Middlemarch and Girls Who Read
I’m supposed to be writing my first update for the Middlemarch Read-Along hosted by Too Fond, but I keep thinking about this video:
Girls Who Read made the rounds a couple weeks ago. I didn’t watch it at first, because I’m pretty burnt out on “aren’t readers super special” memes. Most of them make us sound like smug assholes. Eventually I clicked, and I thought it was cute, well read, and funny. Who wouldn’t sigh at “passion, wit, and dreams?” I’m also a sucker for any kind of accent, so that helped.
A few days later, I noticed a minor backlash, including this article which contained the following from Portrait of a Lady:
He didn’t wish her to be stupid. On the contrary, it was because she was clever that she had pleased him. But he expected her intelligence to operate altogether in his favour, and so far from desiring her mind to be a blank, he had flattered himself that it would be richly receptive.
And I got to thinking: there’s nothing wrong with wanting a Girl Who Reads but in 2013 is this something that needs to be pointed out and celebrated? This guy seems to think he’s quite something because he can go one baby step further than tits and ass in his dream girl checklist. Not to mention that the video’s Girl Who Reads is also young, thin, white, and conventionally attractive, so it’s not reading over T&A, it’s reading AND T&A.
The Portrait of a Lady quote is pretty apt, and there’s even more to draw on from Middlemarch. She’s more of a Girl Who Drafts Ambitious Plans Relating to Cottages and Farming but same difference. I don’t have a great pull quote, though I found a few – damn Kobo annotations letting me down, as usual – but I think Dorothea and Casaubon are both guilty of using each other for their intellects. Dorothea wants to be educated and lifted up out of ignorance She says: “There would be nothing trivial about our lives… It would be like marrying Pascal. I should learn to see the truth by the same light as great men have seen it by.” Casaubon, well, I haven’t quite figured him out yet. I think he may have wanted a competent secretary as much as he wanted a wife, but finding Dorothea too smart and too able to see the shortcomings in his work, becomes jealous and shuts her out.
Despite ranting about it here, I’m not that bothered by this video. But it is making me think carefully about Dorothea and her passion, wit, and dreams. I’m paraphrasing someone on Twitter but I think it’s pretty telling that it’s Girls Who Read rather than Girls Who Write who are being celebrated. Reading, by itself, is pretty innocuous. Passive, even. Writing is a lot messier. Similarly, if Dorothea were passive, if she wasn’t compelled to speak her mind and didn’t have ambitions outside of marriage, she’d probably be a lot closer to Casaubon’s vision of an ideal wife.
As for the read-along, I’m just managing to keep pace. At 45% through the book, I’m finding it such a light read, not in the sense that it’s easy or quick or not thought provoking, but in that it doesn’t feel like a burden, even though at 800 pages, it surely is! There’s a perfect balance between all the plot points and characters and themes. Next week I’ll try to write a regular update but suffice to say that Ms. Eliot does not disappoint.