You see what happened there? Deerbrook is one of those triple-deckers I’m fond of going on about. Chapter 16 closes out Volume 1.
Mr Hope and Mrs Hester Hope arrive back from their one-week whirlwind tour of Oxford (…and all Hester got was that awful marriage). Martineau gives us four pages of domestic bliss — kettles set to boiling, rooms inspected, sitting-rooms sat in — before she ratchets up the tension. While the new domestics are being introduced to Hope and Hester,
Margaret glanced towards her brother, and they exchanged smiles. But the effect of Margaret’s smile was that Mr Hope’s died away, and left him grave.
I think Margaret is honestly ignorant of any incipient longing Hope is carrying around with him. I don’t get a Miss Young feeling about her, that she’s keeping anything secret and hidden, the way I think Miss Young is. She is, though, going to be in that house all the time. And she’s probably going to smile at him many more times in the future. This thing that Hope has done to himself is painful to watch.
[A brief look behind the scenes of writing this blog: I scrawl notes in the margins or in between lines of the books I’m reading. Not necessarily smart things, or insightful. Usually things to remind me of what was happening at that moment, or check-marks to remind me that I need to comment on a paragraph. In the margin, on page 202 of my edition, I wrote “pages and pages and pages about a book regarding ice” and I thought, just now, while writing, “I’d better take a look at that. One page. There was just the one page about the book regarding ice. I have the attention span, apparently, of a gnat. Or any other member of my generation.]
All this painful yearning and ice books are soon interrupted by Margaret handing Hester one of her first pieces of mail as a married lady: A note in an enveloped marked “Private” from Mrs Grey. I guess when she can’t drag someone into a side room for a fraughtfully whispered secret conversation, a secret note passed after gym class is the next best thing. Hester backs-and-forths about whether she should read it, and where she should read it, and if Hope should read it or not, and I start to long for those pages and pages and pages about a book regarding ice. Finally, she opens the letter and reads it.
People do terrible things to Hester in private. If you’re Mrs Rowland, you make a point of dragging Hester on a private walk to tell her how she’s unfit for marrying into your family. If you’re Hope, you take a private walk with Hester to tell her you’re going to marry her when really you want to marry her sister. And if you’re Mrs Grey, you send Hester a letter asking her to meddle between Mr Hope and one of his patients. “Why, if she is to be interfering already in our affairs—if she is to be always fancying that she has anything to do with Edward,—and we living so near,—I shall never be able to bear it.”
I…don’t entirely see it. (And also: Martineau never gives us more about this — not who the patient is, or why Mr Hope needs to be meddled with in regards to this patient in the first place. It’s like that weird episode with that woman and the butter from earlier in the novel.) I feel Hester may be overreacting a little; however, she’s also never been a doctor’s wife before (not that Mr Hope is technically a doctor; he’s an apothecary. This means that he can prescribe medicines, but he couldn’t perform surgeries) and doesn’t anticipate the kinds of jockeying she’ll be subject to as people try to bump themselves to the top of the list. But telling Hester that she’s overreacting isn’t probably the best idea:
“My dear! is it possible?” cried Edward. “Such a trifle—.”
“It is no trifle,” said Hester, trying to command her voice; “it can never be a trifle to me that any one shows disrespect to you. I shall never be able to keep terms with any one who does.”
It’s going to be a looooong marriage for Hester. And Hope. And us. Hester continues to fuss about how the entire village of Deerbrook seems to be conspiring to run her household whether she’s in it or not. “If they would only let you alone…” she says. And I want to tap her on the forehead and say, “Where have you been this whole novel? When has anyone been left alone?” Fortunately, Mr Hope reads my thoughts and says, after Margaret rhetorically asks, “Do they let any public man alone? Dr Levitt, or Mr James?”
“Or the parish clerk? It was reported lately that steps were to be taken to intimate to Owen, that it was a constant habit of his to cough as he took his seat in the desk. I was told once myself, that it was remarked throughout Deerbrook that I seemed to be half whistling as I walked up the street in the mornings; and that it was considered a practice too undignified for my profession.”
Finally Hester settles down, and the women retire for the evening, leaving Mr Hope alone with his thoughts. “He was amazed at the return of his feelings about Margaret, and filled with horror when he thought of the days, and months, and years of close domestic companionship with her, from which there was no escape.” And Martineau immediately repeats that creepy refrain: “There was no escape.” And Hope realizes that “the peace of his wife, of Margaret—his own peace in theirs—depended wholly on the deep secrecy in which he should preserve the mistake he had made.”
And that brings up to the end of Book 1.
Chapter 1 of Book 2 opens at the Grey’s house, as they try to decide how they should be invited to the Hopes’. There’s some disagreement about how the youngest son, Sydney, should be handled for this invitation; his mother thinks that “he ought to be asked, but that perhaps he had better not go, as he would be in the way.” This idea is overruled by Hester, though, who suggests that the Greys also drag along a friend of Sydney’s, William Levitt, because they can play in the surgery together, “with some very curious things in it,” and I realize it was a kinder, gentler time back then where people didn’t lock their doors and no one had to wonder what, exactly, a Lady Gaga is. But still: YOU DON’T SEND KIDS TO PLAY IN THE SURGERY. I can only hope that Hope is impotent because Hester’s a lady that should not have children.
The day of the dinner party Margaret and Hester are left with nothing to do, so Hester does her favorite thing: fret about her husband. He’s not arrived home yet, and she worries every time he leaves. She keeps glancing anxiously out the window, causing her sister to ask:
“Do you mean to do that for life, when your husband takes a country ride?” said Margaret, laughing.
“I hate these everlasting country rides!” cried Hester. “I do wish he would give up those almshouses.”
And, apparently, the part of Hester will be played by Marie Antoinette.
As it turns out, Hester may have some expectations that Mr Hope isn’t safe on his own on horseback. For instance, there was his previous terrible (and still somewhat mysterious) accident that put him in that ever-so-brief coma before forcing him into his marriage with Hester. (And have we talked about that? Or specifically, have we talked about this nineteenth century trope of illness leading to love? I don’t think we have. It’s all over Jane Austen — whether it’s Marianne’s near-fatal cold after walking through the rain over Willoughby, or Jane Bennett’s near fatal cold after walking through the rain to Netherfield Park, or Louisa Musgrove falling off a wall: Austen uses illness as a catalyst leading to usually love, or at least some sort of romantic understanding. Martineau is using that here, too, it seems: Edward Hope’s crisis of unconsciousness pushes him down a terrible romantic path. I haven’t read enough to know if this is just selective data on my part; and anyway I can’t figure out what the point is even if I am on to something. Maybe it’s just a piece of exciting action that was more interesting to write about rather than another walk through a garden, or quiet tete-a-tete in a sitting room.) We later learn that Hope has also been racing his horse across the countryside after dark, nearly spilling himself over an embankment and into a deep ravine. (…on purpose?) So she’s not worried out of nowhere.
The dinner party finally gets underway, and it’s here that we learn that there’s an impending election for Deerbrook, This reminds me that I still haven’t finished Middlemarch. I was fine with the sort of overwrought romance of the novel; but if we’re going to throw politics into the mix too? Yeesh.
But I guess now is as good a time as any to describe (as best as I am able) how politics work in the nineteenth century. While you’re reading this, assume that Hester is continually fretting about Mr Hope, and Mr Hope is constantly fretting about the marriage, and Mrs Rowland is doing something awesome.
Up until 1872, before Gladstone’s Ballot Act, ballots were cast publically, and you actually had to appear before your fellow citizens in support of your candidate. Villages like Deerbrook and large cities like London would vote for members of Parliament. These representatives were supposed to have the best interests of their jurisdictions at heart; however, as is often still the case today, jurisdictions often end at the tip of the nose of the representative. So-called “rotten boroughs” or “pocket boroughs” were rife through the early part of the nineteenth century, and England passed several reform acts in the hopes of leveling the playing field. The Reform Act of 1832 tried to grant, among other things, voting rights to more individuals by weakening the monetary and land-owning requirements for men. I think prior to the 1832 Reform Act, households were required to be worth at least £200, or roughly 20 times more than what the average household did — essentially ensuring that only the wealthy and the lingering aristocracy could vote. After the Reform Act, a household only needed to be worth £10. (This first Reform Act doesn’t enfranchise everyone; after 1832, you still needed a household in order to vote. The Reform Act of 1867 enfranchised skilled laborers and other members of the working class who may be renting rooms or houses.)
I am not a fan of this glimmer of a new plot direction, guys, but I think it’s going to end up being a big deal later on. At the dinner party, Mr Grey expresses some dismay that Mr Hope is going to show up to vote. For every citizen there’s a right candidate to win, and a wrong candidate to win, and, as it turns out, Mr Hope can’t vote for both, thereby not angering anyone (or angering everyone equally, thus canceling it all out). Grey counsels him that voting won’t lead to any good; that it will alienate him from many in the community, and that as a fairly new apothecary with a new wife and a fledgling practice, that might not be the move he wants to make right now:
“Every one knows the disadvantages to a professional man, circumstanced like you, of taking any side in a party matter. You might find the consequences very serious, I assure you.”
While the men talk politics, the ladies — or, mostly, Mrs Grey — talk about how great it is that Hester’s married. The novel gets a little confusing here, and I’m sure it’s my fault, and I’ll try to explain where I’m running into trouble:
Hester, as a married gal, should show herself to the whole community at once in church. That would be the socially acceptable thing to do. (Zach and I, however, will show ourselves for the first time to the public, after we’re married, in the Metro. Tomato/tomahto.) The question of which church, though, is a sticky one, since Margaret and Hester are dissenters. (And now that I think of it, I don’t know if that was mentioned to Mr Hope at all, or what religion Hope himself is.) The way Martineau writes this scene, though, it sounds like Mrs Grey is the one who is pushing for this “be seen in church” business; however, I’m pretty sure that Mrs Grey and the whole Grey family are dissenters, too. In fact, I know they are because Mrs Grey tells us so in chapter 1 (from page 13 of my edition: “Dr Levitt is our rector,” observed Mrs Grey to her guests. “We are dissenters, as you know, and our neighbour, Mrs Rowland, is very much scandalized at it.” I don’t know if I’m just being a sloppy reader, or if Martineau forgot that the Greys were dissenters. And it’s sort of silly that I’m spending this much time on it, since it’s not an essential plot point, I think.
Hester will ruin the lives of every member of Deerbrook if she is seen (or not seen) in church (or not in church) by some ordained time. Got it? Good. Once Mrs Grey has completely freaked Hester out about the possibility of ruining everything, Mrs Grey turns her attention to Mr Hope, asking, “Do you think he has quite, entirely, gotten over his accident?” Apparently everyone has been noticing that Mr Hope has been a little less Hope-y than he has been in the past, and since Hope has kept his attraction to Margaret a secret, so that it’s not ridiculously awkward now that he’s living under the same roof as Margaret while married to Margaret’s batty sister, they all attribute it to his having fallen off a horse. But we, the readers, know the score. This life is taking a toll on him.
Mrs Grey says that “I thought in the autumn that he was entirely himself again: but there is still a little difference—a little flatness of spirits sometimes—a little more gravity than used to be natural to him.” She later even uses the word “delicate” to describe him — but then laughs it all away with a “then we may be quite easy!” when she’s told that no one else is noticing any of the ailments she seems to believe are present in Mr Hope. “Do not let anything that I have said dwell upon your mind.”
And of course Hester’s going to do just that. She’s so easy going. Devil-May-Care-Hester, they call her.
We spend chapter 2 of Book 2 with the ailing Mrs Enderby, Mrs Rowland’s mother. The first words out of Mrs Enderby’s mouth are, “I am better now, Phoebe…and if you will fan me for a minute or two, I shall be quite fit to see the children.”
I’m starting the Death Countdown on her…now.
We learn, from a conversation between Mrs Enderby and her grandkids, that Philip Enderby is off studying for the bar — or the Victorian equivalent of that. This freaks out little George Enderby, who was laboring under the impression that once one reached, say, 20, that one never had to study for anything ever again. Ah, youth. I was on the Metro, once, reading Great Expectations and a teenaged boy sitting next to me asked if I was a teacher. When I said no, he said, “Ah, you’re in college?” And when I said no again, he sort of visibly paled. That’s when I lept in for the kill: “I’m reading this for pleasure.” He moved seats shortly afterwards.
Having effectively terrified George with a glimpse into the future where people still have to study even after attaining adulthood, Mrs Enderby and her maid Phoebe turn their attentions to Matilda Rowland, George’s sister. Mrs Enderby had been waving around a lengthy letter she had received from Philip, and she asks
“When will you write such long letters, I wonder?”
“I shall when I am married, I suppose,” said Matilda, again drawing up her little head.
“You married, my love! And pray when are you to be married?”
“Mamma often talks of the time when she shall lose me, and of what things have to be done while she has me with her.”
“There is a great deal to be done indeed, love, before that day, if it ever comes.”
“There are more ways than one of losing a child,” observed Phoebe, in her straightforward way. “If Mrs Rowland thinks so long beforehand of the one way, it is to be hoped she keeps Miss Matilda up to the thought of the other, which must happen sooner or later, while marrying may not.”
I immediately add Phoebe to my list of Awesome Characters Whom I Want to Be.
There’s an altercation, outside, between Mrs Rowland and Mrs Grey that Martineau chooses not to make us privy to just yet. And, the way Martineau drops plot points througout the novel, we may not ever get an explanation. A conversation next ensues between Mrs Rowland and Mrs Enderby about arrowroot and since Martineau can’t see fit to write about anything else exciting, I’ll end the recap here.