Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 32 (2001) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
Middlemarch and Rhoda Broughton's Belinda (1883) have often been cited as benchmarks in the much wider debate concerning Mark Pattison and his wife Emily Francis, later Lady Dilke. Among other novels with alleged Pattison derivations are W. H. Mallock's The New Republic (1877), Mrs. Humphry Ward's Robert Elsmere (1888), and Robert Liddell's The Almond Tree (1938), the latter apparently deftly drawn from the Pattison papers in the Bodleian. Apologists occupying the Pattison patch include John Sparrow and Vivian Green,’ while Pattison's own Memoirs (1885) are essential to any understanding of this alternately admired and vilified man. In his George Eliot: A Biography (1968) Gordon Haight included an appendix on Pattison to demonstrate that he was not the model for Casaubon:2 Rhoda Broughton’s Professor Forth, on the other hand, is accepted with certainty as being the Rector of Lincoln College, an apocryphal story being that he had himself announced by that name when he visited Rhoda at her Oxford home after publication of the novel. Similarly, apocryphal is her taking offence when he suspected her of writing an anonymous letter which exposed his relationship with Meta Bradley:4 Belinda is supposedly Broughton's revenge.
Here I wish merely to consider some of the contrasts and correspondences between Middlemarch and Belinda. The latter was Broughton's eighth novel, her early, daring reputation well behind her. The two sisters of Belinda certainly have points of contrast with Dorothea and Celia. Dorothea is a wilful idealist, Belinda a wilful masochist; Belinda's younger sister Sarah is a wilful flirt, at one time engaged - technically - to the miserly hypochondriac Professor Forth, whom Belinda later marries; Celia is a wilful realist who not only punctures the rayless Casaubon but also marries her sister's discarded suitor Sir James Chettam with opportunistic verve. Thus far Broughton has read Middlemarch and reinvented Pattison.
In the outline of situation there are correspondences, but Casaubon is given a sympathetic depth which goes far beyond the register of character traits observed: he is character created. Broughton's Professor Forth is conceived outwardly not inwardly, but her derivations from the Casaubon-Dorothea story in Middlemarch have not, I think, been fully explored. I am suggesting here a deliberate deployment of contrasts with an incisive and unremitting satirical thrust. The eponymous heroine of Broughton's novel marries without love and without the intention of giving love: she feels - like Dorothea - that she will be assisting a great scholar in his work and that as a rewarding consequence she will acquire the essential truths of life and learning. But whereas Dorothea gives all for love, and finds the resultant intimacy humiliating, searing and poignantly self-educative, Belinda marries in reaction against the long silence of her departed lover whom she had treated with reflex repression, sometimes sarcasm, and often an assumed coldness which covered an inner warmth she is unable to convey. Here Broughton’s psychological probing is acute and moving: Belinda is her own worst enemy, for her inability to reveal her deep feelings derives in part from sibling interaction with her loquacious, witty, outspoken and successfully flirtatious sister Sarah. The latter always has a number of young men in tow, whether hussars in Dresden, where the novel opens, or undergraduates in Oxbridge. Moreover, just as Celia's carnal commentary on Dorothea puts the latter’s idealism into comic perspective, so Sarah's running satire on Belinda's love-lost state underpins her sister's fallacious decision to marry Professor Forth. But Sarah, like Celia over Dorothea’s sad delusion, is compassionate and concerned for her serious sister.