“Their Mutual Life”: Lydgate’s Double Consciousness and complicated ‘nodes’ of the web

Hi all!

In chapters 64-67 of Middlemarch, George Eliot portrays the strain of debt on Lydgate and Rosamond’s married life. I would like to examine the connection between these two ‘nodes’ by noting Eliot’s diction and the way she constructs not only their marriage, but also the subtle psychological realities of their relationship.

As we have already discussed in class, sentences and scenes frequently perform as analogies to the larger, web-like construction of the novel. The children stories on page 605, immediately before several scenes about Lygate and Rosamond, draw the reader’s attention to the intersection of smaller “worlds”—like individual relationships—to the larger picture. Mary tells Louisa to ask about “‘the ants whose beautiful house was knocked down by a giant named Tom, and he thought they didn’t mind because he couldn’t hear them cry, or see them use their pocket-handkerchiefs’” (605).

Eliot juxtaposes this parable alongside the currently strenuous relationship of Lydgate and Rosamond. With Middlemarch in the background, Eliot devotes these chapters to the delicate and intricate emotional states involved in the money dilemma.

On page 608, Eliot introduces the concept of “the second consciousness”, of which Lydgate seems to suffer. As he attempts to deal with all his stresses and the concept of “chance” (which would also be an incredible topic for a blog post and/or discussion since the themes are interwoven well before his gambling spree), his “discontent”—or this second/doubled psychological experience—saturates his every social interaction. Eliot describes the “second consciousness” in the following way:

“[Lydgate] was now a prey to that worst irritation which arises not simply from annoyances, but from the second consciousness underlying those annoyances, of wasted energy and a degrading preoccupation, which was the reverse of all his former purposes. ‘This is what I am thinking of; and that is what I might have been thinking of,’ was the bitter incessant murmur within him, making every difficulty of a double goad to impatience” (608-9).

I think this complicates our already complicated understanding of the ‘web’, because we now have dual experiences and interlaced conceptions, thoughts, and emotions WITHIN each human being. Eliot has thus far constructed an argument not only for the ‘soul’, but for varied emotional states, intellectual lives, moralities, spiritual identities, psyches, etc. The relationship between Lydgate and Rosamond is ever changing and ever more complicated because our “nodes” have endless perceptions and emotions, and even second consciousnesses.

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