Monday, June 13, 2011

Middlemarch ~ Character List

I'm pretty sure that Middlemarch just continues for the rest of my reading life.  Not only is this the second post I've written complaining about it, I've read two other books while attempting to read Middlemarch and number three is coming up.  Of course, that's far less than the number of books I've read since I promised myself that I would return to The Sound and the Fury, so really this is an improvement.

The thing is, there are so many damned people in Middlemarch, and some of them are Significant but only show up once or twice every couple of hundred pages, so that when they return and aren't reintroduced, I am left to ask Gosh darnit, and who are you?  I've noticed that George Eliot likes to do this as even Silas Marner, which is a fraction the length of Middlemarch, manages to include so many townspeople that I couldn't tell the innkeeper from the butcher even while I was reading it.  But anyway, here's the story of the first five books of Middlemarch as a means of introducing the people it seems we should know about, in no particular order:

First we meet Mr. Arthur Brooke and his nieces, Dorothea and Celia.  Dorothea is idealistic and doesn't wear jewelry and decides to marry a man three times her age because he is creating a Great Work and she wants to help him.  She also wants to build cottages for poor people, and is helped with this by Mr. James Chettham, who loves her even though she thinks he loves her sister.  So Dorothea marries the old dude, Mr. Edward Casaubon, and Chettham settles for Celia, both of whom think that Dorothea is making a sad mistake.

Mr. Causabon has a cousin, Will Ladislaw, who he financially supports and despises, and who enrages Mr. C by befriending his new cousin-in-law and going into business/politics (which even then were the same thing) with his new cousin-in-law's uncle.  This contributes to Mr. C's fainting spell and ensuing Condition, which necessitates a visit from the new doctor, Tertius Lydgate, who is a medical outcast because he thinks that one pill can't cure everything and sometimes you don't need any pill at all (there is a hilarious chapter on nineteenth-century small town conceptions of medicine).  Mr. C dies happily (for us, not him), but leaves behind an attachment to his will that says that if Dorothea and Will marry, Dorothea gets to go to the poor house (or Celia's house, that's cool too - a baby suddenly appears there in a very Victorian manner, so that should be fun).

Lydgate accidentally finds himself marrying Rosamond Vincy, whose family seems to be one of the few that actually lives in Middlemarch.  Her father is the mayor and has high hopes that his son, Fred Vincy, will either make himself useful or inherit a huge pile of money from Mr. Peter Featherstone, a grouchy old widow related to the Vincy family by marriage.  Mr. F kicks it, but not before his servant (or something) Mary Garth refuses to burn one of his wills, which ultimately cancels out the will leaving everything to Fred (who thus returns to school), and instead leaves everything to Mr. F's secret son, Rigg Featherstone, who looks like a frog (or is it a toad?) and according to Wikipedia (a valuable source in cases like this) is crucial to the plot.  Mary is sad about this but still refuses to marry Fred and instead goes home because she no longer has a job, and is sad about it to her parents.  Her father, Caleb Garth, is quite poor because of his tendency to accept jobs for the fun of it and to loan out money to young rascals like Fred, who can't be trusted to pay him back.

The Garths tell Mr. Camden Farebrother, a vicar who'd rather be a naturalist, about Mary's refusal to burn the will.  That's not very important, but it does come up again when he tries to find out how she feels about Fred (on Fred's behalf) and reveals that he loves her.  That may turn out to be important, but I'm not sure yet.  Farebrother is friends with Lydgate, but Lydgate votes against him being posted in the new hospital he's helping to build because Mr. Nicholas Bulstrode, his benefactor and the hospital's financier, likes somebody else.  Mr. Bulstrode is an apparently unpleasant man, through no reason more apparent than he uses his money to throw his weight around, which is probably as good a reason as any to dislike a person.

Finally, there's Mr. Raffles, who I only very vaguely remember as being frog-faced Rigg Featherstone's stepfather.  Mr. Raffles is a Bad Man.  Everybody in Middlemarch is flawed, but it seems that Mr. Raffles is the only truly Ban Man because a) everything he says is greedy and self-serving, b) we never get to hear this thoughts and feelings, and c) he aggravates people who actually live in Middlemarch (and the surrounding areas because very few of these people seem to actually live in Middlemarch).  He also knows a Big Secret about Mr. Bulstrode (aka Nicky) and uses this to earn a living via blackmail.

Wikipedia's character list seems to think that I should also mention the Cadwalladers, who I don't really remember but live next door to Mr. Brooke and have Opinions; Mr. Hawley, who I don't remember at all but is apparently a "Foul-mouthed businessman and enemy of Mr. Bulstrode"; Mr. Mawmsey, a grocer who knows that Lydgate is full of crap because the pink pills make his wife feel better (Or maybe he's the one who votes for whoever buys the most food.  Or maybe he's both); and Mr. Tyke, who Lydgate votes for over his buddy.  There are also a bunch of Mr. Featherstone's relatives (who all have different last names; the only one  I can remember is Waule) who do a lot of complaining about how far they travelled to mourn him only to inherit a couple of bucks each when you know they were just there for the cash and the ham.

Moral of the story, if you've actually read this whole thing: there is a crap-load of people in Middlemarch who all tie back to one another and none of which seems to be particularly happy.  On the plus-side, the spine of my book is starting to look like I've read the first five-eights of the thing a dozen times, which can only be good for my street cred.  Of course, if I stop now, it will be woefully apparent.  On I go.

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