middlemarch

Title :: Middlemarch
Author :: George Eliot
Completed :: Mar 29 2008
Challenges :: 888 : 1001 Books
Rating :: 4/5

What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?

What did Virginia Woolf mean when she described Middlemarch as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people"? At first I was confused by that statement when I first saw it on the back of the book and still after having read it. But I think what Woolf means is that this isn't a novel full of young headstrong will do anything for love woes me characters. It is a slow potrayal of real life in the 1830s that unfolds at a pace that allows the reader to really get involved in the lives of Eliot's cast. In fact the book's subtitle is A Study in Provincial Life and that's exactly what it is. This book was subject to my post-it method (plotting out how many pages were to be read daily) and thus it became a kind of soap opera for me, minus all the overdramatics. Every day before picking it up I would ask myself, "I wonder what will happen in Middlemarch today". At 838 pages you do become attached and you become sincerely interested in their fates.

There's much too much to summarize here so I will only touch on a few things. I really liked the character of Dorothea Brooke, her devotion to everything she involved herself in was very inspring. Although she had wealth she didn't allow it to blind her to the plight of the farmers living on her uncle's land. She was very interested in redesigning cottages to allow ample space and comfort for these families. She also desired to learn and do great work, though she understood the pains of knowledge, "But it is very difficult to be learned; it seems as if people were worn out on the way to great thoughts, and can never enjoy them because they are too tired" (Amen sister). Unfortunately not many people took her seriously and when a marriage proposal was presented to her that would allow her to aid a clergyman in his scholarly research she accepted even though he was old enough to be her father (and maybe then some). Although her marriage soon became impossible and loveless she stayed utterly devoted to her husband. I think my nerves would have been shot long before her's were. Dorothea is also loyal to her friends and her family. I was especially moved by her desire to help Lydgate remove himself from a scandalous rumor. "People are usually better than their neighbors think they are." I am glad that in the end she received the love and returned devotion she definitely deserved.

I enjoyed the character of Mrs. Garth and the challenges she faced to keep her children educated, something that was very important to her.
She thought it good for them to see that she could make an excellent lather while she corrected their blunder 'without looking' - that a woman with her sleeves tucked up above her elbows might know all about the subjunctive mood or the Torrid Zone - that, in short, she might possess 'education' and other other good things ending in 'tion', and worthy to be pronounced emphatically, without being a useless doll.
A lot of Eliot's female characters in this book were strong. It would have been very easy to make Mary Garth into one of those young lovey dovey types but instead Eliot chose to make her practical. She refused to encourage Fred's love for her until he could prove to her that he could be serious and responsible. Although at times I wanted to shout, "would you just tell him you love him already!". I think it was important to Eliot to have all her female characters keep a cool-head and obtain a forceful presence. Even though Rosamond Vincy was a bit narcissistic and headstrong she still kept her head held high through her husband's financial difficulties, she knew what was needed to do to survive.

Upon finishing I felt content, everything was right as rain. It was a satisfying ending with everything resolved and life continuing beyond the pages. I'm curious if being described as an Italian with white mice is a sort of insult. Well I know it was meant as one when it was used by another character to define Ladislaw, and it made me think of Count Fosco in Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. He was an Italian with white mice, well rats, but he was a crooked character so that must have something to do with it. I also still get a kick out of the prices given in Victorian novels. For example, Lydgate's house cost £90 a year, where my little square of a room cost me about £75 a week! Prices sure have gone up, up, up! The following is a Spanish proverb used to open one of the chapters, I really liked it:
Pues no podemos haber aquello que queremos, queramos aquello que podremos (Since we cannot get what we like, let us like what we can get)

Oh and it seems they're taking Middlemarch to the big screen to be released sometime next year. More info here.

Other Thoughts ::
: a striped armchair
: beastmomma
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . i miss you now . stereophonics . you gotta go there to come back .

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posted by Ashleigh @ 00:07,

4 Comments:

At 14 April 2008 at 02:45, Blogger Exuberant Lady said...

Nice review! I think you're right about George Eliot's strong women. While I haven't read Middlemarch (yet),that's often the case in her other novels. I've heard and read so much about Dorothea Brooke's character, I think it's about time I took the plunge! Thanks for the inspiration.

 
At 14 April 2008 at 15:46, Blogger Danielle said...

Isn't Andrew Davies the screenwriter who did Pride and Prejudice (the BBC version)? I saw the other Middlemarch movie and it was pretty good, though not at all comparable to the book!

 
At 14 April 2008 at 22:19, Blogger cat said...

This book is on my list to read. It has been for forever and while I've heard great things about it I was never really excited about reading it. Your review has helped spark my interest. Thanks!

 
At 7 May 2008 at 02:06, Blogger Beastmomma said...

I found you through Weekly Geeks and I have read this book. Here is my review:
http://beastmomma.squarespace.com/from-shelf-to-hand/2006/3/20/middlemarch-finished.html

 

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    ashleigh (ash'lė) n.
    1: egyptologist; currently living in the uk attempting to obtain a phd in egyptology, hoping in the end there will be a job.
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