By: George Eliot
George Eliot’s most ambitious novel is a masterly evocation of diverse lives and changing fortunes in a provincial community. Peopling its landscape are Dorothea Brooke, a young idealist whose search for intellectual fulfillment leads her into a disastrous marriage to the pedantic scholar Casaubon; the charming but tactless Dr Lydgate, whose marriage to the spendthrift beauty Rosamund and pioneering medical methods threaten to undermine his career; and the religious hypocrite Bulstrode, hiding scandalous crimes from his past. As their stories interweave, George Eliot creates a richly nuanced and moving drama, hailed by Virginia Woolf as ‘one of the few English novels written for adult people’.
Regular readers of my blog and those who’ve known me for a long time know that Middlemarch has been on the to-be-read queue for ages. I’ve been saying for years that I will read it, big classics reader that I am, and yet I never get around to reading it. Is it the size or the things I heard about this book that kept me from it? I don’t know. Well in any case, this is me, several years later, finally getting around to reading it (hurray!) 🙂
Hmm, wow, so this novel. I can see why authors like Virginia Woolf hailed this novel for what it was. The introspective aspect about the novel into the characters’ thoughts, feelings, desires, and failings are quite acute and complicates their relationships with each other. It makes the characters very relatable, not to mention their situations very relatable, and it’s all rather…adult, for lack of a better word. The book kind of hits the feels regarding what you want or what you expect and what the reality really is or what life gives you. These characters–especially Dorothea and Dr. Lydgate–are striving to achieve what they want or achieve a sense of a fulfilled inner life, and are hit with obstacles, disappointments, and mistakes made along the way. I felt for many characters over the course of reading this, from Dorothea and her inability to truly express herself during her marriage to Will resigning himself to be separated from Dorothea and struggling to establish himself in something. I found there was a lot of great quotes in this novel; my quotes journal was pretty busy as I was reading this book! 🙂
The book is also very interesting in examining the bonds, relationships, and trials of marriage at this time. There were already signs early on why Dorothea’s marriage to Mr. Casaubon wasn’t going to work but she doesn’t see it at the time. But reading on their marriage, omg, talk about lack of communication. Mr. Casaubon was expecting something else out of their marriage and didn’t anticipate that his wife would be more proactive in wanting to work with him; he seemed to want to compartmentalise everything, not to mention keep Dorothea in the woman’s expected place that was the thinking of the time. And then of course there’s his jealousies and suspicions of Will Ladislow, which makes everything so ugly =S Dr. Lydgate and Rosamund’s marriage was also interesting in terms of expectations and feelings and operating on the same page, but with very different outcomes. To a lesser extent it was also interesting to contrast Celia and Sir James’ marriage to the other two marriages, providing a very varied glimpse of married life during this period (as an aside, Celia did get a wee bit annoying in the latter half, reminding me of Margaret’s cousin Edith from Gaskell’s North and South (review)).
Middlemarch also encapsulates life in a provincial community in the same way it examines its characters. It sort of reminded me of Cranford in how news travels pretty fast in the community and how everyone knew everyone and had an opinion about everyone else’s business, like any close-knit community now. As the story moves though I found myself more intereted in certain characters’ storylines than others, which made for a bit of a slog to read at times.
Nonetheless I’m glad to have finally read Middlemarch and read for myself why it has been lauded as much as it has. It’s quite the study in the self and in relationships and the factors that affect these relationships or why people react the way they do. It’s quite a cross of characters and socio-economic situations examined as well which is reminiscent of a lot of her contemporary authors. I reckon a second read will be needed in the future to pick up more of the nuances in the story as well as maybe interest in some of the other storylines, but it was an interesting read. Readers of classic literature will want to check this title out!