BOOK: Middlemarch by George Eliot
SYNOPSIS (Goodreads): 'We believe in her as in a woman we might providentially meet some fine day when we should find ourselves doubting of the immortality of the soul'
wrote Henry James of Dorothea Brooke, who shares with the young doctor Tertius Lydgate not only a central role in Middlemarch but also a fervent conviction that life should be heroic.
By the time the novel appeared to tremendous popular and critical acclaim in 1871-2, George Eliot was recognized as England's finest living novelist. It was her ambition to create a world and portray a whole community--tradespeople, middle classes, country gentry--in the rising provincial town of Middlemarch, circa 1830. Vast and crowded, rich in narrative irony and suspense, Middlemarch is richer still in character, in its sense of how individual destinies are shaped by and shape the community, and in the great art that enlarges the reader's sympathy and imagination. It is truly, as Virginia Woolf famously remarked, 'one of the few English novels written for grown-up people'
It took me a little more than a month, but I finally did it. I've read Middlemarch. And oh my god, I loved it.
You know how plot is central to Victorian novels? Well, this one is all plot. And characterization. And it's pretty amazing how everything is held together so cohesively. I mean there's nothing extra, nothing missing. No plot holes. Yes, it was a little difficult to get into, but somehow it wasn't boring. At all. This is an actual masterpiece. I've called Thackeray's Vanity Fair a masterpiece, but the one thing I hated about it was all the unnecessary information that in no way advanced the plot. This book, however? None of that. The plot is so tightly packed it's perfect.
But there's so much more that makes Middlemarch a masterpiece and a book that towers over any other Victorian novel I have read yet. On the surface, the major concern of the book is marriage. Yet, unlike most Victorian novels, marriage is not considered to be the ultimate source of happiness. There is not one marriage that's perfect, and that seems to me a very clear critique of portraying marriage simply as a blissful institution. Eliot also seems to be critiquing the expectations of the society that can never be satisfied. The individual and the community come together so wonderfully in Eliot's writing, as was her intention, I believe, but it's her ability to maintain a fine line between the togetherness of individuals and the times when they are torn asunder that is extraordinary. And that is just one balancing act going on in the novel. When you consider everything that is going on, everything that has to be distinctly perfected, and balanced, you find it hard to believe how perfectly she pulled everything off. But she really did.
One other thing that only highlights Eliot's mastery is the sheer knowledge she must have possessed to write this novel. Your first clue to that are the epigraphs. She knew Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, and William Blake. Plus she was generally very intellectual, I reckon, considering the fact that she doesn't stick to just marriage and stuff. She talks about politics as well. That's one thing she has been charged with. Being too intellectual for a nineteenth century woman. And I love her for it.
Another brilliant thing about the book is the characterization. Here are some characters who are so, so true to real life and who do things that can be expected of real people. Dorothea says towards the end, "It is quite clear that I might have been a better person... and that I might have done something better, if I had been better..." And that is true. She does make a lot many mistakes. But that's how she is. And she accepts it. But she also sticks to what she believes to be right, not what others tell her is right. And she grows as a person. That is probably why I like her the best. Then there's Lydgate. I think, for the nineteenth century, that is probably as good as a man gets. He is probably the most genuinely nice person in the book. And he is ambitious, which is what I loved about him. But Rosamond did not deserve him. But, then again, Eliot was just being true to life. Marriage between two people with completely different personalities could not possibly be easy. But I still believe that Rosamond was... well, a really bad person, although that is understating it. But I think there's something there that depends on the writer. I'm not sure if anybody else saw it, but I could see some resemblance between Rosamond and Madame Bovary. I sympathized with Emma, and then to call Rosamond a bad person makes me uneasy. Is there really something here? I don't know.
So, yes, this is a big book. And it requires time. But it deserves every minute that you spend on it.
Published by Mahima Kapoor