The Different Implications of the Name “Middlesex“ in the Novel of the Same Name by Jeffrey Eugenides


Term Paper, 2005

22 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Excerpt

CONTENTS

1. Introduction

2. Looking for an Explanation of the Word “Middlesex”

3. What the Author says on the Subject in Selected Interviews

4. The Chapter “Middlesex” as the Beginning of a Fundamental Change in the Narrator’s Life

5. The Narrator as an “Intermediate” Person

6. Sex as a Factor of Central Importance in the Other Protagonists’s Lives

7. Conclusion

8. Bibliography

1 INTRODUCTION

The novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides won the Pulitzer Price in 2002. If you endeavour to sum up the story in one sentence, you could say it is an epic tale of an hermaphrodite of Greek origin, of his genealogy and of the first forty years of his life in the USA and in Berlin, told by himself. The question is: Why did Eugenides choose the title “Middlesex” for his novel? and: How can the motive “Middlesex” be traced in the text? In trying to answer this, I used different ways of appraoch. First I strived to get some explanations from the outside, using dictionaries, the internet, and also referring to “Middlemarch” by George Eliot, because the title bears a resemblance to “Middlesex”. Next I found some interviews on the internet in which Eugenides speaks about his book. Then I turned to the novel itself. It is obvious that I looked into the chapter “Middlesex” first. Then I tried to find out whether there was any connection between the hermaphrodite status of Cal and the title. The last step I took was to analyze the relations of the four couples who make up Cal’s entourage in order to learn, if there was anything that linked them to the title. A short evaluation of the results of this quest shall be given in the conclusion of this paper.

2 Looking for an Explanation of the Word “Middlesex”

When at a loss about the meaning of a certain word or expression, the fastest way to find an explanation normally is to look it up in Webster’s. In the case of “Middlesex” the result, however, is quite meagre, “a county in SE England, bordering W and N London. 2,230,093 (1961) 232 sq.mi.”[1]. The Internet cedes some more information. Middlesex is one of the thirty-nine historical counties of England which has diminished in the course of time, much of the area becoming part of the County of London in 1888, and nearly all the remainder being subsumed by the new Greater London in 1965. But it is still used as a placename and can still be found in the names of some organizations[2]. This information really does nothing to elucidate Eugenides’s motives for choosing this title. Nor do the many other entries linked with geography. There is Middlesex County, Ontario, in Cananda consisting of North-Middlesex, Centre-Middlesex and Southwest-Middlesex, which has a Thames River and a town called London[3]. In the USA there are even two “Middlesexes” to be found: a borough called Middlesex in Middlesex County, New Jersey[4], and another Middlesex County in the south central part of Connecticut[5]. All of them got their name from the English area. Perhaps the geographic name can also be found in other countries formerly or presently connected to Great Britain, but looking them all up would surely be a waste of time. All in all it seems that the geographic term “Middlesex” only provided Eugenides with the name for a street and a house where the Stephanides family lived at the time of Callie’s first presentiments of hermaphroditism.

As whichever place called Middlesex could not have suffized to inspire Eugenides to write his book, there are more innuendoes to be found by splitting up the word without regard to the ethymological derivation. In doing this you get “middle” and “sex”, and apparently this brings you closer to the author’s intentions. “Sex”, according to Webster’s[6], is clearly defined as “the fact or character of being either male or female”, while the definition of “middle” is more ambigous. Among others you get the following explanations[7]:

“middle (adj.)

1. equally distant from the extremes or outer limits; central
2. intervening or intermediate
3. medium

middle (n.)

9. the middle part of the human body, esp. the waist

10. a mean, sth intermediate”

The synonyms listed are “centre” and “midst”. There seems to be a contradiction in combining the two terms because “middle” obviously cannot be “either … or”, but yet this compound evokes a multitude of different associations which can be traced in Eugenides’s novel and which are not limited to the fact of the narrator being a hermaphrodite, “an individual having both external and internal male and female sex organs”[8]. The hermaphrodistic condition of the protagonist, however, is what enters one’s mind first because “middlesex” could be regarded as a euphemistic synonym for the scientific expression “intersex”, which would sound much too prosaic for the imaginative story Eugenides wanted to tell. Moreover, “intersex” is a word of modern usage, whereas the author refers to “middlesex” persons from Greek mythology, to Tiresias and Hermaphroditos.

In trying to approach the author’s intentions of choosing the title for his book, there is still another aspect to be examined: the striking similarity between the title “Middlesex” and “Middlemarch”, a novel by George Eliot, published in 1871/1872. In his interview with Bram van Moorhem[9] Eugenides points out that he comes out of a European tradition of writing and that he is well acquainted with 19th century realistic fiction. Although George Eliot’s name is not explicitly mentioned in the interviews, it can be assumed that Eugenides was familiar with the author. Perhaps she interested him because Mary Ann Evans, born in Warwickshire, England, in 1819, adopted the pen name “George Eliot” when she started to write novels. She was an independent, intellectual woman, fond of reasoning, “equal of the most scholarly minds of her time”[10], but there is no indication of her having had any physical intersexual inclinations. She chose the first name “George” because of her lover, George Lewes, and “Eliot” because it was, in her opinion, “a good mouth-filling word”[11]. Yet there is something transsexual in the workings of her mind. “The beings she creates represent […] imaginary aspects or developments of her ego” and “her personality passes into all of them”[12], men and women alike. The structure of “Middlemarch” bears no resemblance to “Middlesex”. On looking more closely, however, one can discern some parallels. Both authors invented a “curiously independent social”[13] world, inhabited by a large number of interrelated people[14] who form a network that encloses a whole life[15]. There are four young brides in both books – Dorothea and Celia Brooke, Rosamond Vincy and Mary Garth with George Eliot, Desdemona, Sourmelina, Zoe and Tessie with Jeffrey Eugenides. Corresponding to Eugenides’s omniscient narrator there is a voice like a Greek chorus in the “Prelude” and “Finale” of “Middlemarch”, which seems to know everything about the protagonists’ fates even before the drama has begun[16]. Another point to be considered is that Eugenides, just like George Eliot, often uses strong irony in his comments and has a voice with many tones at his disposal[17]. Finally, with both authors, the form of the complete novel is the result of the co-operation of a large number of forms within the novel[18]. Of course, the correspondences listed above could be mere coincidences, above all because there are a great number of opposing traits, too, for instance the decidedly moral and anti-sensual basic views of George Eliot as compared with Eugenides’s very liberal handling of sexual topics.

3 What the Author says on the Subject in Selected Interviews

In trying to understand the purport of the expression “Middlesex” one must necessarily turn to the comments the author gives in his interviews. First of all there is the fact that Eugenides himself lived at Grosse Point for some years, and more exactly on Middlesex Boulevard. This could be the reason for his choosing this location in the central chapter of his book. On the other hand, Eugenides perhaps in this way came across the word and started to think about the possible innuendos[19], “[…] the title is […] a fine description of her [Callie’s] predicament”, as Geraldine Bedell points out in summing up the interview. The other way round, this “predicament” being hermaphrotism, it is possible to assume that his home-address “Middlesex” could at least have played a small part in making Eugenides think of a hermaphrodite as the protagonist of his book.

The author himself points out a number of further reasons for choosing an intersex person as the narrator of his novel. First of all there are practical reasons. According to Eugenides every author has to have a hermaphrodite’s imagination in order to be able to write about men and women convincingly[20]. But he did not only try to get into the minds of both genders, he went further in deciding on a hermaphrodite narrator. As Eugenides says[21], “I wanted this ultimate portrait of an intersex person written from the inside” because in this way he could deal with different problems turning up in planning the story. The author wanted to write in the first person, but also to get access into the minds of the protagonist’s ancestors. Further on he aimed at a voice that could be taken for a man’s or a woman’s. That is why a hermaphrodite like Tiresias, a person from Greek mythology, suggested itself: a blind prophet reportedly having lived as a man and as a woman. Eugenides admits to having been inspired by classic literature[22], “These were […] sometimes epics of transformation, and when I look at my work I realise that influenced me enormously”. As he however, did not plan to depict a mythical creature but a real hermaphrodite[23], he gathered a lot of information on medical facts. He also used Michel Foucault’s “The Memoirs of Herculine Barbin” as a source, but he did the psychological part from his imagination without interviewing other hermaphrodites[24] although “Middlesex” is a story written from sn intersex person’s point of view.

[...]


[1] Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Portland House, 1989), p. 907

[2] http://www.middx.net – last visit: 06.02.2005

[3] http://www.southwestmiddlesex.ca/SWM_aboutus.html - last visit: 06.02.2005

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middlesex_New_Jersey - last visit: 06.02.2005

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middlesex_County,_Connecticut last visit: 06.02.2005

[6] Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Portland House, 1989), p. 1307

[7] Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Portland House, 1989), p. 906

[8] Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Portland House, 1989), p. 665

[9] http://www.3ammagazine.com/litarchives/2003/sep/interview_jeffrey_eugenides.html - last visit: 28.01.2005

[10] Emile Legouis and Louis Cazamian, A History of English Literature (London: J.M.Dent & Sons LTD,1957), p.1213

[11] www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/archive/programs/middlemarch/tg_biography.html - last visit: 05.02.2005

[12] Emile Legouis and Louis Cazamian, A History of English Literature (London: J.M.Dent & Sons LTD,1957), p. 1216

[13] George Eliot, Middlemarch (London: Oxford University Press), p. vii

[14] A.S. Byatt, Passions of the Mind (London: Vintage, 1993), p. 73

[15] Walter Allen, The English Novel (London: Pelican Books, 1960), p. 230

[16] A.S. Byatt, Passions of the Mind (London: Vintage, 1993), p. 74

[17] Barbara Hardy, The Novels of George Eliot (London: The Athlone Press, 1959), p. 166

[18] [18] Barbara Hardy, The Novels of George Eliot (London: The Athlone Press, 1959), p. 5

[19] http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/generalfiction/story/0,6000,805334,00.html – last visit: 28.01.2005

[20] http://www.powells.com/authors/eugenides.html - last visit: 27.01.2005

[21] http://www.3ammagazine.com/litarchives/2003/sep/interview_jeffrey_eugenides.html - last visit: 28.01.2005

[22] http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/generalfiction/story/0,6000,805334,00.html – last visit: 28.01.2005

[23] http://www.powells.com/authors/eugenides.html - last visit: 27.01.2005

[24] http://www.3ammagazine.com/litarchives/2003/sep/interview_jeffrey_eugenides.html - last visit: 28.01.2005

Excerpt out of 22 pages

Details

Title
The Different Implications of the Name “Middlesex“ in the Novel of the Same Name by Jeffrey Eugenides
College
University of Paderborn  (Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
Course
Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex
Grade
1,3
Author
Year
2005
Pages
22
Catalog Number
V173797
ISBN (eBook)
9783640942459
ISBN (Book)
9783640942374
File size
518 KB
Language
English
Tags
different, implications, name, novel, same, name, jeffrey, eugenides
Quote paper
Kathrin Ehlen (Author), 2005, The Different Implications of the Name “Middlesex“ in the Novel of the Same Name by Jeffrey Eugenides , Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/173797

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