What’s Blood Got To Do With It?

“‘He has got no good red blood in his body,’ said Sir James.
‘No. Somebody put a drop under a magnifying-glass, and it was all semicolons and parentheses,’ said Mrs Cadwallader”. (65)

What is the connection between Casaubon, language and some good blood? Excellent question— perhaps one that the curious Casaubon might pose himself, but for now the novel presents this puzzle. In this small excerpt Sir James asserts that Casaubon is unfit to marry Dorothea because of his lack of “good red blood”. Blood can represent lineage, passion, health, or a combination of the three, but no matter what it represents, having bad blood is never a good thing. Mrs Cadwallader supports Sir James’ opinion and takes the assault one step further. She ruthlessly compares Casaubon’s not-so-vital fluid to the English language’s most underwhelming punctuation marks— talk about a low blow. Semicolons do not provide a definitive end to a sentence; rather they are a point to pause, an annoying stopping point before a solid conclusion is reached. Parentheses are used to add extra, often superfluous information; they interrupt the main idea and the momentum of a sentence in order to insert secondary information. Contained within this analogy is an interesting suggestion- perhaps a man’s character and substance can be judged by his use of language. Language has already become a central topic in the novel: knowledge of the Ancient languages: Greek and Latin, is a symbol of great intelligence and utility for Dorothea, religious dogma and declarations penetrate everyday conversations, and three strong male characters have emerged with three different speaking styles. Mr Brooke rambles, shamelessly sprinkling his opinions with semicolons and dashes (16). Casaubon does not speak often, but when he does, he speaks with purpose, making definitive statements (72). Sir James likes to question and exclaim; his words are pointed and emotional (63-4). As I read on, and as these characters develop, I believe that not just what they say, but how they say it will speak volumes about their character.

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