Middlemarch

Middlemarch

by

George Eliot

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The Key to All Mythologies Symbol Analysis

The Key to All Mythologies Symbol Icon

The Key to All Mythologies is the name of the work of theological scholarship to which the 45-year-old Rev. Edward Casaubon has dedicated several decades of his life. The grand title of the work highlights its ambitious scope, and when Dorothea first hears about it, she is captivated by the idea that the work will constitute a major contribution to knowledge. However, early on in Dorothea’s marriage to Casaubon it emerges that the project is not as significant as it at first appears. Will Ladislaw informs Dorothea that because Casaubon does not read German, he has not been able to keep up with the latest developments in the field of theology, which means that The Key to All Mythologies is doomed to be outdated and irrelevant. Casaubon dies without finishing the project; he entrusts the notes to Dorothea and asks her to shape them into a finished product, but at this point Dorothea realizes that it will never amount to anything and considers it a “tomb” in which Casaubon has buried her. Like the cottages, The Key to All Mythologies thus symbolizes the failure of unrealized ambitions. However, because of Casaubon’s show of confidence in the work, it also represents the dangers of self-delusion. Casaubon is secretly insecure about the project, but instead of admitting this he becomes secretive and cagey about it. The Key to All Mythologies is seemingly impressive, but ultimately insubstantial.  

The Key to All Mythologies Quotes in Middlemarch

The Middlemarch quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Key to All Mythologies. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Women and Gender Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the HarperCollins edition of Middlemarch published in 2015.
Book 4, Chapter 42 Quotes

Thus his intellectual ambition which seemed to others to have absorbed and dried him, was really no security against wounds, least of all against those which came from Dorothea. And he had begun now to frame possibilities for the future which were somehow more embittering to him than anything his mind had dwelt on before.

Related Characters: Dorothea Brooke, Rev. Edward Casaubon
Related Symbols: The Key to All Mythologies
Page Number: 418
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 5, Chapter 48 Quotes

And here Dorothea's pity turned from her own future to her husband's past - nay, to his present hard struggle with a lot which had grown out of that past the lonely labour, the ambition breathing hardly under the pressure of self-distrust; the goal receding, and the heavier limbs; and now at last the sword visibly trembling above him! And had she not wished to marry him that she might help him in his life's labour? - But she had thought the work was to be something greater, which she could serve in devoutly for its own sake. Was it right, even to soothe his grief - would it be possible, even if she promised - to work as in a treadmill fruitlessly?

Related Characters: Dorothea Brooke, Rev. Edward Casaubon
Related Symbols: The Key to All Mythologies
Page Number: 479
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Key to All Mythologies Symbol Timeline in Middlemarch

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Key to All Mythologies appears in Middlemarch. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 1
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Community and Class Theme Icon
Money and Greed Theme Icon
...educated man who has spent many years writing an ambitious work of religious history ( The Key to All Mythologies ). (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 7
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Ambition and Disappointment Theme Icon
...spends at Tipton during his and Dorothea’s engagement forces him to neglect his scholarly project, The Key to All Mythologies . Dorothea suggests that she should learn to read Latin or Greek to help him... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 9
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Ambition and Disappointment Theme Icon
Money and Greed Theme Icon
...“thoroughness.” Casaubon has tried to show Will the importance of patience via his work on The Key to All Mythologies , but it has not worked. He says he will support Will for a year,... (full context)
Book 5, Chapter 50
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Ambition and Disappointment Theme Icon
Money and Greed Theme Icon
At Lowick, Dorothea finds Casaubon’s instructions for her to finish The Key to All Mythologies , which she now regards as a “tomb.” Now that he is dead, Dorothea no... (full context)