George Eliot, (nom de plume of Mary Ann Evans), wrote a literary masterpiece with "Middlemarch." I was forced to read this in school at an age when term papers and grades meant more than absorbing the riches this novel contains. I recently gave it another shot, lured back into 19th century English lit. by easier reads, like Jane Austen, whose work I love, and the Brontes. But I don't want to compare apples and oranges. Let it suffice to say, I got back to "Middlemarch" 30 years later. And it was/is so worth the re-read!
Ms. Eliot created, with this book, an entire community in England in the mid-1800s and called it Middlemarch. She populated this provincial town with people of every station, local squires and their families, tradespeople, the rising middle class, (Middlemarch, right?), & the poor and destitute, ruthless and honest. She crowded them together, with all their ambitions, dreams and foibles, in this magnificent literary soap opera, and wove a wonderful web of plots and subplots. Ms. Eliot also wrote scathing social commentary and used great wit.
The fortunes of Middlemarch are rising in this new era when machines and trains - fast, available transportation - are changing the world, the economy, the politics. Rigid social codes, the British class system, is in danger of being breached. Folks are out to make a quick buck, or a shilling - anything to acquire wealth and enhance social position.
Dorothea Brooks lives in Middlemarch. She is an intelligent, sensitive young woman, who wants to dedicate her life to important endeavors. She does not want to settle for a typical marriage and family, but looks toward a more noble cause. As a woman, a professional life is not open to her, nor is the pursuit of intellect, outside of marriage. She weds the elderly Rev. Casaubon, a cold, narcissistic man, thinking that by assisting him with his scholarly research and writing, she will find happiness.
Dr. Lydgate comes to Middlemarch to begin his medical practice there. He is an idealist, who has dreams of finding a cure for cholera and opening a free clinic. He meets blonde and beautiful Rosamund Vincie, who fancies him for a spouse...along with a new house, new furniture, an extensive wardrobe, etc.
A dashing, romantic Will Ladislaw, nephew of Rev. Casaubon, enters the story, as does Rosie's brother Fred, who wants desperately to marry his Mary, but is out of work and in debt. This cast of richly drawn characters continues to grow with the introduction of Mary's family, the Garths, the banker Bulstrode, friends, relations, and an evil villain or two.
This complex novel and portrait of the times, is one of the best reading experiences I have had in a long while. And it didn't hurt at all! :))
on May 29, 2004
I first read this book in a college course about self-deception as a theme in literature. This was by far my favorite of the things we read (we read such other things as Vanity Fair, The Ring and the Book).
This is really a long book about ordinary circumstances in a 19th century rural area in England. So why is a book such as this one considered such a classic even though not many particularly grand events happen?
The book is the study of the ordinary in many ways. You end up seeing how different people live and deal with different situations and what kinds of people they are. At the same time that the reader comes to judgments about the people in the book, George Eliot manages to portray most of her characters sympathetically. Even the worst people in the book are rounded out in some ways and Eliot tries to imbue a sense of humanity. It portrays an "adult" view of the world instead of the simplistic view of the child. In fact, Dorothea makes a journey during the book from a child with a romanticized view to an adult with a more rich understanding through life experience and wisdom.
If you're looking for a book about exciting events, with high drama, with a fast pace, don't bother picking this book up since you'll probably dislike it. This is a book written by a woman and expressing some criticisms of a woman's place in the world of her time. It is also a book that explores a more ordinary setting and viewpoint than perhaps most male authors of the time would write in such depth about. She brings a different experience than most male or female authors of the 19th century. Male authors focused on grander events (their characters often fighting to get somewhere in life) while many female authors showed a romanticized view of life and love. Look at the romances of Jane Austin in which a good marriage seems to be the ultimate goal, or the stormy loves of Emily Bronte in which some strange control/love dynamic becomes magnified to almost heroic proportions. The author is showing something unique, more restrainted, less extreme, more "middle" or ordinary. She manages to pull off a more balanced or "middle" view, also. I noticed some other readers mentioned that it was slow, that they thought events were predictable, or other similar criticisms. These criticisms are valid as far as they go--but they miss the point since these elements aren't really the center of this book.
In fact, Middlemarch is really about a somewhat mundane existance that is inhabited by many people in the real world. We aren't immune to a mundane existance today: work; TV; having enough money to get by; domestic squabbles; eating; relating to other people; perhaps dreaming of something grand but not accomplishing it. There are many events of a mostly ordinary nature that gradually lead one way or another in the lives of people (both ourselves and others around us).
Really this book is about gradual changes, about good acts and bad acts. It's about coming to some state of acceptance and a kind of enlightenment in life. It's about making the unexceptional life one of meaning even when circumstances prevent many large or great things. It's about a hard-to-define quality called "goodness" even absent huge acts or events.
In any case, give this book a read if you like 19th century English literature since it's one of the greats of the period. It's also one of my favorites since I feel as though the author is treating the reader as an adult, without pulling punches, while explaining something about the life that most actual people experience.
on February 26, 2011
I certainly can't criticize the writing in this book -- I love Middlemarch by George Eliot and was hoping, for this kind of money, to be getting a high-quality edition. Unfortunately this is the kind of book that seems to be run through a low-end printer only when someone orders a copy. The design and layout of the book were not created for Middlemarch; it is a strange size -- about the size of a magazine -- and the text is just run from page to page with, unbelievably, no paragraph indentations, and not even a break to the next page for the start of a new chapter! In addition, there are many, many typos and other mistakes includes words split randomly in two, periods in the middle of a sentence, hyphens appearing for no reason, etc. It is nearly unreadable and I do wish I could return it. There must be many wonderful reprints of Middlemarch out there and I will continue looking but please take my advice and do not order this one.
on November 2, 1999
I remember finding this conservative and space-efficient paperback on the shelves at Waldenbooks and deciding to give it a try since I had heard of it through a copy of Anna Karenina. The essay had compared the two, but didn't say that George Eliot acheived five times more with this book than Tolstoy did with Anna. I have never read such superb writing or been lead through such a meaningful story. Everything in this book is absolutely neccessary to Eliot's main idea. The realistic and honestly depicted characters' babbling even holds weight in her plot. This book shows so many different plots and how they parallel eachother, that it is almost mosaic (except every little piece is as splendid and brilliant as the other). Eliot teaches us through her characters and the dilemas she so craftily places them in, about reverance for life and community. If you pay attention to the narrative of this sage, you will find yourself believing "no man is an island", if you already don't, and your sense of responsibility and duty will become ven more apparent to you. This is the book that remains closest to my heart; this is the author who, time after time, I have never been disappointed in. I won't give a single thing away. If you enjoy a good intellectual novel, then you won't be disappointed. I promise, you will be amazed 6 chapters through the book and astounded at the end. There aren't any notes for this book; you'll enjoy it uninterrupted. Reward yourself with this book or any other by George Eliot ( the Mill on the Floss is almost as good).
on February 7, 2014
Five stars for Middlemarch, of course. But I want to comment on the Penguin Clothbound Classics edition. The binding is sewn well, but the pages aren't wide enough for the tight binding and the thickness of the book. As a result the book snaps shut if your grip loosens. Inconvenient.
A minor complaint--There was a label on the back of my copy, which came off easily, but it also pulled off the white ink under the label.
Update: 19 February 2014. By the time that I had finished reading the book, half of the cover design had rubbed off. But this is certainly a nice, sturdy edition.
on February 5, 2004
It is an English classic, of course, but it is more than one of those books you only read when you are taking a course in English Literature. This is pleasure reading!
My first language is Spanish and I read this at college. It wasn't even mandatory (there was no time left) but I opened it and I couldn't put it down. It is one of my top 5 literature books.
Since it is divided in short chapters, and it's a huge book, I decided to read only one or two chapters a day. It was an unforgettable experience. If you love reading, I mean really love good books, then this one is for you.
Treat yourself well for a month. Read it.
It's George Eliot's best work.
on December 17, 2012
I have read Middlemarch three times before using a paperback copy. (The first time I read it was for a class at the University of Chicago. I finished reading it and I was so impressed with it, I immediately started reading it again!!). However when I started reading it the 4th time my paperback edition was so full of my previous notes that I decided to buy a hardcopy edition.
This edition is very good. The margins allow enough room for notes, and there is a helpful Introduction and Explanatory Notes however, they are not nearly as strong at the Oxford paperback edition with D. Carroll and F. Bonaparte doing the Introduction, etc.
I have spent over 45 years reading and rereading novels (among a lot of other types of works) but after reading George Eliot's Middlemarch I think she is the greatest author who ever lived and I consider Middlemarch the best book I have ever read.
Although the pictures I have seen of G.E. would not indicate the below, this is what Henry James had to say about her,
"She had a low forehead, a dull grey eye, a vast pendulous nose, a huge mouth full of uneven teeth and a chin and jawbone 'qui n'en finissent pas'... Now in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very few minutes, steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end, as I ended, in falling in love with her. Yes, behold me in love with this great horse-faced bluestocking". Henry James, in a letter to his father, published in Edel, Leon (ed.) Henry James: Selected Letters (1990)" (I took this from the Wikipedia entry for G.E.)
The below is a quote from the Introduction to the Oxford edition. "She could speak with authority on history, music, art, theology, anthropology, philosophy, sociology, psychology,.....; she was an excellent mathematician and had a love of all the sciences, especially physics, geology, chemistry, and astronomy; entomology and biology....Literature was her deepest love, the literature of many countries, and having made herself proficient, by the end of her life, in eight tongues (English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Hebrew, Latin and Greek), she knew a good deal of Western literature in its original languages."
If you would like to see one aspect of her abilities in another area, Amazon has for sale her translation of David Strauss's Life of Jesus Critically Examined translated from the German. I am quite sure, having read this work, that she had also to know Greek, Hebrew, and Latin in order to do this translation. Oh- by the way. From what I can tell she did this translation when she was 25 years old!!!
One last note. For those of you who are interested in philosophy she was an Editor of the Westminster Review. This publication was the first publication to awaken Europe to Arthur Schopenhauer the great philosopher. I have purchased many books by Schopenhauer on Amazon and after studying many many philosophers over decades I have found him to be the greatest.
Hope this has been helpful.
on January 17, 2004
I just this book as a required reading for a philosophy and thematic discussion class, and while I have found all the books asigned worthwhile reading, I didn't know what to expect with this book, having never read any Eliot and also having heard it described as a "chick book". While it does often read like an extremely ellaborate 19th century soap opera, I cannot recommend this book highly enough, whatever your reading preferences. This book cuts across genre lines not just as a result of the witty storylines and sharp dialogue but as a legitimate and inciteful case study of human nature and human interactions, both social and romantic.
Set in and around the town of Middlemarch, somewhere in England, the story encomasses the lives of a slew of dilightful and diverse townspeople, tending to focus on and revolve the story around three couples: Dorothea/Ladislaw, Rosamond/Lydgate, and Mary Garth/Ted. The entire story is very complicated and impossible to give a summary of here, but sufice it to say that Dorothea is an aristocratic, idealistic, religious girl of twenty who wants to do something great and has an inquiring mind, so she marries a man named Casaubon, but he turns out not to be so great as she had hoped and he has a young cousin named Ladislaw who has been supported by Casaubon and doesn't understand how Dorothea could be attracted to him, and is convinced that Casaubon will make her as wretched as he is so Ladislaw must protect her... And that's just one of the many inter-weaving subplots.
The real genious of this novel is the complex realistic characters that George Eliot fills her book with. These characters are all real and presented in such a svmpthetic light that though you will likely come to care for some and despise others, you find it difficult to judge them as being good or bad. The role that human relationships plays in our lives and the problems caused by common miscommunications are all dealt with realistically and sympathetically. Questions such as, what makes a good marriage?, what does it mean to be great?, and how should one treat ones fellow man? are all featured genuinly a promonently.
This is not to say that this is necessarilly a philosophic novel, it can be read just for the real pleasure of reading, but it is one of those rare great books that never fails to entertain while engaging the mind and the spirit throughout. A must read for anyone, regardless of taste, who likes to read for the sheer pleasure of it.
on January 10, 2015
I had already read a library copy of Middlemarch and was looking for a beautiful edition for future rereading. This particular edition is so tightly bound that it is hard to hold it open as you are reading and the problem increases the closer you get to the middle of this great tome. It takes both hands to hold it open, and then you notice that the block of pages is crookedly aligned with the cover while you're trying to read it. A well bound book should lay flat when open.
on June 7, 2004
I first read this book as an undergraduate -- and I still pick it up now and again for inspiration. This is Eliot's best novel -- you may go on to read Daniel Deronda, Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss, but this is the one to start with. It has it all: the love story, the quest for fulfillment, an Italy honeymoon, allusions to John Milton, and financial struggles.
Tolstoy, Trollope and Dickens also capture the rich panoramic vision of humanity that Eliot shows -- but her view is so much warmer, so much more optimistic and expresses a strong undercurrent of benevolence. After you read Middlemarch, you will feel renewed and optimistic about the possibility in the world.
If you are at all interested in realism or nineteenth century life, you will really enjoy Eliot's portrayals of both Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate. Dorothea is the quintessential Eliot heroine who seeks to do good and be perfect in an imperfect world. She marries a much older man because he is a scholar -- however, he doesn't understand her spirit or her youthfulness. Tertius Lydgate is the idealistic doctor whose major character flaw is that he falls in love with women who don't see the value of the medical profession. Eliot traces the development of both Dorothea and Lydgate, as well as other characters in the community: Mary Garth and Fred Vincy are just one example.
If you are up for a challenge of a mixture of a nineteenth century novel, a mastery of realism, and some unexpected philosophy, you will gain something from reading this work. It may be enjoyed on many levels, but I think the most important one is that it shows portraits of the people who still inhabit our world --- the unsung heroes and the quietly talented.