Middlemarch: A Literary Analysis
A brief literary analysis of the relationship between Rosalind and Lydgate in George Eliot's Victorian literature classic, Middlemarch.
"if the chance ever comes to you again to fall in love, grab it, every time. You might always live to regret it, but you won't find anything to beat it, and you won't know if it will ever come to you once more."
-Joseph Heller, God Knows-
In half of one paragraph George Elliot describes the relationship between Tertius Lydgate and Rosamond Vincy in Middlemarch. The auction of Edwin Larcher's property describes how the two characters and their actions fit into the world and how they treat each other. Their marriage is a commercial engagement from the very beginning and they are never able to break free to form a union built upon a more sound emotional foundation.
The location of the auction is at a place in between the New Hospital and Mr. Bullstrode's residence. That is the same location which Lydgate occupies socially and professionally. As the doctor in residence, he enables Bullstrode's hospital to exist.
From its vantage point in between these two places, the auction brings the people together as both a "kind of festival" and a "superior funeral" (440). This juxtaposition of celebration and death is mirrored when Tertius and Rosamond announce their engagement to Mr. Vincy. On page 223 Vincy rejoices in Featherstone's death and the new engagement. Death takes its place in the relationship which is to show a complete lack of life for the rest of the story. Instead of being a wholeheartedly joyful occasion, their wedding is mixed with death and greed (related to the will of the deceased). Inevitably, the positive side of their relationship would be touched by this greed.
Like Rosamond would prove to be, "Mr Larcher's sale was the more attractive in the fine weather" (440). As the Lydgates' finances grow steadily worse, so does their relationship. Prior to the wedding, when Rosamond had no conception of their future economic state, everything was wonderful and happy; but she becomes increasingly harsh as payment upon their debts forces Tertius to consider unattractive options. Rosamond tells Mr. Trumbull not to keep their house on the market, in direct contradiction to Tertius' wishes and without telling him of her actions. This conniving act never comes to light, but shows that she willingly deceives her husband in what she perceives as her own interest. When Tertius learns of her secret letter to his uncle (through a harsh rejection letter) he scolds her for not consulting him and she replies that "certainly you have not made my life very pleasant of late" as if it is entirely his fault that their finances are forcing him to limited means (488). She cannot even conceive that they really don't have the money for the lifestyle which she expects, and she will not forgive him for needing to make sacrifices.
When the debts which Lydgate held were paid for him by Bullstrode, her fair-weather friendship becomes all the more evident: "Rosamond had a gleam of returning cheerfulness when the house was freed from the threatening figure" (551). However, the house was only a symptom of the problem and when Tertius refuses to move to London (her would-be panacea) she "wondered what she had that was worth living for." To Rosamond, the whole relationship was economically founded: she needs some outside value to qualify her life; she cannot accept Tertius' gentle love as sufficient, but rather wishes to have some status and wealth unattainable to her. Before the official engagement, Mrs. Bullstrode, in her understanding of Rosamond's character, hopes that "she might meet with a husband whose wealth corresponded to her habits" (124). When she cannot have that position, she becomes unhappy and makes Tertius unhappy in turn.
If only he had foreseen her incipient unhappiness, Tertius might have avoided drinking the "cheerful glasses which might lead to generous and cheerful bidding for undesirable articles" (440). Instead, he reacted as the other townsmen in believing her to be "the best girl in the world! He will be a happy fellow who gets her" (124). It is her worldliness which makes her undesirable but Tertius becomes drunk upon her beauty and refinement in an otherwise backwards town. His own attentions do not originate in a desire to wed Rosamond: "He had not meant to look at her or speak to her with more than the inevitable amount of admiration and compliment which a man must give to a beautiful girl" (123). In his relationship with her, Tertius is like those at the Larcher's auction who "risked making bids in order simply to raise prices, it was almost equal to betting at the races" (440). Unfortunately, Tertius loses his bet, because Rosamond calls him on his advances. She becomes enamored of him and this makes her imminently desirable to him. The subject of the bidding is a willing partner for one bidder, and that encourages him to go all the way.
Marriage proposals in Middlemarch are made as offers, and are given by competing males to choosy females; Lydgate's affections were given in amusement of the game, but they won him a wife bound by nature and circumstances to be unhappy and to make him so. The financial structure of the relationship can do nothing but disappoint the characters and show the reader how the two lovers have erred. Elliot uses the auction as a midway analysis of the two; the judgment she casts is profoundly negative. Unlike Dorothea (who learns from her mistake and later gives up wealth, status, etc. for love and happiness) Tertius and Rosamond are destined to unhappiness because their relationship cannot be described as anything other than a transaction.