All Aboard Team Middlemarch on a cold, wet December Day in the Colonies
Book I,Chp iii ‘Middlemarch’
Dorothea Brooke has me seriously perturbed and deeply questioning her opinions on anything and anyone at all after reading what she had to say about Maltese dogs! The woman’s a fool, surely?
So disturbed have I been that I have had to shield the eyes and ears of my two sensitive little Maltese-Shi Tzus and ban them from sitting on my lap whilst I’m at the computer. Goodness knows how hurt they might be if they could read what George Eliot wrote. This is truly one of the few cases where illiteracy could be deemed a blessing. I mean, just look! How could she?
Sir James met Miss Brooke with a little fluffy bundle in his arms:
“ I have bought a little petitioner,’ he said ... He showed the white object under his arm, which was a tiny Maltese puppy, one of nature’s most naive toys.
‘It is painful to me to see these creatures that are bred merely as pets,’ said Dorothea, whose opinion was forming itself that very moment (as opinions will) under the heat of irritation.
‘Oh, why?’ said Sir James as they walked forward.
‘I believe all the petting that is given them does not make them happy. They are too helpless: their lives are too frail. A weasel or a mouse that gets its own living is more interesting. I like to think that the animals about us have souls something like our own, and either carry on their little affairs or can be companions, like Monk here. These creatures are parasitic.’ “
How deliciously does George Eliot set up Dorothea to appear so fickle and so determined to be objectionable in her fierce bid for intellectual independence, an independence distinguished by the contrast with other women? Her sister Celia might be as other women are, fond of small dogs, but not the fiercely independently minded Dorothea. Eliot’s tone is humorous as she disposes of the unwanted little parasite: “The objectionable puppy, whose nose and eyes were equally black and expressive, was thus got rid of, since Miss Brooke decided that it had better not have been born.” She nicely contrasts “objectionable puppy” with a description of imploring little eyes that “were equally black and expressive”.
I'm equally disturbed that I can't access the nineteenth century use of the word "naive" here. I intend to look into that. I used to adore university access to the many volumes of the Oxford Dictionary so that you could trace the historical use of a word in its context. Is it available online for an access fee do you think, because I could use that resource in my line of work.
The phrase "one of nature's most naive toys" has me baffled. Does Eliot mean the sense of unsophisticated or lacking in civilised refinement? The intent seems to be that Maltese are totally lacking in appeal and sense. Help me out here please if you have any suggestions.
“The Maltese puppy was not offered to Celia; an omission which Dorothea thought of with surprise...” Eliot here points out Dorothea’s own naivety and blindness to the social reality in front of her. My 21st century concern is that the Maltese puppy was not thoughtlessly disposed of like so many unwanted Christmas presents. Surely Sir James has more good sense and humanity than that?
Actually, my heart bleeds for Dorothea as she seeks to find a legitimised outlet and channel for her own intellectual expression through the men who surround her. She sees men as a kind of divine conduit for increased and enhanced learning. She appears to express many opinions on everything so that she is thought to be a woman of decided opinions, even though Eliot satirically points out that these opinions are so often hastily constructed on the spur of the moment.
Eliot’s use of Celia, the sister with the long-suffering familiarity and slight waspish rivalry, is well done. If the Reader hasn’t realised the author’s drift, then we can can bank on Celia to set us straight!
Slow Reading with Dovegreyreader’s ‘Team Middlemarch’ is turning out to be quite an interesting challenge. Forced to eschew my usual ravenous gobbling of text, I slow down and notice. Such enforced discipline and pace is causing me to make many small discoveries.