The Middlemarch Social Justice Advocate

Since we’ve been a little serious on the blog for a while, I wanted to take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to have some fun. More on hospitality coming up, not to worry. 🙂

I just finished reading Middlemarch for the first time. I was always intimidated by it because it was so long. And just because I was an English major does not mean that I’ve read every classic work of fiction. (Also, I’m perversely biased against reading books just because they are classics. Like, I’ve never read Moby Dick. On purpose. Because I’ve never heard of anyone who actually genuinely enjoyed reading that book. Shhh!)

But it’s been on my radar so I read it. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth it. It’s full of really interesting characters, and the story is just so full of redemption in all the best ways. There are really good people who make really hard choices to be good, and bad people who end up making good choices, and sickly hypocritical people who get broken down but then find redemption at the bottom of everything, and people who seem really humble but are actually really evil because they’re so self absorbed. It’s full of all those things about people that are true and complicated and hard to write about. But she does it so well.

MiddlemarchI was totally struck by the character of Dorthea.

She’s outgoing, engaging and charismatic, but she has really strong ideals about what’s right and wrong, and she wants to persuade everyone to think exactly the same way she does. She’s religious, but not fake– she genuinely believes in her high ideals. And she’s always on some social justice crusade. As her sister says about her, “Dodo’s only happy when she’s making plans.” – making plans meaning: dreaming up new ideas to make the world better and then convincing her uncle and her brother-in-law and anyone who has opportunity why they should do it. She donates money to run a research hospital. She gives her inheritance away because she’s concerned that someone else was cheated out of some of it. She still ends up with lots of money and it weighs on her so much that she gives it all away so that she can live more simply.

When the book starts, she’s obsessed with new plans for housing for the impoverished tenants. She’s a little bit extreme in her sense of self-denial, and a tad controlling. Then she gets married to an old man (because she likes the way he thinks). He’s interested in ideas and she’s excited that she can give her life to helping his scholarly works on religion get published so the world can be a better place. Turns out, it’s a pretty tough marriage, and for once, she’s forced to really follow through on her high ideals in a small and secret way, not a grand-and-save-the-world way. By the end, she’s grown, and you’ve grown to see she is good. Not perfect. Not superficially good, or sickly good, but sincerely good.

Whenever I take those “what literary heroine are you?” quizzes, I get Emma, from Jane Austen’s book Emma (I really want to be Jo March or Elizabeth Bennett, sigh). But, unfortunately, it’s true. Emma and I share quite a bit in common. We’re both out-going and opinionated and think we know what’s going to make everyone else’s life better. (If you read this blog, you probably know that). But Emma was so manipulative and only obsessed with match-making so I like to think of Emma as my worst literary self. But maybe Dorthea is my best literary self. I’m pretty sure Dorthea’s what you’d call an Idea-Action person, and her Myers-Briggs is ENFJ* .. oh wait, that’s mine, too. 🙂 Except, okay, the analogy breaks down very quickly because I’m not as saintly. But, you know, these things are never perfect.

It got me thinking— Could we create our own literary social-justice character quiz? Hmm? Ideas for candidates? I feel like Atticus could be in there…Help me out here, people.

PS. There is also a miniseries but I never watched it. In fact, there is the whole George Eliot Collection dvd set here. PPS. This post contains affiliate links.

*Meyers-Briggs is a common personality test that puts you on a spectrum in four different areas. The third area is thinking vs feeling, and I always come out right in the middle. I think I’m more of a feeler, but I feel like I’m more of a thinker. Who knows. Here’s a quick free version you can take if you’re curious. I have no idea if it’s any good.

6 thoughts on “The Middlemarch Social Justice Advocate

    1. Aw, I love Minny and Aibileen! I was worried that because I know lots of old English books everything would be skewed towards white people (because everything was skewed that way back then) so I love having more contemporary ideas to bring in the diversity too! And Katness. There’s an idea.


  1. Steph, I read Middlemarch in college and enjoyed it, but I don’t remember a thing about it.

    I tested today as an ENFJ but I think I’m more of an introvert and I’m certainly not an Idea/Action person!




    1. I think the tests you get online are not as accurate. When I was in college and had to take the “real” test I came out ENFJ, but when I take the quick online ones, I get ENFP. When I read the descriptions of the types, I think I’m more ENFJ.


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