George Eliot

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Middlemarch: Foreshadowing 4 key examples

Definition of Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved directly or indirectly, by making... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the... read full definition
Explanation and Analysis—Saint Theresa:

In the “Prelude” to the novel, Eliot includes an allusion to the story of Saint Theresa, a Catholic saint who lived in the early 1500s in Avila, Spain. Eliot tells Saint Theresa’s life story, describing the saint’s idealistic nature and also how, at times, her intentions were thwarted by everyday concerns and family members who underestimated her. In order to tie Saint Theresa’s story to the novel to come, Eliot concludes the Prelude in the following way:

Here and there a cygnet is reared uneasily among the ducklings in the brown pond, and never finds the living stream in fellowship with its own oary-footed kind. Here and there is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heart-beats and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off and are dispersed among hindrances, instead of centring in some long-recognizable deed.

Though subtle, this passage prepares readers for Middlemarch to tell the story of a woman who “is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing,” foreshadowing Dorothea’s role in the novel. Like Saint Theresa, Dorothea is a woman with lofty goals who ends up a homemaker, trapped, as she is, by the gender roles of her time. It could be argued that, as the other primary character of the novel, Lydgate, too, is a Saint Theresa—he dreamt of changing the face of medicine and dies an average physician.

Book 2, Chapter 15
Explanation and Analysis—Lydgate in Paris:

When introducing readers to Lydgate, Eliot uses a flashback, as introduced by the narrator in the following way:

For those who want to be acquainted with Lydgate it will be good to know what was that case of impetuous folly, for it may stand as an example of the fitful swerving of passion to which he was prone, together with the chivalrous kindness which helped to make him morally lovable. The story can be told without many words. It happened when he was studying in Paris.

In the flashback, Eliot tells the story of how Lydgate—while studying abroad in France—fell in love with an actress who intentionally stabbed her husband (a fellow actor) while performing in a play together. After Lydgate follows the actress to another part of France—assuming her to be innocent—she admits that she stabbed her husband on purpose. Shocked, Lydgate decides to leave her and to give up on seeking out romantic love in the future.

This flashback provides important context for Lydgate’s character—readers leave understanding that he has a pattern of having his idealism turn to disappointment (which foreshadows what will happen with both his romantic relationship with Rosamond and his professional work at the New Hospital).

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Book 4, Chapter 37
Explanation and Analysis—Dorothea’s Class Change:

When Dorothea first learns about Will’s grandmother—who ran away from her wealthy family to marry a poor Polish musician whom she loved—Dorothea asks about how his grandmother navigated the change in her class status, as seen in the following passage:

"I wish I knew all about her!" said Dorothea. "I wonder how she bore the change from wealth to poverty: I wonder whether she was happy with her husband! Do you know much about them?"

It is apparent here that Dorothea is curious about Will’s grandmothers generally, but even more specifically about her “change from wealth to poverty.” This is an example of foreshadowing because, like Will’s grandmother, Dorothea will go on to abandon her fortune in favor of marrying someone she is not supposed to (Will).

Though Dorothea ends up with less money—losing her property and prestige in the process of disobeying her late husband Casaubon’s instructions that she should never marry Will—she is much happier after marrying Will and moving into a small home in London with him. This is one of the ways in which Dorothea proves she is not greedy like other characters in the novel—she cares most about integrity rather than fortune or social status.

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Book 5, Chapter 48
Explanation and Analysis—Dorothea's Tomb:

When Dorothea and Casaubon’s marriage is in a particularly stuck state—as Casaubon becomes increasingly focused on The Key to All Mythologies while Dorothea is aware that it will never be the great work he wants it to be—Eliot uses a metaphor to capture Dorothea’s experience of the marriage:

[Dorothea] longed for work which would be directly beneficent like the sunshine and the rain, and now it appeared that she was to live more and more in a virtual tomb, where there was the apparatus of a ghastly labor producing what would never see the light. Today she had stood at the door of the tomb and seen Will Ladislaw receding into the distant world of warm activity and fellowship—turning his face towards her as he went.

In feeling that she exists in a “virtual tomb,” Dorothea has clearly lost all former illusions about her husband and exists more in a state of disappointment. This passage also foreshadows Casaubon’s early death (as he will be the one entombed) as well as foreshadowing Dorothea’s more joyful future marriage to Will (as seen in the end of the passage with Will “turning his face towards her” as he heads toward a “world of warm activity”).

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