I loved the way George Eliot shows us the innermost workings of relationships. Dorothea is an unforgettable character, and the contrast between her and Rosamund is particularly compelling. For example, Rosamund sees men as conquests. As a newlywed, she is thrilled by the idea of ensnaring another man, not because she wants to have an affair with him, but just because she loves having power over men. Dorothea, on the other hand, has many relationships with men during the course of the novel, and she is able to connect with them on an entirely different level from Rosamund's, as complex people and not as prizes to be won. Here is Lydgate towards the end of the book reflecting on Dorothea:
"'She seems to have what I never saw in any woman before -- a fountain of friendship towards men -- a man can make a friend of her.'"And yet there's nothing so crude in the book as making Rosamund evil and Dorothea good; Eliot deals with both characters with great compassion, so that as readers we feel deeply sympathetic to both.
We're permitted to witness several marriages close-up, and to see a variety of ways of interacting, not just in the main characters, but in others, too: the Bulstrodes, the elder Garths. Each character is finely drawn; there's not a stereotype in the bunch. We see how these people deal with courtship, marriage, friendship, work, debt, change in society, illness, religion, and whatever else can fit into 850 pages (hint: it's a lot).
I now have a new answer for that parlor game that asks which people, living or dead, you'd like to have dinner with. George Eliot must have been a fascinating person. I read a little bit about her life, and the way she flouted the expectations of society at every turn. I think there must be a little of Eliot in Dorothea; although Dorothea lives a very moral life, with no scandalous behavior like that of Eliot, she has such a wonderful, refreshing lack of concern about what people think of her. I am sure Eliot must have been the same. I would love to discuss this book with its creator.
Meanwhile, I found this fun Australian TV book club discussion about the book.