Sample Questions

1. Does Eliot suggest how Victorian women were disabled by the age they lived in?

Dorothea's life does not centre in any "long-recognisable deed" (Finale) because the social order she exists in is an inadequate medium. And the specific inadequacy Eliot centres on in relation to women is education. Dorothea has too little of it; Rosamund has too much. Dorothea marries Casaubon in an attempt to learn more and thus be able to do more. All Rosamund's education has given her is strategies to get a husband. Once married, she is oppressed by boredom. Women are not given the tools with which to run their own lives. When she is left Mr Casaubon's estate Dorothea comments plaintively: "I should like to manage it myself, if I knew what to do with it" (chapter 77). Eliot demonstrates the way in which women are kept subservient: they are given no channel for their energy or talents.

1. What is Will Ladislaw's role in the novel?

It appears that Will exists in Middlemarch primarily to marry Dorothea. He seems a somewhat sketchy character: the only one who does not substantially develop in terms of experience. Will largely remains the same vague, romantic, sensitive boy we meet painting in Casaubon's garden. One could easily dismiss him as a narrative convenience, a way to give Dorothea a happy ending. However, Will is not dismissed quite so easily. His grandfather was Polish and it is worth remembering that there was a revolution in Poland in 1830. And under the subtle influence of Dorothea, Will becomes more focused, working for peaceful political change in Middlemarch. Will serves as a kind of narrative footnote, marking the movement from a desire for general revolutionary reform to specific hard work towards realistic objectives.

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