What to say about a book that I’ve been working on for a month? Well, for starters–as my mom would say–Wahoo Waterloo! Actually, this book has nothing to do with Waterloo. :) A little personal history of this book: I was assigned to read this book for a sophomore level college course (not sure the course topic other than British Lit–we also read Tom Jones, Pride and Prejudice, and Hard Times). I read about half the book and it has been sitting on my shelf ever since. That was probably 8 years ago! I’ve been intimidated and scared by this book, but I’ve done it. I’ve finished. My review will be
rambly long, but I’ll try to break it up so you can skip around if you choose.
Middlemarch is an intimate look at the lives of certain citizens of the town of…well…Middlemarch. Eliot does not focus solely on the rich nor the poor but a mixture of the two and everything in between. The characters are servants of religion, doctors, philanthropists, farmers, artists, intellectuals, wives, husbands, sisters, parents, children. I guess it could be said that there are two main characters, Dorothea Causabon and Tertius Lydgate, and although these characters are not love interests as many main female and male characters are expected to be, they are dear friends who help each other grow throughout their trials and triumphs. You know I hate summaries–basically this is a nineteenth century soap opera. As Virginia Woolf said, “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.”
What I liked
That I finished it? Ha! One of the things that I really appreciate about this book is that Eliot created a small world with complicated characters that I was interested in for 840 pages. Sure there were times that I got bored and wanted to skim through (I didn’t!), but I began to care deeply for the characters and what happened to them throughout the novel. I also found Eliot’s writing insightful and sincere. I kept a pencil with me at all times and shamelessly marked up my copy of this book. I was always finding something to think about just a little bit more, and as the narrator notes: “I at least have so much to do in unravelling certain human lots, and seeing how they were woven and interwoven, that all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web, and not dispersed over that tempting range of relevancies called the universe” (141).
What I struggled with
This paragraph could be quite long if I let it. This was not an easy book for me to read. When starting the book I decided I would read 35 pages a day, which is an incredibly modest amount, but I was rarely ever able to read 35 pages in one sitting. Middlemarch is hands down one of the most tedious and difficult classics I’ve read. I had to do a lot of re-reading and I had to make sure my mind was in the right mode. If you undertake a reading of this book, give yourself time. Be patient. I think those who have finished can attest that it will be worth the work, but it will be work (unless you are a superhero reader). There were certain plotlines that were absolutely lost on me–mostly the politics and the working relationships. Luckily the more important plotlines (important to me, that is) were easy to follow.
Middlemarch has great characters. I think Dickens’ characters are still my favorite, but what I really liked about the characters of this book is that they are so deeply flawed. Dorothea has crazy notions at the beginning of the book and falls into a loveless marriage with a “dried bookworm towards fifty” (23). Everyone told her she was crazy, but did she listen? Of course not and she becomes miserable. Lydgate, in my opinion, also marries someone who is not suited for him, and they come into money problems and his medical practice suffers, but he is too prideful to comfort in his wife. But with a ginormous novel, the characters grow and develop. They work through their conflicts (mostly) and become better people. I loved Dorothea–she is a strong and independent woman and I can’t help but wonder how much of Eliot is Dorothea (when I think of Eliot I think of an incredibly progressive woman–but my knowledge is limited). Something that could fall in the “Struggles” category is how many characters there are. So many! And with names like Featherstone and Farebrother I got incredibly confused. And the political guys? Forget it! Mostly they were like a bunch of sqwaking hens to me.
I’m starting to lose steam! The narrator is omniscient, but every once in a while an “I” will get thrown in (for example the quote above). This really annoyed me as I wasn’t sure who this narrator was supposed to be. Mostly the narrator was unobtrusive, though. There are about a million themes running through this book–inheritance and birthrights, money, education, land ownership, medicine, marriage and love (Eliot lived unmarried with George Henry Lewes), politics–and probably the most fascinating to me was the role of a woman. The female characters in this book are so varied in personality and ideals and I loved seeing the different interactions with their male counterparts.
In the end?
I’m glad to have read it. It will go back on the shelf–but this time on the “read” shelf. And boy does that feel good. Will I read it again? I’d love to. Probably not for years, but I know that I achieved a very basic reading of this incredibly complex and rich novel and need to really dig deeper with the next reading. I now wish that I had finished it for class–I’m sure I would have learned a lot. Do I recommend it? Eh… If this were half the size, I’d say yes! If you devour classics, definitely add this one to your list. But as I said before, make sure to keep your patience in check. I’m guessing in the end, though, you’ll appreciate this classic as well.
What is your Middlemarch? You know, kind of like the White Whale of reading…?
Date Finished: May 21, 2009 #26