Middlemarch by George Eliot

1872. Bantam. Paperback. 796 pages.

From: picked up for free at the The Book Thing

For the challenge: Read 19 Books Older than I am

Review:

Whew!  Middlemarch has been my literary companion for several weeks now and last night, I finally reached the end!  It’s a brilliant book and I cherished George Eliot’s way of putting things, but I think I’ll be on a diet of short and/or fast-paced books for a while.

As a book blogger I felt somewhat anxious that a single book occupied me for several weeks, leaving my blog rather quiet and dull-seeming.  I didn’t dare read another book simultaneously with Middlemarch, though, for fear of confusing characters and forgetting storylines.

Middlemarch was definitely well worth my time, however, and I’m glad I didn’t rush it.  It’s a book meant to be savored, and just as I savored it in reading, I would like to savor it in the reviewing.  The following will be one of a few posts on Middlemarch, which I thought would be easier for me to do than writing one big long post on everything.  This first post will be the most spoiler-free of any of the posts, so anyone who has not read Middlemarch should find it safe ground to tread.

Sometimes I will read a review that claims that a book gives insight into “the human condition.”  It always sounds a bit too grand a claim to my ears, but that phrase is what popped in my head when I considered my review of Middlemarch.  George Eliot’s writing is astoundingly perceptive of why humans do what they do, and why they relate to each other the way they do.

In Middlemarch, the reader encounters an array of characters who have dreams and plans for the future.  Older characters are obsessed with leaving a legacy, to the point that a couple of them use constraining or surprising stipulations of their wills to prolong their influence from beyond the grave.  Younger characters seek prestige, or at least finding some true useful work to do.  Middlemarch shows what happens to these men and women when those dreams and plans meet reality, clash with others’ designs, or repeatedly get pushed aside.

I will quote a passage from early in the book where the author has just remarked that people may not find one of her character’s disappointed post-marriage tears to be especially exceptional or tragic.

Some discouragement, some faintness of heart at the new real future which replaces the imaginary, is not unusual.  That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it.  If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.

p.177

I hope I am not giving the impression that this is a depressing or drear book.  Eliot shares humorous observations and dialogue alongside the serious passages.

“It would have been better if I had called him out and shot him a year ago,” said Sir James, not from bloody-mindedness but because he needed something strong to say.

“Really, James, that would have been very disagreeable,” said Celia.

p. 746

Also, I found it inspiring to watch as several of the characters overcame their personal disappointments and adversities to find they had still something to contribute to other people.  If there’s an attribute I’m especially fond of in a fictional character, it’s resilience of spirit.  Whiny, petulant characters can go appeal to another reader’s sympathies.

For my other posts on Middlemarch, I’m considering a discussion of the theme of honor and integrity and how that theme seems a hallmark of classic literature, but doesn’t seem as present today.  I also plan to do a spoiler-filled rundown of all the main characters and what I thought of them, with the targeted audience being others who have read Middlemarch.

Whether or not you have read Middlemarch, I can also respond in a future post to any questions you might have about the book.  Ask in the comments and I’ll seek to incorporate the answers in a future post!

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8 Comments

Filed under Book Review

8 responses to “Middlemarch by George Eliot

  1. So much more eloquently put than me. Great review!

  2. Taking a few posts to look over Middlemarch sounds like a great idea- I wish to remain unspoiled, but I just wanted to say I like it.

  3. I haven’t read Middlemarch (yet) but devoting a few posts to it sounds like a good idea – I know when I’ve been reading Proust, I’ve often felt like I had to devote a few posts to a given volume – each book is just so long, and often so full!

    (As a side note, whenever I think about Middlemarch it makes me think of childhood – the drugstore in my town had half an aisle of books toward the front of the store, and if my mom was shopping or getting a prescription filled, I’d usually hang out in the book aisle. I don’t remember what most of the books were, but I remember that Middlemarch was there, and I remember being impressed by the heft of it, feeling like “ah, here’s a proper grown-up book!”)

  4. I am currently reading Bleak House and I can so relate to the feelings of quietness on my blog. Classics take a long time, but they really make worthwhile reads.

    I haven’t read Middlemarch, so I am really looking forward to reading your detailed thoughts 🙂

  5. Middlemarch sounds excellent. And I devoted quite a few posts to Genji, so I fully support that plan.

  6. Linda – Thanks for the compliment! I plan to read everyone else’s Middlemarch posts after I have finished posting my own.

    Lit Omnivore – Thanks! I’ve been sidetracked a bit by BBAW and things, but I still plan to do my multiple-post idea.

    Heather – I love that anecdote from your childhood, and the impression that Middlemarch gave you then. 🙂

    Nish – glad to have a companion in the long book / quiet blog experience. Bleak House is great!

    Scott – Yes! Either progress posts like yours or this sort of summing-up multiple posts in review plan seems to fit for the lengthy books.

  7. Thanks for stopping by at my blog and leaving your comment on my post on ‘Middlemarch’, Christy!

    I am a bit late in commenting, but I am glad I was finally able to read your lovely review, Christy! The passage that you have quoted about hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat was one of my favourite passages in the book 🙂 Your comments on some of the characters trying to prolong their influence from beyond the grave and how honour and integrity form a theme of classical literature and how they are absent today were quite thought-provoking.

    Thanks for your wonderful review! I am off, now, to read the second part of your review 🙂

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