Virtues, Vices, and Deadly Sin in Middlemarch


The ability to assess one’s emotions as well as acknowledging another’s emotions is closely intertwined with one’s goodness. Those who have gone through profound or prolonged emotional suffering in Middlemarch tend be those who have changed, matured, and grown as individuals. By experiencing emotional suffering, those in Middlemarch begin to understand themselves and later begin to understand the feelings of others. Once they begin to understand others, they are faced with moral decisions that will guide their behavior. Characters like Dorothea Brooke and Caleb Garth, who have both experienced more adversity relative to the other dwellers of Middlemarch, steer away from harsh actions that may harm others. They exhibit goodness by applying their emotional intelligence and acting on the right and moral thing to do. Defining goodness is important in understanding how it interacts with emotions in the citizens of Middlemarch. Analyzing the tough moral circumstances that characters find themselves in and their subsequent behaviors will reveal what it means to do good in Middlemarch. Examining the emotional development of the more mature characters and contrasting it against the less mature characters will help explain why some characters do more good than others. By understanding how the characters feel pain, face adversity, and develop into moral individuals, we can grasp Eliot’s interpretation of what it means to do good in a community like Middlemarch through the scope of sympathy.

Goodness manifests itself in many interactions throughout Middlemarch. Throughout the novel, goodness can be understood as acting virtuously and avoiding sinful behaviors. Examples include Caleb Garth’s patient and forgiving response to Fred’s defaulting on his loan. Farebrother puts aside his desire to become engaged to Mary Garth and warns Fred to not fall back into his questionable behavior. Dorothea comes to terms with her mistaken supposition that Rosamond and Will are in love and lets Rosamond know that she doesn’t mind. Mrs. Bulstrode stays by her husband’s side throughout the controversy that surrounds them. There is a common aspect shared amongst all of these interactions, and it involves putting aside ones ego or acting with selflessness. Even though the failed loan puts his family in a dire financial situation, Caleb Garth does not berate Fred. Dorothea puts aside her love for Will and wishes Rosamond happiness in her assumed relationship with Will. These characters manage to keep themselves from reacting impulsively, and instead act in a virtuous manner that seems to renounce sin. It is no coincidence that a focal point of Dorothea’s character is spiritual idealism. This virtuous character is extended to all those in the novel that Eliot wants to mark as upstanding individuals. Dorothea chooses not to indulge in envy in her love of Will. Garth does not succumb to avarice that would lead him to rage at Fred. Similarly, Farebrother puts aside his pride in advising Fred, as does Mrs. Bulstrode in her solidarity for her husband.

An important distinction to draw between those who actively practice spreading good and those who do not; oftentimes characters are presented with doing what is easy and doing what is right. Those characters who have experienced suffering or adversity tend to do right, while those who have not matured past a certain point do what is easy. Actively doing good in Middlemarch is a laborious task that should not be undervalued when the majority of the community does what is easy. Those who typically do right in the novel experienced suffering earlier in their lives that furthered their development of an advanced moral compass. Caleb Garth, living in borderline poverty, understands the value of money, and also understands that happiness cannot be derived from it. Witnessing and experiencing difficult life situations allows one to develop sympathy to others who go through the same thing. Dorothea’s strife in her strained marriage allows her to sympathize with Rosamond. Cara Weber explains:

…the narrator’s comment that ordinariness (of suffering) tends to preclude sympathy challenges the reader to reconsider her response to commonplace   scenes of suffering, suggesting that these responses have something to teach us about ourselves and our relationships to others” (p. 494-5).

By reflecting on her marriage, Dorothea is able to sympathize and somehwat understand the struggle Rosamond is experiencing. Rosamond, on the other hand, does not understand the difference between what is right and what is easy prior to her dialogue with Dorothea. Throughout her life, Rosamond has never experienced profound or prolonged adversity. Though her family is not remarkably rich, their manufacturing business gave them a reliable source of respectable income. Because she was always given what she wanted, there were no opportunities for her to endure pain or suffering. Without this adversity, Rosamond never managed to get a grip of what it meant to sympathize or empathize with another. She was stuck in the sense of emotional development. Her growth was stunted by her privileged upbringing. Taught to be an obedient housewife at Mrs. Lemon’s school, Rosamond never had occasion to challenge her emotional beliefs, was stifled by an easy upbringing, and consequently never really developed a strong sense of sympathy. Rosamond experiences her first real emotional upheaval when Dorothea pays her a visit,

It was a newer crisis in Rosamond’s experience than even Dorothea could imagine: she was under the first great shock that had shattered her dream-world in which she had been easily confident of herself and critical of others; and this strange unexpected manifestation of feeling in a woman whom she had approached with a shrinking aversion and dread, as one who must necessarily have a jealous hatred towards her, made her soul totter all the more with a sense that she had been walking in an unknown world which had just broken in upon her (p. 796).

This paragraph is noteworthy in multiple ways. First, we are explicitly told that Rosamond finally has her first shocking emotional experience that breaks her down. Previously, Rosamond operated on a very egocentric plane, where she was “confident of herself” and “critical of others”. Her interactions with the other always went one way: its that she must be right and the other must have done something wrong. There is a great deal of psychosomatic imagery here as well. Rosamond has been shocked, her world having just broken in upon her. The delicate and delusional dream in which she previously inhabited has been shattered, providing her with a rude awakening that other people’s feelings, do in fact, matter. The motif of the deadly sins is also present in an exchange with Dorothea once again. Dorothea is once again the agent that diffuses and disables the inclination to act on sin in another being. Rosamond’s position in proximity to Dorothea “necessarily” requires that Dorothea bear jealous hatred toward Rosamond, but once again, Dorothea’s virtuous nature not only saves herself, but another in the process. It can be argued that Rosamond was operating under a pretense of pride in herself, where all the woes in her marriage were Lydgate’s fault. Following this intervention, however, we can see Rosamond begin to develop sympathy towards her husband. Dorothea’s manifested sympathy can be observed in this phrase she offers Rosamond, “Trouble is so hard to bear, is it not?— How can we live and think that any one has trouble—piercing trouble—and we could help them, and never try?” (p. 796). Dorothea’s advanced emotional development compensates for Rosamond’s lack of development. Dorothea takes Rosamond’s burdens upon herself in an act of emotional solidarity. It began, as Harriet Adams describes, “with a victory of knowledge over self” (p. 88).

“All this vivid sympathetic experience returned to her now as a power: it asserted itself as acquired knowledge asserts itself and will not let us see as we saw in the day of our ignorance” (p. 788).

Adams continues,

“In the hour of keenest personal agony she is able to—and does—push back the narrow circles of her own little sun and see by the larger light of others’ lives. In no abstract sense, she is fulfilling what she herself described to Will as the fundamental tenet of her faith: ‘That by desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don’t quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are part of the divine power against evil—widening the skirts of light and making the struggle with darkness narrower’ (p. 392)”.

This is what Dorothea’s goodness in Middlemarch looks like in its purest form.

Goodness in Middlemarch is constituted by the aversion from deadly sin and behaving in a sympathetic manner towards the other. By being urged to live virtuously, the characters in Middlemarch develop a moral compass that guide them to act in beneficent ways. Not all in Middlemarch are saved by the virtuous grace of Dorothea, however. If aversion from deadly sin constitutes morality and goodness in Middlemarch, then there were many in Middlemarch who ended up lost. Many submitted to the temptation to do what is easy rather than right. Bulstrode, for example, fell prey to his vice of wrath and allowed Raffles to die. Bulstrode bore little sympathy for Raffles and purposely called for alcohol to let him die. The deadly sin of gluttony, in the manner of overindulging in gambling, influenced Fred and made him squander the money he owed to Caleb Garth. By deviating towards the deadly sins that Dorothea is the antithesis of, the occupants of Middlemarch end up doing harm to others who live there.

Developing an emotional and sympathetic capacity allows various members of the Middlemarch community to do good. Not only that, but adhering to the principles of a virtuous lifestyle as demonstrated by Dorothea Brooke enables benevolent folks in the town to conquer the temptation to do what is easy and self-serving. By serving as the example to follow and antithesis to deadly sins, Dorothea served as an enabler in spreading goodness throughout the town. Sympathizing with the tribulations of ones neighbor reveals that one can do what is selfish and easy, or one can do what is difficult, necessary, and right. In this way, Eliot lays out her beliefs that sympathy is the best instrument to direct morality. Religion is not even necessary, so long as the benevolent individuals moral compass casts away the dark and leads the way towards the light.

Works Cited

Adams, Harriet Farwell. “Dorothea and ‘Miss Brooke’ in Middlemarch.” Nineteenth-           Century Fiction, vol. 39, no. 1, 1984, pp. 69–90.

Irwin, T. H. “Sympathy and the Basis of Morality”, in “A Companion to George Eliot”          2013, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Purdy, Dwight H. “‘The One Poor Word’ in ‘Middlemarch.’” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 44, no. 4, 2004, pp. 805–821.

Weber, Cara. “‘The Continuity of Married Companionship’: Marriage, Sympathy, and the            Self in Middlemarch.” Nineteenth-Century Literature, vol. 66, no. 4, 2012, pp.     494–530.


Air, Water, Fire, Woman; An Analysis on the Psychology of King Lear

King Lear

Throughout his reign, Lear has grown to harbor a distaste for women precipitated by his mental illness. This distaste is exacerbated into full blown misogyny by the women in his life and culminates in Lear’s speech in Act III Scene II. His comparison of his daughters to the wild elements, his relationship with the fool, and his alarming mental state illuminate his discontent with the female race. This discontent with women is greatly unfounded and highly sexist if compared to the actions of men, but such is life in Lear’s England. With this unfounded sexism, Shakespeare seems to make a larger argument about gender relations, primogeniture, and the unfair bias in the favor of men.

While meandering in the ensuing storm after being ejected by his daughter Goneril, Lear makes associations between the wild elements and his daughters. Lear addresses the natural elements, “Spit, fire! spout, rain! … I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness” (III.ii.13-15). Lear claims that he has never wronged the elements and is not resentful of the storm and the weather’s misconduct. Lear proceeds, “I never gave you kingdom, call’d you children, You owe me no subscription” (III.ii.16-17). Here the king continues by saying that he didn’t wrong his daughters either, yet he is at the mercy of their unkindness. Lear sets up a comparison between his daughters and the natural elements; both being wild and uncontrollable, pitting men at their mercy. Lear becomes so irate that he curses his “pernicious” (III.ii.21) daughters and beckons the elements to smite him and the mold that creates “ingrateful man” (III.ii.9). Lear feels as though his daughters are ungrateful and out of control, with nothing he can do to yield substantial results. However, the problem of nature versus nurture presents itself here. His daughters act only in the manner in which they were raised by their father. If this is the case, which is more than likely, Lear has no basis to complain, as this is a problem he himself has created. Lear is also very unreasonable in his expectations of his daughters. Lear believes that because he gave his daughters his lands, they are obligated to be obedient, or it is somehow implied. Lear expects that Goneril can house him and his accompanying half-army, comprising of 100 knights. Regan attempts to compromise with Lear and settle on 25 knights, but the king refuses to budge, and instead chooses to drive himself out into the storm. This is not an end result typical of a rational individual.

The unwillingness of Lear to compromise, his past behavior, and his manic episode in the storm reveal troubling aspects concerning his mental health. Lear asks that the storm, “singe his white head” (III.ii.6), which would symbolically represent the complete destruction of his sanity. He has run out of patience and begins to go into a mania cursing his daughters and calling out to Nature’s forces. Dr. Somasundaram Ottilingam of the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, in his article, diagnoses King Lear with, “brief reactive psychosis with a background of organic mental disorder accompanied by attacks of what could be described today as acute mania as demonstrated by his faulty judgment, disorientation and irrational behavior.” Even Lear’s fool, who, for the entirety of the play has been joking, laughing, and throwing around quips, urges that the king reason with his daughters and go inside. The fool, who establishes himself as a reasonably sane and wise character after he has thrown out all sorts of adages, reasons, “Here’s a night pities nether wise men nor fools” (III.ii.12). With his fool urging him to go make amends and avoid the storm, we sense that Lear’s sanity has gone awry. Lear’s opinion of his daughters is most likely a result of his mental illness and his psychosis may very well be the overall source of his misogyny.

The fool’s role also serves to highlight a very thought-provoking aspect of Lear’s character. Lear seems to not listen to anyone or consider any sort of advice, as seen in the case of the banished Kent. Lear establishes early that he cares only for what he wants to hear, giving lands to Goneril and Regan for kissing his feet, while honest Cordelia is sent off to France. He does not take flak from anyone, and yet he always bears an open ear to what his fool says. The fool spouts some very out-of-line comments towards the king, yet Lear takes it all in good stride and laughs along. If his daughters were to say something along the lines of the fool, Lear would undoubtedly fly into a rage as he is wont to do throughout the play. This sets up a juxtaposition of just what men and women are allowed to do in the presence of the king. What if Lear’s daughters had instead been sons? He would recognize that they had some sovereignty after giving them the lands. Clearly this is very little method in it if neither Kent nor his daughters can instill sense into Lear’s mind, but his fool can. He bears an endearing view of the fool, asking the fool if he is cold during the storm, and showing remorse when he claims his fool has been hanged. Lear likely views the fool as a proxy son, one that his wife could not bear him.

One final point of contention is Lear’s wife, who, aside from one brief and vague account, is never mentioned in the play. She never bore him any sons and consequently no real heirs to the kingdom of England. This supports the notion that Lear projects the character of a son upon the fool. Perhaps Lear’s distaste for women springs from the discontent that his wife never bore him sons, though this is nothing she could control. Lear’s psychosis would indicate that he would, in fact, become angry over something neither he nor anyone else has control over, like his wife bearing him no sons. We have returned full circle to the comparison between women and the elements. He cannot control the elements, nor can he control the outcome of the gender of the children his wife bears. Lear calls upon the elements to smite his white-haired head, just as he subconsciously believes his wife smote him with daughters and not sons.

Lear’s unrealistic expectations, brought upon by his mental illness, leave a sour taste in his mouth with regard to his outlook on the women in his life. He expects his daughters, who now hold sovereignty over his lands, to be ready to accommodate his every whim. When this is hardly the case, Lear degenerates into a psychotic mania and curses his daughters and asks the ensuing tempest to smite him. Compounded by the lack of male offspring, Lear’s distaste can be summed up as blatant misogyny. Lear’s relationship with the fool and his daughters reveals an unfair double standard in Lear’s England, one that questions gender roles and challenges the established norms.

Works Cited

Ottilingam, Somasundaram. “The Psychiatry of King Lear.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry. Medknow Publications. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.<;.

Truskinovsky, Alexander M. “Literary Psychiatric Observation and Diagnosis Through the Ages: King Lear Revisited.” Medscape. Web. 31 Jan. 2016. <;.

The Symbiosis of Tertius Lydgate and Middlemarch

Chapter 15 of George Eliot’s Middlemarch introduces us to Tertius Lydgate, his methodical rationality, and the dynamic relationship he has with the town of Middlemarch. His relationship with Middlemarch is a mutually symbiotic one, where Lydgate functions as an instrument that will bring change to Middlemarch. Lydgate’s interests fall in line with the town’s even though he embodies the opposite of what Middlemarch stands for. A closer look at Lydgate’s outlooks and experiences mark him to be the best candidate that the town can hope for. He is subjugated to the will of the town upon arrival yet still strives to do good by its inhabitants. Middlemarch seems like it is its own conscious entity that swallows its citizens up to later make use of them.

Middlemarch has an agenda to pursue and Lydgate is simply another tool that the town can utilize. Further analysis of the symbolism behind even the name of the town is striking. This is a community where conscious and unconscious norms dictate behavior. Every member of the town gravitates towards the center on any sort of political issue. Painstaking effort is taken in order to not step on any toes. Rather, members of the town gossip amongst and about one another. Life in Middlemarch goes on with or without any conscientious objector. In this way, we see the members of the town all come towards the middle, as the fringe (conceptually) is a dangerous place to exist. Whether it be on the fringes of wealth, as is the case of the Garths, of reputation, like Fred Vincy, or of mental soundness in Mr. Brooke, it will only give the people something to question the validity of those in the margin. The agenda of the town marches on with the aid of the likes of Bulstrode and Cadwallader. So the way things preside in the town of Middlemarch will stay the way they are, foregoing change for tradition and marginalizing those on the fringe. The town will continue to consume and use those that enter its realm.

Luckily, Lydgate’s interests coincide with those of Middlemarch. “He meant to be a unit who would make a certain amount of difference towards that spreading change which would one day tell appreciably upon the averages, and in the mean time have the pleasure of making an advantageous difference to the viscera of his own patients … He was ambitious of a wider effect: he was fired with the possibility that he might work out the proof of an anatomical conception and make a link in the chain of discovery” (p. 146). Lydgate intends to reform the medical field with his ambition while bringing aid to his patients. He intends to be a reformer who brings up the averages around him and elevate the field of medicine. Fundamentally, he stands for something completely opposite to the idea of Middlemarch. He will be the unit by which change is spread , the unit that is readily absorbed by Middlemarch, a community that will do everything to uphold the status quo. Before attempting to reform all of England, however, he takes Middlemarch as his first microcosm and practice ground: “Such was Lydgate’s plan of his future: to do good small work for Middlemarch, and great work for the world” (p. 149). Lydgate and Middlemarch become symbiotically joined, where Lydgate can begin his sweeping medicinal work and the town may begin to use him as a cog in their affairs. Just as Lydgate is one small unit, so will his part be in Middlemarch in the grand scheme of his field. Lydgate’s view of his profession is also a good mirror for his relationship to Middlemarch. “…and he carried to his studies in London, Edinburgh, and Paris, the conviction that the medical profession as it might be was the finest in the world … offering the most direct alliance between intellectual conquest and the social good” (p. 145). Lydgate figures that doing good for the community of Middlemarch goes hand in hand with his pursuit of knowledge. He and his profession find themselves in a direct alliance with the town of Middlemarch. Middlemarch is the forge in which Lydgate may temper his skills and in return, Middlemarch will use him to further their ends.

Lydgate’s outlook on life is mostly a scientific one that is reinforced in him after encountering difficult situations that involve deep emotions. Being an honorable physician isn’t enough for Lydgate, he seeks to add to the existing human knowledge in the field of medicine. “Lydgate was ambitious above all to contribute towards enlarging the scientific, rational basis of his profession” (p. 147). The “rational” aspect of his profession is of particular importance. Lydgate operates primarily as a rational and scientific human being, seeing the world as a series of predictable phenomenon that obey certain rules. This outlook upon life is only further reinforced when Lydgate happens upon his first “impetuous folly” (p. 150). Upon falling in love with Madame Laure, “He knew that this was like the sudden impulse of a madman—incongruous even with his habitual foibles” (p. 152). When Lydgate experiences love for the first time, his emotions are incongruous with his rational mindset and he finds himself in a state of cognitive dissonance. He offers himself no other explanation other than that he must be mad. Emotions have never factored themselves so heavily into Lydgate’s world. He is exposed for the first time to passionate feelings and doesn’t know how to play it, so he ends up going on instinct and acting impulsively. When he is rebuffed by Madame Laure, he defaults back to his rational and scientific self. “But he had more reason than ever for trusting his judgment, now that it was so experienced; and henceforth he would take a strictly scientific view of woman, entertaining no expectations but such as were justified beforehand” (p. 153). When taking upon as large a task as Lydgate wants to achieve, there is no time to be wasted playing folly with the opposite sex. He doubles down and resolves to rely further on his observations and judgements of women. He plays it safe by both not expecting anything of women and by assuring himself that his previous way of thinking was right all along. In this way, Lydgate also demonstrates some arrogance. On the inside, he considers his approach to life to be the best approach. “Our vanities differ as our noses do: all conceit is not the same conceit, but varies in correspondence with the minutiae of mental make in which one of us differs from another. Lydgate’s conceit was of the arrogant sort, never simpering, never impertinent, but massive in its claims and benevolently contemptuous” (p. 149). This passage humanizes Lydgate; he may appear pretentious or patronizing, but is human like everyone else and is prone to displaying his brand of conceit. Vanity in any form, like noses, are possessed by every human being. The small details are what differentiate our physiognomies as well as our vices. Lydgate is arrogant and contemptuous, but no less vain than any other resident of Middlemarch.

Upon arrival to Middlemarch, the towns inhabitants wonder what role Lydgate will play in their town. Its made clear from both Lydgate’s and Middlemarch’s point of view that Lydgate is to become the tool or instrument of Middlemarch. Lydgate is not a common sort of practitioner nor does he stand for the same ideals that the town does, and this presents a problem for the mechanical community of Middlemarch. “There was a general impression, however, that Lydgate was not altogether a common country doctor, and in Middlemarch at that time such an impression was significant of great things being expected from him” (p. 142). General impressions are the bread and butter of Middlemarch – the basis by which every inhabitant begins their gossip. The town, perhaps, didn’t even know yet that Lydgate was to change how things were done, yet both seemed to know that Lydgate was to be fashioned into an instrument of change. “Not only young virgins of that town, but gray-bearded men also, were often in haste to conjecture how a new acquaintance might be wrought into their purposes, contented with very vague knowledge as to the way in which life had been shaping him for that instrumentality” (p. 153-154). What a perfect and appropriate role for Lydgate to take – one of the instrument. What tool more precise, rational, and scientific as the instrument itself? Once again, the town seems to know that he is here to change something about their nature of living, but they could only draw vague conjectures. This passage is befitting of the relationship between Lydgate and Middlemarch and encapsulates how each views the other. Lydgate is to be the instrument of change for the inhabitants, while the town is left hastily wondering how it may bend its instrument to its purposes.

We are constantly seeing the binaries of Middlemarch interact, but if we peer closer, we notice that Lydgate himself operates in two different ways. Lydgate forewent his emotional self after a traumatic experience with his first love and became the calculating and methodical surgeon. This shouldn’t be viewed as a weakness of his, but instead a redeeming aspect that makes him the instrument that Middlemarch needs. “He had two selves within him apparently, and they must learn to accommodate each other and bear reciprocal impediments. Strange, that some of us, with quick alternate vision, see beyond our infatuations, and even while we rave on the heights, behold the wide plain where our persistent self pauses and awaits us.”

Works Cited

Eliot, George, and Rosemary Ashton. Middlemarch. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.