In George Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” the characters of Tertius Lydgate and Rosamond Vincy are often seen as constrained by their circumstances, but to say they are characters without real choices may be an oversimplification. Both characters face significant social and personal constraints, yet they also make crucial decisions that shape their narratives. Here’s an exploration of their situations:
Tertius Lydgate: Lydgate, an ambitious and idealistic young doctor, comes to Middlemarch with the hope of revolutionizing medical practice. However, he faces the conservative and resistant attitudes of the town. While these external factors limit his choices, Lydgate also makes personal decisions that contribute to his downfall. His choice to marry Rosamond, a woman whose expectations and lifestyle are at odds with his professional and financial realities, is a significant turning point. Additionally, his involvement in financial matters that compromise his professional integrity shows a lapse in judgment. These choices, influenced by his pride and naivety, suggest that while Lydgate’s environment is restrictive, he is not entirely without agency.
Rosamond Vincy: Rosamond is often seen as a product of her upbringing and societal expectations. She is raised to be ornamental and to aspire to a higher social status through marriage. Her choices seem limited by her narrow education and the societal expectations of women in her class. However, Rosamond also makes active choices, particularly in her marriage to Lydgate and her subsequent handling of their financial difficulties. She often prioritizes social appearances and her own desires over the practical realities of their situation, contributing to their mutual unhappiness and financial woes.
Both characters, therefore, are shaped by a combination of their personal choices and the societal constraints of their time. Eliot uses their stories to explore themes of ambition, marriage, and the conflict between individual aspirations and societal expectations. While their environments and upbringing significantly influence their options and decisions, Lydgate and Rosamond are not entirely devoid of choice. Their decisions, albeit limited by external factors, play crucial roles in their character arcs and the novel’s exploration of human nature and societal structures.
In conclusion, while Lydgate and Rosamond face substantial external constraints in “Middlemarch,” it would be reductive to view them as characters without real choices. Their stories reflect a complex interplay between personal agency and societal limitations, a central theme in George Eliot’s nuanced portrayal of life in a small English town.