Moonstone and Middlemarch Novels: Revealing, Portrayal and Function of Secrets

In the Moonstone the major qualities that men ascribe to women in this novel; contradictoriness, changeableness, moodiness, irrationality, talkativeness, secretiveness, duplicity and criminality turn out to characterize male characters. Comparably, In Middlemarch secrets lead to the destruction, eradication, and downfall of characters. The secrets of debts and money problems in Lydgate and Rosamond’s relationship leads to the destruction of their marriage and Dorothea has to secrete her true aspirations for social reform from Casaubon which again leads to their unhappy marriage.

Within the Moonstone Betteridge’s low opinion of women combined with that of Mr. Bruff influence the way that we experienced behaviour of Rachel verinder and Rosanna spearman, both of whom lack a major narrative of their own and who are not allowed to be heard until quite late in the novel. Plus, apart from Miss Clack who is framed rather too obviously as insincere and self-deceiving, no other female character is given a major narrative. Rachel and Rosanna’s sub narratives occur late by which time we've already formed a view of them. Rosanna's letter is spoken as if by a voice from beyond the grave, she's not there to defend herself in person or to add to her case in anyway. Rachel's narrative, although logical in itself, is surrounded by such high emotion and psychic suffering but it's difficult to fully recover the sense of her as a rational human being. This is Franklin Blake after his meeting with Rachel in which she has explained to him that she saw him take the Moonstone and he says – ‘‘The hysterical passion swelled in her bosom—her quickened convulsive breathing almost beat on my face, as she held me back at the door.’’ Furthermore, both Betteredge and Mr. Bruff respect Rachel verinder and claim her as an untypical woman whom is superior to most of her sex and Betteredge sees Rosanna spearman as superior to the other servant women of the household. But even these supposedly exceptional women come to be seen as flawed my feminine weakness. Both women's behaviour, as represented after the loss of the Moonstone, cannot easily be separated from the men's general perception of women as irrational untrustworthy at hysterical. And arguably Betteredge’s status as a key narrator and his constant comic disparagement of women has added side effect. Even when the mysteries explained, and the plots resolved - the reader can never quite see Rachel verinder as the exemplary women she’s supposed to be.

Besides, the dominant moralising narrative voice of Middlemarch is at times said to be androgynous and one of the narrative aspects of Middlemarch that both fascinates and disturbs is the narrator’s specific attitude towards Dorothea. In the opening scene of the novel where we meet her for the first time, the narrator treats Dorothea with a good deal of irony to which tends to slacken off in degree as the novel progresses. It is a way in keeping Dorothea at a distance, keeping her energy under control. But in all added to this is a rather odd objectification that recurs throughout the novel because Dorothea is repeatedly studied by the narrator as her sexual appeal in a way that seems markedly masculine. And the narrator distances himself from Dorothea because he claims a knowledge about her of which she herself is ignorant and this knowledge is the fact that she's a sexually attractive woman. It gives her the rather sexual allure or piquancy of the innocent girl and it makes him the narrator seem more powerful in his greater knowledge. It also brings in elements of voyeurism. However, Rosamond is intended by George Eliot as the foil to Dorothea, in contrast to Dorothea unconsciousness Rosamond’s always aware that she’s on display. And although both Rosamond and Dorothea pose consciously or unconsciously as objects of male desire each women’s own sexual desire is much harder to determine. Thus, Rosamond is highly calculated as to her own effects on men, but does she have any sexual desire of her own or does she simply see Lydgate as the answer to her material and social needs.

Besides, Rosanna is in many ways Rachel’s lower-class double, and she also has a strongly independent and secretive nature. And Betteredge who's unfailingly patronising towards the servant women suggests that Rosanna’s silent tongue and solitary way that distinguish her from the other females also make her seem more refined. And Rachel and Rosanna’s silence are compared with the garrulous chatter of most other female characters, and it's the male perceived norm for women to be talkative. Betteredge pronounces that ‘‘a drop of tea is to a woman’s tongue what a drop of oil is to a wasting lamp.’’. And for Betteredge the talk of the female servants is unified by its failure of control and discrimination, its haste to make assumptions, its contradiction, its rash over emotionalism. The female servants are seen by him to behave on mass like one large unruly woman. Thus, Betteredge presents what he thinks of as normal talkative femininity as a state of mild hysteria. But novel also suggests that the more unusual female silence, secretiveness, and enigma that these are also hysterical. Then, Elaine Showalter’s study in ‘The Female Malady’ explains that during the late nineteenth century when women were attempting to emancipate themselves, they were theologised by the medical establishment as enably hysterical. Thus, Mr. Betteredge’s observation of Rachel’s increasingly aberrant behavior and repressed speech which articulates itself through bodily emotion documents what Miss Clack later calls the ‘‘language of hysterics’’.

Although, we learn in chapter one that women in Middlemarch were expected to have weak and secretive opinions, Mary Garth’s high-principled intelligence and strength of mind, Celia’s perspective common-sense and Mrs. Cadwallader’s witty sinisterism. All of these qualities stand in contrast to masculine weakness, egotism and intransigence, and these different types of self-knowledge provide alternatives to the submission to an all wise father. Thus, part of Eliot’s project seems to be to show that in a world of increasingly uncertainty individuals must be their own moral agents and make their own wisdom.

Then, Rosanna, like Rachel, is also struggling to preserve a secret and she also suffers a dramatic alteration in behaviour which is signalled by a change in colour. ‘‘Mr. Franklin Blake dropped one of his rings upstairs,’ says Rosanna; ‘and I have been into the library to give it to him.’ the girl’s face was all in a flush as she made me that answer’’. And added to this the impression of Rosanna’s mental instability is increased by the fact that she has to mind hysteria in order to get out of the house. Betteredge says, ‘‘she only came downstairs again at tea-time. When she did appear, she was flighty and excited, had what they call an hysterical attack, took a dose of sal-volatile by my lady’s order, and was sent back to her bed.’’ Both Rachel and Rosanna use the excuse of being ill, suffering a form of nervous agitation to help them keep their secrets. To outside observers they are ill or disturbed and deranged but they also become ill due to repression. And that repression is not the result as the other characters think of their own guilt but the effect of covering for another’s guilt and the effect also of a complex but properly unspeakable claustra of emotions connected with that other person. Gender united these two women of different classes. The theft of the Moonstone is unspeakable for these women because it’s tied up with their own sextual desire - and sextual desire is what respectable Victorian women are not supposed to speak of. For example, Rosanna cannot articulate her desire for Blake because she is beneath him and Rachel cannot articulate it because she thinks him beneath her i.e. no longer a gentleman and thus no fitting husband. Both women protect Blake, but Rachel wants Blake not to be guilty of the theft so that she could legitimate her feeling for him while Rosanna would like Blake to be guilty because it gives her the chance of ‘‘winning [his] good will’’. Thus, the novel finds it arduous to demonstrate any female deportment that is not perverse. Therefore, an aligned to perversity is criminality, once the Indian jugglers have been ruled out as thieves’ women are suspected as criminals. In a society where female behavior is constructed and enforced by impossible expectations and double binds women behave as if they were guilty and they apparently feel themselves guilty even though they must know that they are innocent. But the huge irony of all of this is although the narratives frames women guilty, the real criminals are men.

And again, ironically, the ultimate villain turns out to be the less than clean, Godly, Ablewhite. The novels prosses of exposure ends with the exposure of Ablewhite, a prime example of Victorian double standards and the double live. Godfrey rather than the female characters has a genuine guilty secret of his own. Godfrey’s duplicity is conscious, but the novel shows us how male consciousness which sets itself up as all-knowing and superior to its female counterparts is itself fractured, less than known, contradictory. Also, Blake’s hidden in is his secret double life. The horror- ‘‘I took it up from the sand, and looked for the mark. I found the mark, and read—my own name.’’ Thus, the shivering sand seem similar to a symbolic form for the unconscious, an area of shifting debts which absorb secrets, but from which can be made from time to time to yield them up gain. Detection necessarily involves exploration of unconscious motives which may include material that is normally taboo. Moreover, the novel having cleared up certain enigmas designates another mystery by leaving us Ezra Jennings as a secret, ‘‘my story will die with me.

Lastly, Dorothea is not typical as a character, but her fate is made typical. As a woman she participates in social structures which are governed or determined by men but that male power is shown as fraudulent. Thus, one of the most compelling aspects of Middlemarch is the way Dorothea’s desire cannot be properly matched by marriage and it’s the aspect to the novel which actually threatens to allude control and prevent closure. It’s clear from the very beginning of the novel that Dorothea is both a sensual and an idealistic nature and these qualities are intermingled. Dorothea’s idealistic energies for reform and her intellectual hunger- infiltrated by sensual further is not simply sexual repression or displacement but a sensible further that cannot be satisfied by marriage and physical love alone. And one of the reasons we find Dorothea’s marriage to Will disappointing is that marriage to a sexually interesting man, the new roles of wifely helper and mother, these cannot really seem to answer to the sheer range of Dorothea’s passionate aspirations for herself- as their depicted early on in the novel. Dorothea can overlook Casaubon lack of sexual attraction not merely because she is naive but also because she's investing her sensual satisfaction in her intellectual goals, in what she hopes she'll learn from him when he's her husband. Furthermore, Dorothea certainly underestimates physical desire but physical pleasure and the conservative role of a wife in the early nineteenth century cannot possibly satisfy this craving of the self. And Middlemarch seems uncertain about how to present the different claims of physical desire and a more unspecific generalised desire- most powerfully communicated in chapter twenty- the honeymoon is a failure. Dorothea experiences an imaginative and perceptual disorder a painful version of the sublime in which she realises the limits of her own identity and the fast-chaotic range of energies and possibilities that lie beyond it. And as a realist novelist therefore this is an extraordinary moment of risk in the novel in which she brings her most complete character into a situation when she experiences disturbance and disintegration of the self. And yet disturbing, though it is, it reminds us that it is Dorothea self that is the issue and not her connections with her husband or lover.

Thus, in conclusion, together the Moonstone and Middlemarch explicitly demonstrate the portrayal and function of secrets.   

07 July 2022
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