Friday, March 28, 2008

Flashback Friday! Middlemarch - George Eliot

I made a couple of stabs at Middlemarch when I was in my early 20s, then finally read it successfully in graduate school. Prose that had seemed so difficult before now seemed effortless after a year of reading academic writing about language acquisition and phonology and the like.

George Eliot's 1870 novel about life in a provincial small town is definitely well worth the effort. It's a longish (about 765 pages) book, which of course it must be to support so many compelling characters. Middlemarch is, as Virginia Woolf famously observed, "a novel written for grownup people" --there's something in it for everyone: marriages (both good and bad) births, deaths (suspicious, expected), politics, money troubles, temptations, moral and social struggles and much more.

And there's George Eliot, who crackles with wit and intelligence. Not a cool, detached intelligence reminiscent of Jane Austen, but a fierce burning intellect. She doesn't hesitate to jump right into the novel and let the reader know that she's devoted to these characters and names her reasons why she likes this one or feels sorry for that one. She's not one bit cloying or sentimental, either. The authorial intrusion was jarring at first, but after a while, it felt less like an intrusion and more like a friend popping in and animatedly discussing characters that I was also becoming devoted to. Almost 10 years later, Dorothea Brooke, Will Ladislaw and Dr. Lydgate still feel like part of my landscape. Mr. Casaubon still makes my skin crawl with revulsion. I forgot to add Rosamond Vincy to my "slap list" last month.

While reading Middlemarch, I was grateful to be reading an edition (Bantam Classics) that included notes at the back of the book that clarified 19th century terminology, phrasing and references used in the novel. The foreword by Margaret Drabble was well-done as well.

Although I've only read it once, Middlemarch feels like the novel of my adult life, so I've got plans to read it at 10-year intervals (1999, 2009, 2019, 2029, 2039...) until death kicks my bookworm ass once and for all.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great book. You've convinced me to read it already.

Suey said...

Oh, I would love to read this one again! I can't remember when I read it last, but it has probably been about ten years... or maybe not quite, so I can try to fit it in during the next couple of years, right? :)

raych said...

Ok, firstly, I will definitely be reading this book sometime in the future, because I keep hearing about it but getting it confused with 'Middlesex' which is ALSO on my tbr list.
Secondly, you know I love your blog, but you opened a parenthases in the second paragraph after the word 'deaths' and you didn't close it, and I'm not going to be able to sleep tonight unless you do.
Thirdly, you're great.

Bookfool said...

Well, shucks. I left my copy of Middlemarch at home, so I'll just have to let that nudge move me at a later date. I enjoyed reading your comments about it. A bit too much, I think. Someday, I'll have to locate the library in this town. :)

Eva said...

I read it last January, and I looved it! I then read Daniel Deronda late last year, but I didn't like that one as much. :( Maybe I'll have to give it another go in a few years.

Susan said...

It's on my 888 challenge list already! and I should have read it in my English lit class at university, but somehow cheated my way through the class....and myself from reading what everyone loves, so now I've decided this year I'm going to read it! The thing is, I saw the BBC production and loved it (a few years back). So I'll let you know what I think when I finally read this great English novel! And I like your idea of reading it in years that end in 9!!

Bybee said...

Yeah, it's a winner. I'm eagerly looking forward to 2009.

I'm glad other people think it's a good reread!

I'm in your debt about the parentheses...there goes my career as a copy editor.

You haven't located the library yet???

I'm glad you mentioned Daniel Deronda...that's the next Eliot I was planning to try, but didn't know anything about it. The only other Eliot I've read is Silas Marner in high school and The Mill On The Floss, which I abandoned the book and in my life...

I'd love to see the BBC production...who could they get that was stomach-turning enough to play Mr. Casaubon, though??? Reading it in the years ending in 9.....just worked out that way!

Kathy said...

I have started this book a million times probably but as I never get past page one, that's probably not a fair assessment. I will have to find my copy and actually read it.

darkorpheus said...

I have been told time and again I need to read Middlemarch. But alas, never did. I am a little intimidated by it, sort of like how I never managed to finish War and Peace.

But your enthusiasm for the book is tempting me to try.

jenclair said...

I think The Slaves of Golgonda read this last year; I remember seeing several positive reviews, but somehow this passage from your post is the deciding factor for me:

"...feels like the novel of my adult life, so I've got plans to read it at 10-year intervals (1999, 2009, 2019, 2029, 2039...) until death kicks my bookworm ass once and for all."

I can't bear the thought of missing the novel of your adult life, Bybee. If it it had that much impact, then I MUST get my copy soon!

Rob Hardy said...

Bybee: Patrick Malahide played Casaubon. I see from the Internet Movie Database that director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) has a big-screen film version in production (due out in 2009?).

GFS3 said...

I've never muddled through Middlemarch -- and I'm not sure I'll ever get to it. It doesn't sound -- gripping.