‘She did not know then that it was Love who had come to her briefly as in a dream before awaking, with the hues of morning on his wings – that it was Love to whom she was sobbing her farewell as his image was banished by the blameless rigour of irresistible day’. 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’.
So it what can only be described as a moment of madness over Christmas (I blame all the chocolate. It had addled my brain) I set myself the task of reading George Eliot’s colossal masterpiece Middlemarch. Running to over 900 pages it’s quite the undertaking and at the beginning I’ll admit I was rather daunted. However once I got into it I was hooked.
I could talk about how Eliot lifts the lid on a small provincial town, but that’s what everyone talks about in relation to this book. For me Middlemarch is like a Victorian soap, with its host of characters and numerous storylines. Many of the story lines intersect or cross over, yet they remain distinct. Such a number of storylines all of apparent equal status is unusual in a novel though would not be out of place in a soap. The is little dramatic action, yet the stories twist and turn. There are star crossed lovers, unhappy marriages, contested wills and seedy pasts. In other words all the full range of story lines from any soap or drama.
In terms of characters there is the typical host of Victorian characters. The focus is very much on the middle and upper classes, therefore there are the aspiring merchants, the landed gentry and the clergymen. There is no clear heroine due to the number of story lines, though in so much as there is, it would be Dorothea. She is the typical virtuous angelic Victorian heroine. I have little time for such angles. Rosamond is a spoilt brat who ended up annoying me. The most interesting of the female characters is Mary Garth. She is funny and clever, and not afraid to speak her mind. She is probably the most spirited of the female characters. The male characters were less irritating and overall I liked them equally well. Dr Lydgate was a bit serve and I feel there was a missed opportunity of a witty sarcastic character in him. Both Fred Vincy and Will Ladislaw were charming and likable in different ways, with Ladislaw falling the most easily into the role of a Victorian hero though not in the irritating way of Dorothea.
Overall a really enjoyable book and if you get mentally make it past it daunting size it is actually an easy enough read. For anyone who enjoys reading classics I would strongly recommend it.
This year I will be participating in The Classic’s Club Reading Classic Women Literature Challenge.