Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 45 (2014)
Against Marianne Burton's carefully argued case for the consummation of the Casaubon marriage are images and hints which I mentioned in The Appropriate Form: an Essay on the Novel' and Particularities: Readings in George Eliot,' especially: the Cadwallader and Chettam opinions: 'A great bladder for dried peas to rattle in, and 'no good red blood'; the onanistic echo of 'the seeds of joy are forever wasted', (Middlemarch, Ch. 42); Casaubon's lack of bliss; post-marital absence of expectations of issue; 'the way' in which 'years to come' ... might be filled with joyful devotedness' became less clear for Dorothea after marriage (M, Ch. 20); her idea of changing the will which left 'the bulk of his property to her, with proviso in case of her having children'; (M, Ch. 37); the narrator's dry observation that unlike early sonneteers, no one required Casaubon to leave a copy of himself (M, Ch. 29); and Dorothea's longing 'for objects who could be dear to her, and to whom she could be dear' (M, Ch. 48): all of which should be read in context.
I find two aspects of Burton’s pro-consummation case unconvincing and redundant: 'If Eliot's intention were that Dorothea married Ladislaw as a virgin, one might expect some more substantial hint to be given. It would be significant. Casaubon would not then have been Dorothea's true husband; her mistake, and tragedy, would be less.' and, 'crucially, when Dorothea faces Rosamond with her moving speech about marriage, "Marriage is so unlike everything else. There is something even awful in the nearness it brings" (Ch. 81), she would be speaking from a position of ignorance about that nearness'.