Sick of Each Other: The Diseased Marriages of George Eliot’s Middlemarch
CitationGrenier, Nicole. 2019. Sick of Each Other: The Diseased Marriages of George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractTwo extremely common elements of most Victorian-age novels are the depictions of characters getting married and of characters falling ill. Critics have noted, and rightly so, that both of these components are integral to plot facilitation and to captivating the readership. Similarly, much has been discussed in the intellectual world about the portrayal of flawed marriages and of rampant disease as a call on the part of the author to reform marriage practices and sanitation conditions, respectively. What has not been previously discussed, however, is the direct correlation between instances of disease and instances of ill-fated marriage unions.
In this thesis, I examine one of the most well-known ‘master novels’ to appear in the Victorian era: George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Eliot’s is a major voice of her time and exhibits the unique way of addressing the marriage problem through the lens of illness. What is the problem with the Victorian-era institution of marriage according to Eliot? How does she portray these problems within her novel and what is her motivation for doing so? What does the shadow of disease cast on marriages in this text mean? What should marriage be that it allegedly isn’t?
Eliot ultimately comes to a realization that marriage, though it should be an institution ripe with selflessness and mutual respect, has degenerated into a festering wound of selfishness and utilitarian function. She demonstrates through the actions of her characters the societal acceptance of this diseased state of marriage as the Victorian norm and strives to instigate reform. For Eliot, the language and instances of illness and infirmary in its many forms serve as the primary vehicle to transport this message to Victorian readers with the intent to inspire change.
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