Rosamond also advertises herself in front of Lydgate, so that he is capable of imagining his pride in having her as his wife. She is aware of every move that she makes in front of the doctor; when they first met at Featherstone’s ‘every nerve and muscle in Rosamond was adjusted to the consciousness that she was being looked at’. She has been brought up amongst attitudes similar to those of Brooke, and as a result has accepted the role in courtship as, basically, a certificate of prowess, and one who takes care ‘not to show her dimples on the wrong occasion’ lest it make her look superficial.
She seems to fit every one of Lydgate’s expectations in a woman, who desires a wife whose beauty is ‘by its very nature virtuous, being moulded only for pure and delicate joys’. Rosamond has been ‘moulded’ into this role her entire life, deliberately moving in such a way that ‘her flower like head… was seen in perfection above her riding habit’, and her purpose for providing such ‘delicate joys’ in her manner is thus displayed.
Lydgate’s expectations in women changed after he unfortunately, but romantically, fell in love with a French actor, Laure, followed her across from Paris to Avignon after the tragic death of her husband, only to learn that she had murdered him ‘because he was too fond’. This painful memory seems to have changed Lydgate, who is now repulsed by ‘large-eyed silence’, and Rosamond, being the ‘very opposite’, is extremely attractive to the doctor. The formula for a failed marriage is obvious when, once married, Lydgate’s expectations of Rosamond as his wife contrast with her own comprehension of her role.
All her respect for Lydgate disappears when she notices that she does not have the material wealth that she has been accustomed to, and that her dreams of acquiring a ‘first-rate position elsewhere than in Middlemarch’ show themselves to be impossible for Lydgate. Her acceptance of the role as the subservient wife who brings prestige and status to Lydgate vanishes as she panics, realising that her role is not as she imagines and she does not have every comfort that she envisaged. She blames Lydgate, thinking that ‘if she had known how Lydgate would behave, she would ever have married him’.
Lydgate’s expectation of her respect as his wife is also shattered when she goes behind his back in her panic. She writes to his uncle in asking for money and, Lydgate having received an unappreciative reply, accuses her of ‘secret meddling’, and having ‘incompetence to judge and act’ for him. Their marriage deteriorates further for the rest of the novel. The role of Susan Garth in her marriage, and the expectations of Caleb, present a much more harmonious image than with these other failures.
There is a mutual respect between the couple, and Caleb expects his wife to be submissive under patriarchal authority, but also to take a more active role in decision-making and with the family; Caleb will ‘take no important step without consulting Susan’. Susan does, therefore, have an authoritative role in affairs, but she also knows when to ‘make herself subordinate’, a compromise in her role that creates the blissful nature of their marriage. However Susan holds a position that is never over-assertive. She knows her husband well, comprehending ‘a sign of his not intending to speak further on the subject’.
Unlike Rosamond, Susan is able to give up material wealth for love of her husband. Her place in society is flexible; although her ‘grammar and accent were above the town standard’, she is prepared to accept a life that renounces ‘all pride in teapots or children’s frilling’. Mrs. Garth is independent in teaching the children and managing the home, whilst Mr. Garth is independent in his work. Mrs. Garth gains security in knowing that the household would not properly function without her whilst overlooking Caleb’s ‘incapacity of minding his own interests’, and Mr.
Garth gives her due respect in his expectations for her to do so. She respects Caleb in a way quite alien to Rosamond, and Caleb returns this in a way quite alien to Casaubon. Eliot also presents Mary Garth’s role in relationship to Fred Vincy as an example. She unquestionably saves Fred by directing the energy of his love for her towards spurring him into employment and decency, by saying that she would never engage herself ‘to one who has no manly independence’. She respects him even after he financially cripples their family.
Mary is quite exempt from the expectations of others, other than those of Featherstone for which she is employed. Fred’s only requirement of her is not to think him a ‘good-for nothing blackguard’, whilst he would ‘try to be anything’ Mary wanted if she would profess her love for him. Mary uses such a pledge to make Fred work himself out of debt. Their marriage is ultimately a successful one, and again this is mostly due to non-assertiveness as far as Fred’s expectation goes, similarly to Mr. And Mrs. Garth.
Dorothea is educated by the failure of her marriage to Casaubon, and is perhaps able to see that their problems arose from his lack of accommodation for her role within the marriage. She marries Will Ladislaw, who would have given up ‘everything else in life’ only to ‘watch over her’, and his reverential attitude towards her gives her the scope to pursue her own role in the relationship. This role does include, as she had initially wished, helping a man achieve great feats, by ‘being in the thick of a struggle’ against the Parliamentary ‘wrongs’ of the nation.
Eliot does not necessarily insist on unorthodoxy in a relationship to give success. She is not particularly writing against patriarchal roles and expectations, as shown when she writes that Dorothea was ‘known in certain circles as a wife and mother’, despite creating her as exemplary of how she feels the place of women in society should be. The same is true of Mr and Mrs Garth, as she accepts her wifely duty to allow Caleb his power in the household.
Eliot is essentially writing against superficial or disrespectful roles, such as the one assumed by Rosamond; she does this by making her marriage a complete failure by the end of the novel. She also writes against the wrongs in the expectations of men towards women, such as the ones that shaped Rosamond into a falsity, and the limiting, restrictive expectations of Casaubon that ruined his marriage to Dorothea. The happiness that exists by the end of the novel are the product of respectful, flexible attitudes towards one another.