The last novel I completed for the Victorian Reading Challenge was Middlemarch by George Eliot. This was the second book by Eliot that I read for this challenge. The first was Silas Marner. I mentioned in my review of Silas Marner that I never had the intention to read any of Eliot’s novels. Silas changed my mind about her works. And Middlemarch has made me a fan of her forever. If you would like to read some background information on Eliot, please see my review of Silas Marner.
I am thankful that I got over my unwillingness to read her novels. I wrongly assumed that I would find them boring and a chore to read. Middlemarch is a mammoth of a book at 799 pages. From the onset of her writing career she experienced success. Her first novel Adam Bede was a bestseller when it first appeared in 1859. Middlemarch appeared in 1874 and it was an instant hit among the reading public and the critics. V. S. Pritchett said, “No Victorian novel approaches Middlemarch in its width or reference, its intellectual power, or the imperturbable spaciousness of its narrative.” One of the aspects that I truly appreciate about George Eliot’s writing is her insight into the human mind. Her characters are people who are wonderfully flawed. Some are tragic. Some think they are perfect. There are villains, the down on their luck, and the ordinary. She makes them interesting by showing their innermost thoughts and desires and how they interact with each other. Virginia Woolf said that Eliot “was one of the first English novelists to discover that men and women think as well as feel, and the discovery was of great artistic moment. Briefly, it meant that the novel ceased to be solely a love story, an autobiography, or a story of adventure. It became, as it had already become with the Russians, of much wider scope.”
The novel is set in an imaginary Midlands town called Middlemarch during 1830-1832. It would be hard to introduce all of the main characters and storylines in this review. There is a vast array of character whose stories are intertwined with everyone else’s. At the center of the action is Dorothea Brook, an idealistic young woman who wants to help improve the lives of those around her. However, the society she lives in does not readily accept her notions. Eliot raises awareness of several issues during her day, including marriage, the role of women, religion, political reform, education, and hypocrisy. Dorothea’s character highlights many of these issues. In the opening pages you learn that she doesn’t want to settle down and marry Sir James Chettam and have a comfortable, easy life. Instead she marries Edward Casaubon, an older gentlemen who Dorothea believes is pursuing a noble work, The Key to All Mythologies. When she marries him, she envisions that she would work at her husband’s side in this great pursuit. However, it doesn’t take Dorothea long to figure out that Casaubon, who has been toiling for years collecting his “evidence” will never complete his work. On their honeymoon, they travel to Rome so the scholar can continue his research. Instead of utilizing Dorothea’s youth and vitality, Casaubon leaves his young bride alone for hours on end since she is a woman and scholarly pursuits are not healthy or suitable for women. During her free time she befriends Casaubon’s young cousin, Will Ladislaw, who is residing in Rome. After the couple returns to Middlemarch, Ladislaw returns as well and Casaubon’s health begins to deteriorate. Before he dies he changes his will to state that if Dorothea marries Ladislaw she will forfeit her inheritance. This scandalous clause in the will wrongfully hints that Ladislaw and Dorothea had been involved in an affair.
Another main character in the novel is Tertius Lydgate, an idealistic young doctor, who arrives in Middlemarch with ideas for medical reform in the small town. He volunteers his time at a hospital that is controlled by the area’s banker, Mr. Bulstrode. Lydgate and most of the people in Middlemarch do not know that the banker has a dark secret. Before this comes to light, Lydgate marries Rosamond Vincy, the town’s beauty and daughter of the mayor. She believes that life with Lydgate would be all fun and games since he has aristocratic connections. However, she learns soon after their marriage that Lydgate despises his family connections and that he intends to make it on his own. Soon financial woes complicate his life and marriage. In addition, the town’s people do not take to his revolutionary ideas about medicine and his connection to Bulstrode makes life more and more difficult for the young man with a very unhappy wife at home.
The stories of the people in Middlemarch are wonderfully written and blended together. The twists and turns are fantastic and in the end, I didn’t want to put the book down. I am so glad that I have “discovered” Eliot’s works. My challenge to read the 1001 novels that you must read before you die has paid off since if it wasn’t for this challenge I don’t believe I would have picked up any of her works. This novel is the 28th one that I have completed. I am excited to pursue more of the authors and novels to see what else is in store for me.
Nice review. I am not sure I want to be part of this 1001books to read as I get bored easily 😉
Thanks. I was a little nervous when I set out to read the 1001 list since there are a lot of books that I normally wouldn’t read, however, I’m finding that I am enjoying the novels and breaking away from the norm.
I have tried getting out of my comfort zone by reading more new authors..but I still have many books I let behind unfinished. Just now,I have left Walking Dead abandon and read new book
If I want to read an interesting book, I know where to turn to for ideas 🙂
Let me know when you need an idea! I love sharing and talking about novels.
Hi Novroz. I do my best to finish a novel that I begin, but I have been guilty of “forgetting” to pick a book back up that I didn’t like. I made a rule for my challenge that I have to finish the book. That way I won’t forget it.
This is amazing! Loving this blog.
Thanks for the kind comment. Welcome!
I think I’ve seen it televised and it was really good but if I read historical stuff its Miss Austen and Emma is my comfort book. Great post!
I plan on reading all of Jane Austen’s work in 2012. I figured since I am living in England that would be a fun project. So keep an eye out for a review on Emma! And any and all input would be greatly appreciated. I love Austen!
I have two authors I’ve never read, Thomas Hardy and George Elliott and although I’d like to I’m still somehow convinced I will not like them. I’ve heard this is her best and judging from your review, it has a lot to offer.
I hadn’t read Hardy or Eliot before joining the Victorian Reading challenge and I thought I would hate their works. But now I am a fan of both. I have more of their novels to read so I’ll let you know when I’m done which are my favorites and maybe you’ll want to give one a chance.
I read this one for the Vic. Lit Challenge as well and loved it. It was not at all what I expected.
I expected it to be quite dull actually and was shocked that I loved it and wanted more. It is so fun to find a new author that you love. Thanks for stopping by. I love your blog!
An excellent review! I’ve not read any of Elliot’s works. I’m not sure how I escaped that since I was an English major in college. 🙂
Your resounding endorsement makes me want to put this on my TBR list.
PS – have you read any Edith Wharton? I found a copy of her book The Age of Innocence but I’m not sure about it.
How did you escape her works in college? If you read her novel I hope you like it. Let me know. I love talking about books. I haven’t read The Age of Innocence yet, but I’ve read Wharton’s novel Ethan Frome and it is one of my favorite books. Melissa who posted a comment here is a huge fan of Wharton so you may want to check her blog out for a review. http://avidreader25.blogspot.com/
I need to track down a copy of The Age of Innocence soon!
It is a wonderful book! Thanks!
So glad to see this positive review, because I’ve been meaning to read it for years and thought it would be too boring. It’s now on my Kindle and I’ll probably start it after the holidays.
I hope you like it. I also thought it would be boring, but I loved it. Great insight into people.
I’ve just begun this novel!! I didn’t read the review because I want a clean slate as I read, but I did want to pop in to share my excitement. 😀
Okay, actually I decided to go ahead and read your review. Now I’m more excited! Glad you loved it. 😀
I hope you like it and I can’t wait to read your review. It has become one of my favorite books!
I love Middlemarch. What a wonderful book it is. It takes you on an emotional and intellectual journey. I remember I was spurred to read it about twenty-five years ago, by a colleague who said “If you haven’t read Middlemarch, you haven’t lived.” I rather agree with her.
Wow that is a statement by your colleague. Does she think that about any other books or just this one? I agree with you, it is a wonderful book and I’m so glad that I finally read it.