The Theme of Marriage in Middlemarch

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The Theme of Marriage in Middlemarch

One of the central themes that runs through Middlemarch is that of marriage. Indeed, it has been argued that Middlemarch can be construed as a treatise in favor of divorce. I do not think that this is the case, although there are a number of obviously unsuitable marriages. If it had been Elliot's intention to write about such a controversial subject, I believe she would not have resorted to veiling it in a novel. She illustrates the different stages of relationships that her characters undergo, from courtship through to marriage:

A fellow mortal with whose nature you are acquainted with solely through the brief entrances and exits of a few imaginative weeks called courtship, may, when seen in the continuity of married companionship, be disclosed as something better or worse than what you have preconceived, but will certainly not appear altogether the same(193)

She not only includes the new couples (Fred and Mary, Celia and Chettam), but also the older ones (the Garths and the Cadwalladers and the Bulstrodes), as well as widowhood (Dorothea).

The marriage that would at seem most in need of a divorce, that between Dorothea and Casaubon, would be, ironically, the one that would last the longest if divorce had been available. Dorothea would not, indeed could not divorce Casaubon because of her honesty and the strength of her idealism. Despite the fact that Casaubon is clearly unsuitable, she still goes ahead with the marriage. It can be said that Dorothea represents the antithesis of Casaubon, where he his cold and severe, she is warm and friendly. Indeed, they are portrayed in clearly different ways: Dorothea represents light and life, while Casaubon is darkness and death. ...

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...similar circumstances (An example of this is the comparison between the reactions of Rosamond and of Mrs Bulstrode when they learn of their husbands' disgrace). This desire to analyse and compare probably came from her studies of both natural sciences and psychology. I don't believe that Elliot's position is either for or against marriage - she is, in my view, equally for or against certain characters. The marriages that are portrayed in Middlemarch are of such different and varied composition that no general rule can be drawn from them.

Works Cited and Consulted

Carroll, David (editor). George Eliot Middlemarch. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Drabble, Margaret. Introduction. Middlemarch. By George Elliot. New York: Bantam, 1985. vii-xvii.

Pangallo, Karen L. The Critical Response To George Eliot. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.
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