Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ten Years Ago And Today: Middlemarch And Me

How can one novel change so much in 10 years? Of course it's not Middlemarch -- it's me. I just finished Book One and here are some of my impressions:

  • 10 years ago, I read Middlemarch during a break from my graduate studies. I read quickly and avidly, feeling so grateful that I wasn't reading language-learning theory. As a result, I think I missed a lot of George Eliot's wit.

  • 10 years ago, I dismissed Mrs. Cadwallader as a damned busybody. She still is, but her comments are so sharp and funny, I look forward to her appearances in the novel.

  • Dorothea seems heartbreakingly young this time. When the novel opens, she and Celia have been orphaned for a mere 6 years. I wonder if missing her parents has anything to do with her religious fervor and her determined attraction to Mr. Casaubon.

  • 10 years ago, Mr. Casaubon chilled my blood every time he showed up in the novel. Today, I actually have some sympathy for the man as he approaches his wedding day and is somewhat surprised to find that the prospect of matrimony isn't really making him feel happy. Also, he's being pretty patient with Will Ladislaw.

  • 10 years ago, Will Ladislaw had my sympathies because he was trying to find himself. Being cute and good-natured didn't hurt his case, either. Now I'm irritated with him because he's letting Mr. Casaubon support him while he fiddles around and doesn't seem in a hurry to settle on a profession. Furthermore, he comes off as a little contemptuous of his cousin.

  • Sir James is a classy guy. Although Dorothea rejected him, he didn't withdraw his help with her plans for the cottages. He continued to treat her the same, and he was rewarded for his fine behavior by getting to experience how satisfying a friendship can be between two people of the opposite gender who have no agenda or entanglements to complicate things. I don't remember being struck so by his quality 10 years ago.

  • Lydgate is a smart guy and will be a fine doctor for Middlemarch, but his standards for ideal womanhood seem laughably shallow. I'm rolling my eyes. If memory serves, he will definitely get what he asks for in Rosamond Vincy.

I'll be glad when vacation gets here and I can take long, uninterrupted dips into this novel to further see how it's changed for me. I also wish I could quickly flash-forward and find out if the novel will change again when I read it in 2019!

11 comments:

Heather J. said...

I love the idea of rereading something after so many years. It is amazing how differently books can affect us at various points in our lives.

Fantasy author Brandon Sanderson made the same type of commments about reading Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. He read it first as a teen and identified most with the three young heros of the saga. Now that he's rereading it, other charaters appeal to him more and he gets frustrated with the boys he so admired the first time around.

This was a great post - I look forward to more of your thoughts as you continue reading.

bkclubcare said...

I only re-read books when I forget I read it in the first place. I was mad at myself for re-reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe because it just didn't thrill me as it had when I was 10. And that made me so sad.

This post is so sweet, though, I might have to revisit some old book loves. I don't know how some of you read the same books over and over, though!

Sandra said...

Hey, why aren't you reading Atlas Shrugged? No fair reading something great like Middlemarch.

I can't believe you can remember a book you read 10 years ago. I read it about 25 years ago and all I remember is I loved it.

Chain Reader said...

It's probably been about 14 years since I last read Middlemarch, but I consider it one of my very favorite books. I have wanted to read it again soon, and I'm sure, like you, I will have a different perspective. Someone once told me there is a name for that experience of reading something at different times and getting new things out of it based on your new wisdom and experience: "ontological density".

jenclair said...

I love this kind of thing! Our circumstances and experiences contribute so much to a book. When I read The Scarlet Letter in high school, I was impatient with most of the characters and hated Chillingsworth. Re-reading it after I'd had a child and knew more about the importance of a cultural milieu, I had a different experience.

C. B. James said...

I re-read Middlemarch after 15 years and had reactions similar to yours. I really felt for Mr. Causabom this time around.

I just re-read To Kill a Mockingbird after 20+ years and had a new, deeper understanding of Atticus, the father in the books.

I've a small collection of other books I plan to re-read in about a decade.

Carrie K said...

Sounds like the experience I had rereading Gone With the Wind a few years ago. Originally I thought Scarlet was the It Girl and Melanie a big drag but the second time around, Melanie was the real heroine of the story.

I read Middlemarch for the first time a few years ago so your second impressions were the same as my first. Oh! Wuthering Heights! That was entirely different the second time around too.

Chain Reader said...

I definitely agree with Carrie on Wuthering Heights. Big difference in my perception of Heathcliff!

Gentle Reader said...

I love rereading things after a hiatus of years. It's really amazing the perspective we humans gain, isn't it? I'm glad you're enjoying Middlemarch, one of my all-time favorites :)

Susan said...

Yes! YOu're reading it! I just finished - I'll be doing my post tomorrow as i let final thoughts settle - but I loved it. And I totally agree that Will is mean to his cousin, and Dorothea seems so young and idealistic, and Lydgate - wow, what happens to him with Rosamund!!! I won't say any more here in case any of your lovely readers want to find out for themselves, but I can hardly wait for more of your comments!
I was right - Bulstrode WAS creepy!! I'm so glad i read this, and it's fun that you're doing it now :-)

Susan said...

PS I totally hate Causabon! Yuck. I'll still hate him when I'm 80 - sorry, I'm with Celia here. No way should Dorothea ever have married him. He's boring and obsessed with that darn key that he never gets anything done! Will's only redeeming quality is that he loves Dorothea, but oh my, how he loves her!