Monday, February 4, 2013

State University of Middlemarch (Part I)

The first day of the fall semester has come. The State University of Middlemarch opens its doors to the hundreds of new freshmen, among them Dorothea Brooke. Dressed prudently for her age, she finds the room where her first class will take place, Introduction to Literary Studies -- unlike her fellow students, her face is not buried in her smartphone, because her old, trustworthy Nokia has no internet connection. She has no need for ostentatious gadgets: her phone must make and receive calls, and it does. Her younger sister is with her today (high school does not begin until next week, and as a Senior in Middlemarch High she wants to see what expects her next year); but Dodo and Celia share only their last name. Celia, though less pretty, shows more skin and is more interested in worldly possessions. While Dodo hopes to eventually graduate with an MBA, Celia aspires to get an MRS.

Meeting them at the entrance of the department of languages and literature is James Chettam, Junior in the school of business. He has been after Dorothea for years, and although she gives him her full attention, she does not give him at all affection. Celia would kill for James to look at her even. James inquires as to whether all of Dorothea's scholarship paperwork has gone through properly (although she comes from a wealthy family, her great intellect got her a full scholarship), trying to make conversation. Dodo is fascinated with her new university and does not listen -- Celia kindly replies that their uncle, Arthur Brooke, has signed all the required documents and that yes, in fact, everything is fine.

As Dorothea finds her lecture hall and enters without saying good-bye to her sister and James, Fred Vincy shows his sister Rosamond around campus. Fred is currently in his fifth sophomore year, not having yet declared an official major. He's gone through theology, philosophy, psychology, sociology and even physics, but has failed to find his vocation. This new semester he will try out with business administration. Rosamond, breathtakingly beautiful, has been accepted in the music department, where she will undertake voice and piano lessons. Although a very skilled artist (albeit a lack of intellectual knowledge), because her father, Walter Vincy, is the university president, she was not awarded a scholarship -- what would people think. Leaving Rosamond with the dean of the music department, he goes over to the Admissions department to say hi to Mary Garth, his love affair, his significant other. Mary, however playfully, dismisses him, but when she goes outside on her cigarette break, finds that Fred has been waiting for her all this time. They flirt, but when Fred starts getting serious and hinting that they should move in together, Mary frowns and earnestly tells him that she will never fall in a love with an eternal student; he must find his vocation, she says, before he can aspire to have a relationship with her. Mary has not had the privilege to study (some people are just not born in the right crib...), but was lucky enough to find a well-enough paying job on campus.

The grand clock strikes 9 am, and all classes begin. Fred comes in late and sits in the last row, with his earplugs on, listening to Phish on iTunes, while playing Fruit Ninja on his iPhone. Rosamond has volunteered to sing first, and now stands alone on the stage, all spotlights on her, performing her a cappella version of "I will always love you." James has left Celia in the cafeteria while he attends to his upper level administration course. And while the world has yet to have meaning for all of them in the State University of Middlemarch, Dorothea falls in love with her lecturer, Professor Doctor Casaubon, expert in English & American literature, who teaches -- nay, recites, as if it were all poetry, the fascinating world of Grand Narratives, literary canons, discourses, representations, otherness... He has read all the books ever published and can remember every single detail about them all. Prof. Dr. Casaubon has a masters in philosophy, specializations in history and anthropology, and doctoral and post doctoral degrees in literature. He knows everything that is worth knowing, and shares his wisdom with his students, but does not waste time with idle details or mundane issues. When his point has come across, he stops talking. And his point always comes across flawlessly, like the never-halting river feeding wanting pastures.

This, Dodo realizes, is the first day of the rest of her life.