Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 25 (1994) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
Why does Dorothea fall apart at the sight of Rome? Elsie B. Michie's answer to this question is that the Rome scenes in Middlemarch stage a drama of female cultural exclusion. Dorothea's distressed response to the ruined 'city of visible history' represents the female spectator's confrontation with a concept of cultural 'wholeness' that implicitly excludes her. To explore this drama, and place it historically, Michie makes a series of imaginative and illuminating connections which are characteristic of her method in this book. She examines Freud's account of a parallel dream, in which he desperately wanted to go to Rome, but feared that something would block or prevent his entry into the city. Freud's fear focused upon Michelangelo's statue of Moses, a figure which encapsulated the classical culture, patriarchal inheritance and Jewish heritage from which Freud felt excluded. But for Freud, confusion and doubt were followed by a return of the power to interpret: he was able to pull together the fragments of the scene into a single comprehensive reading. For Dorothea, Michie argues, such 'masculine comprehensiveness' is not available. She is excluded from the 'high' culture which Rome represents because, as a Victorian woman, she is biologically too 'broken' to participate in it. But, in a deft display of detective work, Michie shows how Eliot invokes images from Little Dorrit and Jane Eyre to resist the definition of woman as a fragmented being, incapacitated by menstruation and child-bearing. In Middlemarch it is not the female spectator but the city which she sees that is blood-red and broken: 'Eliot represents culture itself not as a seamless whole but-as a heterogeneous construct made up of a myriad pieces'.