Sunday, March 06, 2016


Middlemarch is a total soap opera.  There’s relationship drama and political intrigue.  It takes place during an interesting political point in history, where part of the political problems come from the “Reform Bill”. The business subversion and debt is abundant. Money and love seem to motivate everything, whether wanting or lacking. I could see Middlemarch done in 4 or 5 seasons… or one crazy mini-series.  (It has been done.)  I don’t think it could ever be a proper movie, there’s way too much going on.  So much so, that I would occasionally forget who a minor character was and have to look them up (thanks, Internet). Middlemarch was not an easy read, but it was worth it.

What kept me reading was George Eliot's brilliant characters. I loved Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw, emotionally invested in the outcome of their lives. Their relationship was so natural and grew through genuine affection. The relationship was a huge contrast when compared to Lydgate and Rosamond. She frustrated me so much! I felt so sorry for Lydgate. Mr. Brooke was so doddering. I really liked Farebrother and wished I could have known how his life ended up. Bulstrode was a perfect character. For me though, it always came back to Will and Dorothea. They were my favourites, eager to find out what would happen to them. Eliot contrasted Dorothea and Rosamond quite a bit in the novel. One dark-haired and one light, but maybe the darkness represented Dorothea's depth of thought and emotion, while the light was Rosamond's feelings, her shallowness. I was excited when the two finally encountered each other.

Middlemarch takes place in the past for the narrator/Eliot, as she refers to how things were and the "Reform Bill". It's an interesting perspective on 1829-1832 from someone who is living in the 1870s. There are moments of apology for things happening 40 years earlier. I wonder what kind of social changes happened in those 4 decades for Eliot to occasionally take that tone. 

I also liked the cheeky tone that Eliot sometimes used: "Society never made the preposterous demand that a man should think as much about his own qualifications for making a charming girl happy as he thinks of hers for making himself happy. As if a man could choose not only his wife but his wife's husband! Or as if he were bound to provide charms for his posterity in his own person!— When Dorothea accepted him with effusion, that was only natural; and Mr. Casaubon believed that his happiness was going to begin." Was this something women and men had started to think about? About each other's happiness and not just it being one-sided?Were men regarding women's feelings? I think this is something Lydgate and Mr. Casaubon should have thought of. Fred Vincy seemed to consider it.

Let's talk medicine for a minute. Lydgate's professional goals were all about discovery and explanations for things. Why didn't people like that back then? Superstition? He seemed so much more advanced than the other medical men in Middlemarch. "He not only used his stethoscope (which had not become a matter of course in practice at that time), but sat quietly by his patient and watched him." Just, wow. Why wouldn't it be used all the time? From Eliot's comments, in the 1870s, stethoscopes were commonly used, but why did it take so long to catch on? People knew where their hearts were, right? Why wouldn't you want to have a better listen too it? This really caught my attention.

Though I kind of hated Mr. Casaubon, I felt sorry for him too. He just didn't get it. He didn't understand Dorothea. He didn't understand what marriage was, I think. Why did he ever decide to marry her? So he didn't have to hire an assistant? He had no faith in her, but she was so trusting with him. She never had bad intensions, but he couldn't see that. "Dorothea told him that she had seen Lydgate, and recited the gist of her conversation with him about the Hospital. Mr. Casaubon did not question her further, but he felt sure that she had wished to know what had passed between Lydgate and himself. "She knows that I know," said the ever-restless voice within; but that increase of tacit knowledge only thrust further off any confidence between them. He distrusted her affection; and what loneliness is more lonely than distrust?" It is so true, what is more lonely than distrust in a relationship? 

Will and Mr. Casaubon speak of the same woman: "I have not spoken too strongly now," said Will, leaning back against the angle of the wall. "There are certain things which a man can only go through once in his life; and he must know some time or other that the best is over with him. This experience has happened to me while I am very young—that is all. What I care more for than I can ever care for anything else is absolutely forbidden to me—I don't mean merely by being out of my reach, but forbidden me, even if it were within my reach, by my own pride and honor—by everything I respect myself for. Of course I shall go on living as a man might do who had seen heaven in a trance." One see the woman as heaven, the other with distrust. Why are their perspectives so different? Is it age? Life expreiences? General disposition? I don't know that Casuabon ever was really socialized with the world beyond his studies, where Will was all about the world. They are so very, very different.

I loved the language of the novel too. Eliot could craft a sentence, pour emotion into metaphor, "the years had been perpetually spinning them into intricate thickness, like masses of spider-web, padding the moral sensibility". Though it was a long read, with many devoted hours, phrases like that grabbed me, had me waiting for more.

I first read Middlemarch a long time ago, back in University, but honestly, I couldn't remember anything about it, except that I liked Dorothea and Will. I am so happy to have re-read it. It is definitely a novel I can see myself reading again in the future and it's one I would recommend to those who like a good story.

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