40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2010
Although the sentences are often long and interwoven with several ideas within them to the point where I had to read some over, this book is still to me a monumental piece of artistry in the way it is written, the story developed and the creation of characters I was totally intrigued with. I don't think this is a book for the casual reader however but for someone that can really appreciate the art of weaving words into a tapestry. At times I was just awestruck by the brilliance of the work. Several months later, I still am. What a brilliant mind (in my view.)
42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2006
For those who come to MIDDLEMARCH for the first time and wonder what to make up the more than 900 pages of text, they might look at the clue that George Eliot provides both in the subtitle "A Study of Provincial Life" and in her Prelude. The former suggests indeed a study of life within the narrow confines of middle class life in England before the passage of the Reform Bill of 1832, yet the massive weight of the text implies that it will be a telescoped examination of that life. It is almost as if Eliot wished to place Middlemarch on a microscopic slide and then blow up the image to fit an IMAX screen, from which the reader could see, hear, and feel the images jump off the pages in unforgettably realistic power. In her Prelude, Eliot writes of a hypothetical woman that prefigures Dorothea Brooke: "Many Theresas have been born who found for themselves no epic life wherein there was a constant unfolding of far-resonant action; perhaps only a life of mistakes, the offspring of a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness of opportunity." Such a "life of mistakes" of the book's major and minor characters when combined with the epic sweep vision of a small slice of English society produce the book's essential theme: no one in the book is meant to be seen as heroic or even tragic because Eliot's deterministic philosophy does not allow them to overcome the stifling hand of a vision of life that hints at only the wispy illusion of success but delivers only the inevitability of failure. In such a climate, neither heroes nor tragic figures can thrive.
Part of the reason that readers have trouble keeping straight the huge cast of characters is due to Eliot's original means of publishing. MIDDLEMARCH did not start out as a fully-conceived nor finished product. Eliot had planned to write a series of connected novels, beginning with Dorothea Brooke, but after simultaneously writing two of them, she saw that their tightly interlocking themes would complement one another if they were presented as a continuous whole, so she began to publish them as a serial. She was quite successful, so much so that her publisher reminded her that in order not to let her panting public forget who was who, she had to include--or at least mention--each character on a regular basis.
Eliot divides the book into four storylines. The first deals with the aspirations of Dorothea Brooke and her disastrous marriage to Edward Casaubon. The second relates the attempt by Dr. Lydgate to establish a successful medical career that also is demolished by an unwise marriage. The third tells of the many travails of Mary Garth. And the final explains the rise and fall of the banker Bulstrode. Each of these main characters represents types of the middle class that made up the social strata with which George Eliot was so familiar. As they interact with each other, Eliot depicts their respective struggles to achieve success or happiness. These attempts usually begin with marriage or high hopes. Dorothea Brooke suffers disillusion with her husband after only a few months. Casaubon, for his part, endures the agony of knowing that his Great Book is truly the piece of trash that Dorothea rightfully suspects it to be. What emerges in the reader after completing the book is a sense of knowledge of the inner lives of the book's characters and of accrued impressions of life on a vast scale, but what is lacking is the realization that no one in MIDDLEMARCH has learned anything of value except perhaps that fate is a game of chance with the deck stacked against humanity. The reader further acknowledges that God has pulled a disappearing act, leaving the residents of Eliot's world to fend for themselves. And since the characters of MIDDLEMARCH do not change, then neither does its readers. The final judgment on MIDDLEMARCH is that it shows in a universe of detail and character delineation the interlocking lives of characters who suffer mightily, but in whose suffering fall short either of heroism or tragedy.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2006
I spent two months with Middlemarch. It is not a particularly difficult book to read, but it must be read without distractions. It is a very dense novel and requires great concentration to read it because of the tremendous amount of details contained within it. The astonishing ability of Elliot to create both characters and the setting of the book makes it an astonishing work of fiction.
In particular, the character of Rosamond Vincy is one of the elegant pieces of dissection of any character in English literature. Her failed relationship with Lydgate is at times almost painful reading as it either reflects either oneself or people you know. Like all good reading, it becomes a commentary on your own life and makes you reconsider your views.
I read the Penguin classics version with some commentary and I found the notes to be invaluable as well as the bibliography.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2000
I have often wanted to read Middlemarch but was intimidated by the length. The first few chapters are tedious and overwritten; I nearly gave up at some points but I always thought, "I got this far, I might as well go further." I was generously rewarded: by the end of the book, I was sorry I had finished it and sad that I would no longer read about these characters who had become so intimate to me. That's my measure of a masterpiece. I felt as if I'd lost some friends in the main characters when I closed the book -- friends who taught me some things about life.
The main reason I was bored in the first few chapters was because I found Dorothea Brooke so unbelievably "good" and "pious." I could not relate at all to the character who seemed one-dimensional. And I was not surprised or sympathetic when she had deluded herself into marriage with Mr. Causabon, the epitome of "ivy tower" arrogance. But I believe now that George Eliot's early depiction of Dorothea sets us up to realize that we all often are youthful and idealistic when we are young and believe passionately in "saving the world" -- and to parents we probably seemed irritatingly naive. Even with the best of intentions, as Eliot shows, we often fall short because of societal restrictions and mistakes we make in life; and then we "grow up." In the final analysis, George Eliot makes her point well: we can inspire people and change their lives with one act of kindness and by doing good in our community in our quiet ways. I started out rolling my eyes at Dorothea and ended up wanting to emulate her in my own life.
I am surprised that so many people think the story centers around Dorothea. What makes this novel so compelling and fascinating is George Eliot's extraordinary accomplishment in creating an entire village with complex characters so different and yet so similar to each other. I would say this story is as much about Lydgate, Rosamond, the Vincys, Fred and Mary, the Garths, Mr. Causabon, the Chettams, Will Ladislaw et al as it is about Dorothea.
In my copy of the book, there is a quote by Virginia Woolfe that says, to paraphrase, that this book is a great English novel written for adults. This is so true! I am a die-hard Jane Austen fan, but the one major flaw I see with Austen is that her novels are about courtship and end at marriage and thus are easier to write (though in my wildest dreams I could never write as brilliantly as Jane Austen). Courtship is often exciting, romantic, and idealistic. But marriage, and any long-term relationship, involves compromise, trials and tribulations, tests of a couple's strength, or the events that reveal the weakness of their bond. This novel examines the full range from courtship through all the peaks and valleys of marriage and the difficulties within all relationships. Along the way, you find yourself sympathizing with each character, even while you realize you loathe what he/she is doing, his/her point of view. What's amazing is that within this complex set of characters lies complexity within each person.
There is so much to comment on, but the novel is so rich I can't do it justice so I recommend everyone to read it just once.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 1999
It would be interesting to plot a trajectory of women's novels from Austen to Wharton. Austen looks at marriage as the goal, the consummation; Eliot follows it through its problematic stages; and in The House of Mirth its absence fills the novel. The view of marriage darkens with each step. Every marriage in Middlemarch is blighted, except for those that take place at the very end of the book, which seem almost like dreams compared to the unpleasantly realistic situations that have preceded them. Eliot's even, slightly sardonic tone is rarely bitter or bleak; when she steps back and comments on her characters it's always a delight to hear her sane interjections. Yet she is hardly unbiased. She has little sympathy with Rosamond or Casaubon, and a little too much patience with Dorothea, whose piety I found grating, and Will, whose ticklish pride and unwillingness to compromise seem a bit silly. The way she handles Lydgate's irritability, on the other hand, is perfect: "To the last [he] occasionally let slip a bitter speech which was more memorable than the signs he made of his repentance. He once called her his basil plant; and when she asked for a explanation, said the basil was a plant which had flourished wonderfully on a murdered man's brains."
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2006
I read Middlemarch 30 years ago for a highschool assignment. It was over my young head. Making it through the 900 pages was like climbing a mountain and back. It took me about 600 pages to get into the book, and hundreds of pages were devoted to the politics and goings on of the time - something I had little interest in. A more mature reader would probably have found that fascinating.
YET - Of all the books I have read and heard through the years, it is a few sentences in this book that captured my heart more than any other anywhere. See what you think:
"That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity."
(Middlemarch, a few paragraphs into Chapter 20.)
For writing and insight like that, people make pilgrimages. Eliot's writing has thousands of brilliant paragraphs that are stunning in their eloquence and clarity.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2010
This novel doesn't need my praise. But this edition needs censure. I have found over fifty typos and legitimate mistakes, the kind of thing you almost never see except in translations. "Unconquerable" is rendered "conquerable," "in" becomes "is" (so you get things like "All force is twain is one"). You can't read more than a few pages without being distracted.
It's embarrassing that this edition slipped by even a single editor.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2007
George Eliot was the greatest sculptor of characters. She could do grand magic with words. Through the words of George Eliot, we know each and everyone of the characters in her novel with intimate details and deep sympathy - we could see their faces up close: now they blushed, or darkened, or twitched, or pouted, or lighted up, or looked bewildered. She expressed the most difficult, the most ambiguous, and the most awkward feelings with precision, charm and force. In Middlemarch, the story had a simple, rambling plot, put together to support the cast of characters Eliot lovingly sculpted. Many argue that Middlemarch is one of the greatest novels of all times. Yes, I agree.
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2012
This review is of the 2011 edition published by Simon & Brown. I got this edition from Amazon and was completely shocked at the atrocious editing. There are numerous typos and transpositions, so numerous and egregious that they are completely distracting and make the book unreadable. Furthermore, the chapter headings are completely mangled. Eliot began each chapter with a quotation or poem, or piece of a poem (many of which she wrote herself), and in this edition, the lines of poetry are all run together so you don't even know it's a poem! I ask you! Avoid, avoid, avoid. Wonderful novel, read it in ANY OTHER edition. Edition to avoid is: Middlemarch
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2014
This is my favorite book. I've read it several times and listened to it once on the Naxos Audiobook offered by Audible featuring Juliet Stevenson which was my favorite "listen" ever. Though many people reject the idea of such a long book about life in a small town in England almost 200 years ago, those I have given it too ended up loving it because Eliot addresses modern, everyday concerns about love, loss, faithlessness and the ins and outs of the competitive marketplace. For me, it is a page turner. And Juliet Stevenson's recorded version of it is compelling. One consideration. The print in the book is relatively small.