Dorothea and the Written Word: Feminism and Heroism in Middlemarch


  • Marla Lee Weitzman University of Virginia's College at Wise



Feminism, gender, genre, George Eliot, Middlemarch.


In her novel Middlemarch, George Eliot challenges assumptions about gender and genre by associating Dorothea Brooke with both masculine authority and feminine emotion. Eliot does so by connecting Dorothea both to the act of writing and to the artistic production itself. Unlike Rosamond Vincy, who is associated with the romance and with popular poetry in order to devalue her, Dorothea is connected to a number of more elevated genres, which are also associated with male authority. By driving the plot, Dorothea assumes the role of the writer in several ways: she ensures Celia’s marriage with Sir James by choosing Casaubon, she reunites Lydgate and Rosamond, and helps restore Lydgate’s good name. The letter she writes to accept Casaubon’s offer of marriage is written “three times, not because she wished to change the wording, but because her hand was unusually uncertain” (Eliot, 1968, p. 33). Her ardor gets in the way of her handwriting, but not of her “wording.” Eliot endows Dorothea’s writing with characteristics that are stereotypically feminine (motivated by love and intimacy) and stereotypically masculine (growing out of ardor, and expressing vigor, force and energy). By infusing the intimate with the powerful, and associating both with the act of writing, Eliot conflates the typical province of woman with the typical province of men thus disrupting conventions of both gender and genre.

Author Biography

  • Marla Lee Weitzman, University of Virginia's College at Wise

    Associate Professor, Department of Language and Literature

    M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia

    B.A. from Brandeis University


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