Middlemarch by George Eliot and Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
The Victorian era brought about many changes throughout Great Britain. Man was searching for new avenues of enlightenment. The quest for knowledge and understanding became an acceptable practice throughout much of the scientific community. It was becoming accepted, and in many ways expected, for people to search for knowledge. Philosophy, the search for truth, was becoming a more intricate part of educating ones self; no longer were people holding on to old-fashioned ideas.
Central to the story lines of Middlemarch, written by George Eliot, and Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy, is the theme of ambition and the tempering of expectations both to social difficulties, and on a broader scale, human frailty. Dorthea Brooke and Sue Brideshead display elements of the “new woman” and both are driven to accomplish what each desires. Both are intelligent and educated women. The contrast in the two comes from the different motives each has to separate themselves from the norm. Sue is self-centered in her “independence,” while Dorthea is an ardent spokeswoman for social reform and justice. Both women follow different paths, neither ending up at a position they once knew they would attain. Dorthea is depicted early in the novel as having an intimidating presence; however, at a dinner with the supposedly learned and intelligent Mr. Casaubon, she feels quite uneasy. He is an older man with an unattractive appearance which goes completely unnoticed to the “lovestruck” Dorthea. Her sister Celia comments, “How very ugly Mr. Casaubon is!” Dorthea responds by comparing him to a portrait of Locke and says he is a “distinguished looking gentleman.” Later, after dinner, Casaubon and Dorthea discuss religious matters and she looks at him in awe because of his supposed superior intellect. “Here was a man who could understand the higher inward life…a man who’s learning almost amounted to proof of whatever he believed!”(p. 24). As intelligent as Dorthea is, she failed to see Casaubon for the man he really is, and will be, in marriage. Casaubon proposes to her and she accepts. She sees this as an opportunity to further advance her own intellectual abilities and help a great man complete his studies.
Later she would realize her husband has very limited intellectual abilities and is not a suitable companion for herself. Dorthea’s family did not want her to marry Casaubon. Her independent nature defies the social norm of the period by marrying him, because a woman of the nineteenth century was expected to comply with her family’s wishes. She never wished to be sitting at home sewing and not accomplishing her “knowledge” goals in her marriage. She had lofty expectations and wanted to learn about the world from Casaubon. Dorthea expected much more from her marriage. Her strong sense of loyalty to her husband would not allow her to leave the relationship. This is just the type of person she is.