Monday, November 21, 2011
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.”
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.”