Swans in a Brown Pond

Dorthea is placed as the antithesis of all that is Middlemarch. She is serious where others are frivolous. She is studious where others are shallow. She is the swan amongst the ducks all swimming in a brown pond. Yet, her nature does not completely isolate her. It only forces others to take a greater notice in her, whether she is aware of this attention or not. However, her would be counterpart Will Ladislaw is in many ways her direct opposite. He has the ability to drift between households and class lines fluidly. People regard him not as intimidating, but ostentatious. Yet he is also distinguished as a social oddity. Pages 434 to 445 focuses on Will’s interactions with his new neighbors. His escapades include, “…pick[ing] up a troop of droll children…another was, that in houses where he got friendly, he was given to stretch himself a full length on the rug…whom [Miss Noble] it was one of his oddities to escort when he met her in the street with her little basket, giving her this arm in the eyes of town” (435). All of these actions are seen as infractions to the social norms set by the population of Middlemarch. So why is Will allowed to break these prescribed conditions and Dorthea is seen as an outsider? It could be because Dorthea was born into the brown pawn, meanwhile Will is given the space due to his position as an outsider. One could argue that Lydgate is comparable to Will because of their shared circumstances as arriving to Middlemarch instead of being born in Middlemarch. While this is true, there is one key difference between Will and Lydgate. Will swims on top of the brown pond, interacting dexterously with the co-inhabitants, Lydgate is drowning. He falls deeper into debts, both monetarily and socially. Will is exemplary of how an outsider can survive in the consuming Middlemarch. He is able to dodge any sort of major ties to politics, and is versed enough socially to converse with any person regardless of class standing. Dorthea is tethered to her constraints of class, home, and marital obligation. She is an aloof swan, gracing the ducks with her presence. Will is still a swan, but one who has learned how to convert and make friends with his fellow pond-er. Yet, the pool is starting to grow too small for so many big bodies.

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