Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I'm working my way through Middlemarch for the [insert a large but unrecorded number here]th time in my life, and this is what's leaping out at me--

George Eliot is, of course, chronicling a variety of marriages, but in particular she seems to be examining male weakness versus female strength. And here's the problem with the marriages that go bad: in all cases, the husband enters the partnership convinced that he is stronger than his wife. Lydgate and Rosamund, Mr. and Mrs. Bulstrode, Dorothea and Mr. Casaubon. Unhappiness ensues. But in the good marriages, the man enters the partnership with full cognizance of his own weakness: Fred Vincy and Mary Garth, Will Ladislaw and Dorothea, Mr. and Mrs. Garth, Celia and Sir James. Thus, both sides are attuned to failure, and modesty, and need. They know how to adjust for one another.

The women, on the other hand, are always aware that they are both powerful and weak. Sometimes they use that awareness poisonously: Rosamund, for instance. Sometimes they are deluded about what exactly constitutes their strengths: Dorothea, for all her glory, is an idiot. But all know they are composites of power and submission and that their lives will require them to ride that riff.

Anyway, if you have your own thoughts on this matter, let me know. For now I'm off to bake bread, which for the record is an incredibly stupid thing to have to do when it's 90 degrees on the 45th parallel (which runs through my living room, by the way). But sandwiches require bread, and men who spend all day fixing other people's houses require sandwiches, and there's a power and submission riff playing itself out in my own home, just as there should be, and maybe we will just have to eat chicken salad and fresh bread in the basement tonight.

4 comments:

rss said...

I'm driving several hours each day, Montgomery Center to Burlington and back again, for the remainder of July to participate in the NWP-VT Summer Institute. Other participants from around the state are not unlike those personalities gathered recently at The Frost Place. In any case, though I enjoy visiting your blog spot and find your books very interesting, it may take me some time to comment on much of anything here. I've read the first and now read and listened to the last chapter of Tracing Paradise, but blog spots are most suitable for brief and pointed remarks, not the frequent free associating I do between sentence after sentence. I'm also attracted to your long reading list and voracious appetite for diverse vocabularies (according to Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish, "oy is not a word, it's a vocabulary") and giving yourself tasks like keeping a journal in sonnet form. I liked your honest assessment of Hirsch and Boland's choices as anthologists; and thank you for your reminders about relationships that people Middlemarch. It's fun to feel with someone the impress of all the wills of the world -- not to mention the Calibans! oy vay. Would you believe that I learned to bake bread in Strong, Maine, a town not all that far from Harmony? That was almost forty years ago? I'm traveling to Washington State in August to attend a 45th High School Reunion with a group of classmates who have remained close rather in the way of you and your college chums. Wishing you the cool fans you've earned in the kitchen -- and on the web.

Ruth said...

I love that the 45th parallel runs through your living room. I do hope you have it marked somehow!

jenne said...

Really enjoyed this post, Dawn, as I'm writing a spin-off of my memoir that looks at just this issue, the differences, the strengths/interplay. I must reread Middlemarch-- been decades. Thanks for stopping by interview-- really appreciated it! Hope all is going well for you this summer-- xj

Dawn Potter said...

RSS: Since I'm not Jewish, the word "oy" has particular foreign feel in my mouth, like a strange hard candy. So now I love knowing that it's "not a word, it's a vocabulary." I'm glad that the NWP-VT institute is shaping up so well. "Middlemarch" is great reminder of the importance of individual human connection--something that we came back to again and again at the Frost Place. And yes, Strong is down the road and around the corner from Harmony. So maybe "Tracing Paradise" is a bit of a nostalgia trip back to strange central Maine?

Ruth: we've thought of marking the 45th parallel line across our yard with one of those lime markers they use on football fields. But it would keep washing off. Maybe a permanent paint job in the house is the answer.

And Jenne: so glad that you and Maureen have found one another. The acquaintance seems to be a rich support for the work you are both doing. And "Middlemarch" is always worth rereading. What a woman that George Eliot was!