she wants a certain lifestyle, and enjoys attention. She is disgusted by Lydgate’s medical profession, something which is central to his character. Rather than supporting him, she wishes that he would do something more respectable. Her hopes for a fanciful marriage come slowly down around her as she realizes that what she wanted was more fairy tale than truth. The narrator says, “The Lydgate with whom she had been in love had been a group of airy conditions for her, most of which had disappeared, while their place had been taken by everyday details which must be lived through slowly from hour to hour, not floated through with a rapid selection of favourable aspects” (517A).
After the realization of potential poverty sinks in, Rosamond begins to seek money behind Lydgate’s back. She asks both her relatives and his for financial assistance and all of them respond unfavorably. After a series of rejections, Rosamond becomes depressed and Lydgate thinks: “He wished to excuse everything in her if he could – but it was inevitable that in that excusing mood he should think of her as if she were an animal of another and feebler species. Nevertheless she had mastered him.” (520A). This statement is the one that gives me the most trouble in understanding Lydgate’s love for Rosamond. I am unclear as to whether he actually does see her as an animal and less of a human? Or perhaps he realizes that if he were to view her with condescension, he would begin to see her in a less loving, less human, more superficial light. Either way, the seed of doubt here is so strong that it makes me wonder how the reader is to reconcile this emotion with that of love.
Despite all of the ups and downs of their early marriage, the two remain married until Lydgate dies at age fifty. Eliot explains that they lived happily and well, that Lydgate’s practice had prospered, which allowed Rosamond to fulfill her material desires. I wonder what would have happened if Lydgate’s practice had not prospered? I wonder how their commitment to a less-than-perfect situation actually develops their love? Is it possible that love can be a synonym for commitment, for perseverance, for friendship?
Whatever love may be, Middlemarch offers diverse and complex couples which thoroughly explore the idea of love. It is worth a good chunk of time in reading and conversation.
*All page numbers refer to the Great Books print version, 1990.
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