Middlemarch

Monday, November 21, 2011


Middlemarch
by George Eliot
★★★★☆

The small, fictional town of Middlemarch is a tight-knit community filled with people who are kind, pious, romantic or devious. In other words, it’s just like any other small town. Everyone has their own secrets and money problems and everyone knows everyone else’s business. The book looks closely at marriage, especially between two people who are not well-suited.

Now for the meat of the story, spoilers and all...

The main focus of the book is on three separate couples in Middlemarch, but unlike many books, the majority of the story happens after they’re married instead of during the courtship.

First, there’s Dorothea, a young idealistic woman and Edward Casaubon, the scholarly older man she marries. She believes he will do great things and wants to be his helpmate in that process. Unfortunately, he’s not the great man she hoped he would be and she quickly finds herself in a lonely marriage. Then she meets his cousin, Will Ladislaw, and feels an instant connection.

Then there’s the town’s doctor, Tertius Lydgate, who’s bursting at the seams with new ideas for the hospital and experiments to improve the healthcare offered. He falls for the sweet face of Rosamond Vincy and before he knows it, he’s married and she’s spending money faster than he can make it. Rosamond may be beautiful, but she’s also selfish and conniving, always looking for the next angle that will benefit her.

The final couple, Mary Garth and Fred Vincy, tends to be everyone’s favorite. Fred is immature and constantly gets himself into financial troubles. Mary loves him, but refuses to marry him until he gets his life together and finds an occupation that he loves. I loved that Mary wasn’t willing to settle and her decision helped build a happier life for both of them.

The three very different couples show a wide view of marriage. They offer both cautionary tales and sweet love stories. They remind us that you don’t always fall in love with the person you should and that sometimes people aren’t who they seem to be on the surface.

I love classics, but to be honest it usually takes me a little bit it get into them. Once I adjust to the language and get to know the characters, then I’m good to go. This one was completely different. From the first chapter I felt like knew Dorothea Brooks. I didn’t agree with all of her choices or connect to her on every level, but I felt like I “got” her. Her noble aspirations and idealistic nature act as both main strength and weakness. I was rooting for her from the beginning and the final scene between her and Will is one of my absolute favorites.

Sometimes, I felt so involved in Dorthea’s story that it was hard to switch gears and hear about the other people in Middlemarch, like Bulstrode of Dorothea’s sister Celia and her husband, Sir James.

Parts of the story are slow. It’s hard to avoid that when you have 800 pages of provincial life. But I really loved the intricacies of the characters’ lives. Nothing is laid our in black or white. Each character does both good things and bad things, sometimes for the right reasons and sometimes not. Everyone has flaws and makes mistakes. Even our two idealistic heroes (Dorothea and Lydgate) make horrible choices when they pick their spouses. Those flaws make the characters feel very real and relatable, which is what made the book work for me.

So, dig in and be willing to stick with the story, even if it gets slow, and you’ll be rewarded. The story is worth it, but don’t expect quick, constant drama.

“…and had been inclined to regard of himself as a general favorite. We are all apt to do so when we think of our own amiability more than of what other people are likely to want of us.” Middlemarch

“For Rosamond’s discontent in her marriage was due to the conditions of marriage itself; to its demand for self-suppression and tolerance and not the nature of her husband.”

Other reviews…

A Thousand Books with Quotes: “I was astounded as to how much this classic, which explores the many facets of marriages in the provincial town of Middlemarch amazingly parallels the different marriages that still exist today…”

It’s All About Books: “I loved the crazy parts, and suffered through the boring ones.”

ProSe: “At first blush one has this sense of simply being immersed in a rather quiet and pastoral story, but there's really very much more going on here as one turns the pages. …it is the story of human beings, and what it means to be human.”

14 comments:

Susan Bennett said...

The only George Eliot book I've read is The Mill on The Floss. I've read it twice and I think it's about time to read it again.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I'm sitting here wondering why I haven't read this, then I see the 800 pages. Holy crap. I do better if I read chunksters on audio. It is also a great way to get through the slow parts.

Kristi said...

I haven't read this, but it's waiting for me on my iPad. I'm so glad that you enjoyed it. I really don't mind lengthy books if they turn out to be worth it in the end. Interesting that it focuses on marriage. Like you said, it isn't often that you get much of the story taking place after the courtship.

Trish said...

Great review of this one, Melissa. What I loved most about this book was the gray area in all of the character's lives. The politics and provincial details were a bit much for me but in the end I was glad I stuck with it.

Trisha said...

I haven't read this one in about ten years, but I remember loving it!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Susan - I haven't read that one yet. Before this, Silas Marner was my only Eliot novel. The Mill on the Floss is up next.

Sandy - I've found the same thing. Audiobooks are perfect for slow classics. They become so much more accesible when someone is telling me the story.

Kristi - I loved that aspect. So many novels end when a couple decides to wed. There aren't many that show the actual marriage and in real life, that's where it all starts.

Trish - I felt the same. Some of those details were tiresome, but the overall story was more than worth it.

Trisha - I think this one will stick with me for a long time.

BookQuoter said...

I felt like a was 'reviewing' the book again:) Nice to go back to the little details of the story even though I just did read it. I particularly felt sympathy for Harriet Balustrode. I felt that she supported her husband because she really loved him as opposed to just 'standing by her man', right?BTW, Thanks for the mention.

Allie said...

I read this one a few years ago and really loved it, but I don't remember it too clearly. It is on one of my challenge lists for the new year, and I might read it in January (in the midst of my Shakespeare madness).

I can't wait to see if it replaces Mill on the Floss as my favorite Eliot...(when I read Mill, it pushed this title down a notch!)

Teacher/Learner said...

I'm glad you liked it. It looks daunting sitting on my TBR shelf. I should get to it for 2012. I read a George Eliot novella in college but nothing of hers since.

LindyLouMac in Italy said...

MiddleMarch is one of my all time favourite classics, love your review Melissa. A lot of what is said about marriage is still surprisingly relevant in the modern day.

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

Also read it a few years ago and every time I think about it I know I'd be intimidated at the though of writing a review :S

What did you think of the ending?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

BookQuoter - I felt the same way. It takes a strong woman, like Harriet, to stand next to a man being attacked like that. I've been watching The Good Wife and it reminded me of that a little bit.

Allie - I can't wait to read Mill on the Floss. I liked Silas Marner, but didn't love it. Middlemarch has given me a completely different appreciation for Eliot's writing.

Teacher/Learner - It's a big one. Definitely go into it knowing it will be slow in parts. It's one to savor and wade through slowly, not a quick read.

LindyLou - I agree, there's the steady wife, the one who has married a man for the wrong reasons, the married couple that are unequal and mismatched, etc. Marriage has stayed the same in so many ways.

Alex - Oh my gosh, I loved it! It seems like there's so much back and forth and denying what you truly want, I was glad it didn't end that way. The scene with Will and Dorthea made it all worth it for me.

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

I've been hesitant to read this book, because of its length. Your review, however, convinced me to give it a try as soon as possible. I'm really curious about that final scene between Dorothea and Will.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Darlyn - It is long. I think that scene was so good because it's such a long time coming.