Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
Dorothea Brooke is the protagonist of the first book of the novel and continues to be one of the main characters throughout the book. Of a serious and sincere bent of mind she longs to break out of her monotonous routine into a "filler life" equipped with masculine knowledge into a life of service to humanity. Believing that the elderly scholar she meets will help her achieve this, she marries him. Through all the resulting frustration, she suppresses her own desires and serves him till his death. Ultimately, she finds personal happiness in her second marriage, but her social goals of self-sacrifice for a great cause are never fulfilled.
Tertius Lydgate is the male equivalent of Dorothea. Young, intelligent and having a practical goal unlike her, he wants to dedicate himself to revolutionizing medicine, and to discovering new insights into living tissue through research. Over confident about his personal ability to steer dear of distractions, and blind to his own weaknesses, he too makes a misguided marriage with Rosamond Vincy, the social climbing town beauty. He then gets entrapped into a spiral of rising expenses, the hunt for lucrative work, increasing debts, and is cut adrift from his noble ambitions.
At different times, a particular character may appear to obstruct another in her or his progress. For instance, Casaubon being the wrong husband for Dorothea and coming in the way of her union with Will Ladislaw. Rosamond acts as a negative force in Lydgate’s life and work, and is instrumental in his failure to achieve any of his goals. Or again, Rosamond causes a misunderstanding between Will and Dorothea. However, the book is not cast in the simplistic mode of Protagonist and Antagonist. The characters are shown struggling against their own weaknesses; against the rigid mores of their time, and against the material demands others make on them.
The novel appears in eight parts, all consisting of four main stories women together. The background is the intensive one of a whole district - a large town and its surrounding villages. Hence, there is not one but several small climaxes in each of the stories. The most decisive of these, in the sense of covering the most characters, involves the death of the blackmailer. Raffles followed by the allegations against Lydgate and Bulstrode. It ends in the ruin of Bulstrode, almost followed by that of Lydgate. However, Dorothea has her opportunity to support him whole-heartedly, drawing in others like Farebrother and Chettam. Hence, this event can be called the main climax in the story.
The novel does not strictly fall into the categories of comedy or tragedy. On the contrary, it ends in a number of compromises. Some of these are bleak, such as Lydgate's ending his life early, established in a profitable practice among the rich. Others are more harmonious and cheerful - Dorothea’s marriage with Will Ladislaw, and Mary Garth’s with Fred Vincy. The final picture is one of energies, which spent themselves in channels, which had no great name on the earth.