Review: Middlemarch

Posted 23 July, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 14 Comments

By: George Eliot
Format/Source: eBook

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!) πŸ™‚

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! πŸ™‚

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!

Rating: ★★★½☆

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14 Responses to “Review: Middlemarch”

    • I can’t imagine reading this at uni, I reckon I’d miss out on a lot of the nuances and themes xD But yeah, I’ve heard a lot of reviewers say that it’s definitely a book to re-read two, three times and still catch something new about the book πŸ˜€

  1. I reeeeeally need to re-read this or something by Eliot soon. I read Middlemarch a few years ago but, like you said, the themes and characterization being discussed are pretty “adult” and I think I might get more from the book now that I’m older. Plus it seems like the kind of book that deserves a second read!

    • It’s always fun to re-read certain books when you’re older and catch more of the “adult” themes and characterisations that you’d otherwise sort of miss earlier πŸ™‚ Looking forward to reading more Eliot in the future!

  2. What a thoughtful review! I agree, I like that Eliot so realistically portrays the way in which life sometimes doesn’t work out the way you think it will/want it to. And Celia’s characterization bothers me a little. Sometimes I like her and sometimes I find her annoying, and I have trouble reconciling those aspects of her–I think because we see her so little, I feel as if I don’t know her very well.

    • Thanks Krysta! It really felt like life as I was reading this book, it was quite uncanny, lol. Hmm, do you think perhaps Eliot couldn’t quite figure out how to portray Celia against the rest of the story as she went along?

    • Sorry to read that some of the classics you’ve been reading lately haven’t been so great; may I ask which ones you read recently? I hope you enjoy Middlemarch when you get to it!

      • I read Vanity Fair and it just didn’t click with me. I expected to like at least one character. I am currently trying to get through Jude the Obscure, it is proving to be a tough read. These are some of the first “classic” I have not cared for.

        • Vanity Fair was is definitely somewhere on the eventually-will-read list but I’ve been sort of holding it off partly because of its length and partly because after reading Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country I wasn’t ready to read another classic where the characters aren’t so likeable (enough to invest in reading the rest of the novel, anyhow). Sorry to read it didn’t click with you!

          I haven’t read Jude the Obscure but I have read Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd (which I’ve been meaning to re-read; it didn’t quite click with me the first time–though it was super boring–but seeing the trailer to the recent adaptation has led me to reconsider sooner about it) and Mayor of Casterbridge (which I thought was super interesting–maybe that’s a better place to start with him?). I think you have to be in the right mood to read his books, but I haven’t read enough from him yet to stand by that statement πŸ˜‰ Hope Jude the Obscure picks up!

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