A couple weeks ago, I share my list of To-Read Literature. I’m happy to announce that I’ve already marked one very large book off that list: Middlemarch by George Eliot.
I managed to make it through my entire undergraduate English degree without reading a novel by George Eliot, and I’m very shocked now after reading her that she wasn’t taught more at my college (I think she was only read in a Victorian Novel class which wasn’t even regularly on the schedule). She’s much better than Charles Dickens and he was taught a little more regularly.
I was most impressed by the fact that George Eliot had an eye for character similar to that of Jane Austen’s. There were MANY characters in Middlemarch but they all felt realistic and very well done. Many even reminded me of people I’ve known—which is always a good thing, I think, in novels over a hundred years old.
The plot also was remarkable. I was surprised how tight it was considering the length of the book. In Dickens’ novels, I tend to skip over a lot because there’s so much that doesn’t seem necessary, but with Eliot, I didn’t feel the desire to skim because I never got the feeling that a passage was boring or unnecessary.
The story itself follows two main paths—that of Dorothea Brooke and her longing to marry a Great Man and that of the Vincy family and their ability to get themselves into scrapes.
I preferred Dorothea’s storyline–even though she was frustrating at times (I can’t believe she never burned Mr. Casaubon’s books in a bonfire). The Vincys (Fred and Rosamond) frustrated me more than Dorothea though, but I believe Eliot wanted them too. Mary Garth saved the Vincy storyline for me because she quickly turned into my favorite character.
What I liked most about Dorothea’s story vs. the Vincys’ was that hers was the great tragedy of Middlemarch. (A little gloomy, I know, but stick with me.) The fact that Dorothea couldn’t be a “Great Man” herself but rather had to marry one is the thing that caused all of her problems over the course of the novel. She had so much potential but, as a woman, she could never fulfill it. I think that’s both fascinating and heartbreaking.
If I ever reread Middlemarch, I think I will enjoy it even more the second time around. I hate not knowing whether a book is going to end happily or not, and that iffy detail distracted me much of the time while I was reading this book.
In the end, I liked Middlemarch much, much more than I expected, and I’d recommend that everyone give it a try. The page count might be daunting, but this book is completely worth your time.