Middlemarch

Gender Roles and Marriage in Eliot and Trollope

In law a husband and wife are one person, and the husband is that person...

A woman...has got to put up with the life her husband makes for her...

In Middlemarch, George Eliot offers a portrayal of a closely-knit, semi-rural community, but in fact transcends this simplistic framework to consider a number of social and political questions, thereby positioning herself as one of the great dialectical writers of the Victorian era. Eliot's interest fails to be ignited by the gossip and petty politics of rural life, and her amused contempt, which vacillates from the cynical to the scathing when she describes the locals of Middlemarch, points to the fact that she requires protagonists who are intellectuals to prevent her works from sliding into the depths of irony and condescension. Since Eliot seems not to be writing about the society of Middlemarch itself, the novel coheres on the theme of marriage; it is here that the disparate points of the plot converge, and here where Eliot's real strengths lie. Similarly, in He Knew He Was Right, Anthony Trollope focuses not on the political workings of a particular town (in this case, Barchester) or institution (such as the Church of England), but instead on the choices made in marriage....

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