I’d like to open by thanking this community for supporting our collective reading endeavors. Sometimes it helps me to commit “out loud” in order to create a sense of commitment within myself– and acknowledging my intent to read Middlemarch as part of the Winter Reading Session certainly helped me follow through. So thank you!
I started reading this on the 27th of December and finished it somewhere over the Atlantic this afternoon. I had set a goal to finish this before the semester started, since it is a read that takes me significant effort to digest and absorb. There is a little bit of everything in Middlemarch and every character is so well-developed a reader can feel related to them all.
The premise of Middlemarch, briefly, is a myriad of stories about several people in the town of Middlemarch, England. Our main character- Dorothea- sets off to marry a much older clergyman, Edward Casaubon AKA Mr Casaubon. He is working on religious texts and researching, translating and so forth, though he seems to make little progress on his projects– Dorothea is enamored with his intellect and opts to marry him instead of someone closer to her age. This is a central component of Dorothea’s story and it provides a context with which the reader finds deep understanding of her perspective, though the town of Middlemarch finds her decision to be a big mistake.
Tertius Lydgate AKA Mr Lydgate is another central character who is a young medical doctor interested in scientific discovery. He comes from France to Middlemarch in search of a place where he can study and start a practice. Lydgate’s story arch is an interesting contrast to Dorothea– from his marriage to Rosamond Vincy, the prettiest girl in town, to his money troubles that he brings upon himself. Lydgate is rebellious in his practice of medicine– he doesn’t like to prescribe drugs! Imagine that! And of course, patients wonder what they are paying for if he doesn’t give them drugs. Mid-1800’s and already the discussion about pharmaceuticals is well underway.
Aside from merely characters, there is simply a lot happening in Middlemarch– from Reform politics, to all kinds of gossip– really, the amount of gossip especially in the last third is so fun to read. Eliot does a superb job of creating the yin-yang effect of perception and truth. And how people talk!
There are lots of parallel narratives that keep you moving through this 800-page novel, which is broken up into 8 books, and is how it was published as a serial originally. This is the 4th time I’ve gone through Middlemarch but this go was the most successful because I stuck with it– that was the key for me. Being interrupted frequently is not a recipe for success in reading this for myself. It took being abroad on holiday at the top of a mountain with minimal distraction to really dig into this great work, which I am glad to have done to a degree that I feel satisfied.
Carrying Middlemarch around on my trip abroad felt like having Eliot as a travel companion with me along the way. She is a great friend to have on the road!