Author: George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans)
Published: Oxford World’s Classics, 1998.
Blurb: Writing at the very moment when the foundations of Western thought were being challenged and undermined, George Eliot fashions in Middlemarch (1871-2) the quintessential Victorian novel, a concept of life and society free from the dogma of the past yet able to confront the scepticism that was taking over the age. In a panoramic sweep of English life during thr years leading up to the First Reform Bill of 1832, Eliot explores nearly every subject of concern to modern life: art, religion, science, politics, self, society, human relationships. Among her characters are some of the most remarkable portraits in English literature: Dorothea Brooke, the heroine, idealistic but näive; Rosamond Vincy, beautiful and egoistic: Edward Casaubon, the dry-as-dust scholar: Tertius Lydgate, the brilliant but morally-flawed physician: the passionate artist Will Ladislaw: and Fred Vincy and Mary Garth, childhood sweethearts whose charming courtship is one of the many humorous elements in the novel’s rich comic vein. Felicia Bonaparte has provided a new Introduction for this updated edition, the text of which is taken from David Carroll’s Clarendon Middlemarch (1986), the first critical edition.
How I came to own it: I don’t remember. I’ve had this for years.
What I thought: Frustratingly, I can’t provide as thorough a review as I would like (it being for the Victorian Lit challenge and all, and someone besides me might actually read it) because I read it on holiday and it got lost on the journey home. So I can’t consult the introduction, which I wanted to do, and I’m working entirely from memory. Plus my head is full of cotton wool – I hab a terrible cold.
But yes, I loved this book. I particularly loved the characters. Bulstrode was a fascinating pitiable villain. And Dorothea was an excellent heroine. When we meet her at the beginning of the book, though, she isn’t just naive. She’s downright silly. I don’t so much allude to her religious sensibilities – she is presented as verging on the mystic, with the comparison to St. Theresa and all that – as to her romanticising (sp?) of Casaubon and her interpreting everything around her to fit in with this idealised image in her head. Actually, I almost went along with it which unfortunately demonstrates that I’m almost as silly as she is. As much as I appreciate character development, it is sometimes hard to reconcile this rather silly girl with the heroine of the end of the book. Mind you, she does go through it, rather. Character built by suffering? And yet, we don’t see this happen explicitly: she doesn’t seem to be consciously learning lessons and the times when she is hit by tragedy are often the times we, as readers, are most separate from her.
It was nice to read a novel of this period which is concerned as much with marriage, its joys and its difficulties, as with people working towards marriage. I’m starting to feel a little frustrated with novels which build up to a wedding and then drop the curtain. As the blurb suggests, there is much besides relationships in this novel – a lot about art and science and religion and politics and other clever things – but I enjoyed the human side the most.
How I’m doing: TBR pile still stands at 49, because I found a copy of ‘The Mill on the Floss’ on my shelf as well! I think I might need to have a recount at some point.