Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
Recurrent images of darkness and light is associated with Casaubon and Ladislaw, the two men in Dorothea’s life. "The first impression on seeing Will was one of sunny brightness." His smile is "a gush of inward light illuminating the transparent skin as well as the eyes." In contrast, poor Casaubon is described as ‘rayless’! Dorothea has hoped to escape the "labyrinth of petty causes" that is her life at Tipton into "large vistas and wide fresh air, which she had dreamed of finding in her husband’s mind." Instead, she gets "ante-rooms and winding passages that seemed to lead nowhither." The image covers both Casaubon’s intensely reserved cold nature and the sterile futility of his research work. Will’s inner light represents his youth, warmth and his eagerness for life and change. Dorothea is herself compared to a Quaker and a man by the artist Naumann; to Lydgate in his trouble, she appears to have a heart of the Virgin Mary.
Lydgate’s own marriage is described as a "dumb mastery" over him by Rosamond. Their bond is compared to a yoke, pincers, and a burden, while Lydgate’s own function for Rosamond is called "the old despised shelter."
A larger image, which conveys George Eliot’s own view of society, is that of the "web." She uses it for the "primary tissue" which Lydgate intends to study "to demonstrate the more intimate relations of living structure." The complex network of social relationships is also connected to the ‘web’ image elsewhere in the novel. However, Lydgate’s grand conception of his work cannot be realized due to his "spots of commonness...in the complexion of his prejudices." These are further explained as his "vulgarity of feeling."
Critics have charged George Eliot with too much personal involvement in her characters especially her female protagonists like Dorothea. While the involvement cannot be denied, her omniscient irony tempers the portrait. This coupled with the many different persons through whose eyes the reader is made to view a character gives a more complex viewpoint.
The very first sight one has of Dorothea exposes her suppression of her sensuous side, which enjoys the beauty of the jewels-"her thought was trying to justify her delight in the colors by merging them in her mystic religious joy." She too, the observation that she would have preferred "a larger share of the worlds misery" to be in her husband’s parish, so she could have been useful, is ironic.
This irony is much harsher in the case of Rosamond, who "never showed any unbecoming knowledge, and was always that combination of correct sentiments, music, dancing, drawing, elegant note-writing, private album for extracted verse, and perfect blond" loveliness, which made the irresistible woman for the doomed man of that date. It is also biting when referring to Lydgate: "Certainly, if falling in love had been at all in question, it would have been quite safe with a creature like this Miss Vincy, who had just the kind of intelligence one would desire in a woman-polished, refined, docile."
Characters like the modest Farebrothers are shown being ironic at their own expense: "I am not a model clergyman - only a decent makeshift."