The Imperfection of Marriage
Most characters in Middlemarch marry for love rather than obligation, yet marriage still appears negative and unromantic. Marriage and the pursuit of it are central concerns in Middlemarch, but unlike in many novels of the time, marriage is not considered the ultimate source of happiness. Two examples are the failed marriages of Dorothea and Lydgate. Dorothea’s marriage fails because of her youth and of her disillusions about marrying a much older man, while Lydgate’s marriage fails because of irreconcilable personalities. Mr. and Mrs. Bulstrode also face a marital crisis due to his inability to tell her about the past, and Fred Vincy and Mary Garth also face a great deal of hardship in making their union. As none of the marriages reach a perfect fairytale ending, Middlemarch offers a clear critique of the usual portrayal of marriage as romantic and unproblematic.
The Harshness of Social Expectations
The ways in which people conduct themselves and how the community judges them are closely linked in Middlemarch. When the expectations of the social community are not met, individuals often receive harsh public criticism. For example, the community judges Ladislaw harshly because of his mixed pedigree. Fred Vincy is almost disowned because he chooses to go against his family’s wishes and not join the clergy. It is only when Vincy goes against the wishes of the community by foregoing his education that he finds true love and happiness. Finally, Rosamond’s need for gentility and the desire to live up to social standards becomes her downfall. In contrast, Dorothea’s decision to act against the rules of society allows her to emerge as the most respectable character in the end.
Self-Determination vs. Chance
In Middlemarch, self-determination and chance are not opposing forces but, rather, a complicated balancing act. When characters strictly adhere to a belief in either chance or self-determination, bad things happen....