Just a Figurehead

A pattern I’ve seen over and over again throughout Middlemarch is the presence of figureheads. The figureheads are typically high society individuals, while the brains generally are low society individuals. A notable figurehead in the first two hundred and fifty pages of this novel is Sir James. He takes Dorotheas idea of providing cottages for impoverished residents throughout his estate. Taking this idea makes him appear charitable and heroic, thereby elevating his social status. While Dorothea comes from money,  she is considered low a society individual since she is a Victorian woman with little freedom.

The main figurehead for the next two hundred and fifty pages is Mr. Brooke.  When Mr. Brooke goes to visit his tenet, Dagley, about Dagley’s son illegally hunting on his estate, he realizes how much his tenets hate him. Understanding his lack of qualification and not wanting to be disliked, Mr. Brooke realizes that he should re-hire Caleb (who he had fired years prior due to some dispute) to manage his estate. Without Caleb’s help, Mr. Brooke’s status as well-respected land-lords will be placed in jeopardy (Eliot 373-376).

Similarly, Mr. Brooke uses Will to help run his editorial and provide him with the knowledge to sustain his political campaign. In practicing for his campaign, Mr. Brooke agrees with everything. Will insists that if Brooke ever wants to win the election, he must have an opinion. Otherwise, people will view him as ineffective (431-432). Without Will, both Brooke’s editorial and campaign will likely crumble

Generally, it appears that the most high-society individuals in the novel need the aid of low society individuals to thrive. From an outside perspective, it looks like high society individuals, like Sir James and Mr. Brooke, are incredibly intelligent and successful; however, by getting a glimpse into the inner-workings, we realize that their knowledge and success are attributed to people deemed beneath them.

Questions: Can you name a high-society character in the novel who receives no form of assistance–particularly from a ‘low society’ character? Which high society individual is most reliant on low society individuals?

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