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
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.
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.
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!