Classic Review: Middlemarch, George Eliot (or venturing into provincial life…)

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to read (or re-read) classic novels. You know, those books literati refer to with arched eyebrows and smug smirks, to which I nod  knowingly about and bluff my way through, whilst never having ACTUALLY really read. (Advanced English & Cliff’s Notes for the win).

sadly more accurate than I would like to admit…

There are a multitude of reasons for this:

– Life is short; my TBR list is LOOOOONG and there are ALWAYS more interesting books within near reach of my handy-pandys, rather than getting up off the couch and going to my snob shelf (as I have nicknamed the bookcase that houses all my Penguins), to pick up one of the classics.

-For myself at least, it requires a different KIND of reading.  I need to read slower, engage my concentration more fully and generally not drink quite so much wine – otherwise I just fall asleep.

– Sometimes they are just BORING. It’s true. You may commence with the tomato throwing; but it’s how I feel.

Are these books classics because they are GOOD or simply because no one ever threw them away and they are now so old, we automatically assume they are interesting…? I don’t know. I do know however, that some are so immensely uninteresting/longwinded or generally blow-hardy books, that I would rather sleep on a bed of nails than read them again.

BUT, I am willing to flirt with the idea that I may be wrong regarding some of these books, thus the reading of big-fat-old-books to see if this is true.

Enter Middlemarch.

Enter George Eliot.

Enter Juhi from Nooks & Crannies with the fabulous idea of a March Read-A-Long…cos really, external pressure is the only way I am probably going to be able to keep on track with this book.

Not to say it’s not good.

It is. Really good, actually.

But:

It’s also twenty-thousand pages long. There are umpteem characters; And, as of yet, I am unsure, but I think it probably takes place over NUMEROUS saga-length years.

So this week (fortnight) we’re on Book One. (There are 8 (!)).I just scraped in by my chinny-chin-chin…and finished it tonight – but I made it and that’s what’s important.

Entitled Miss Brooke, it was so interesting, I kind of wish it was longer.

What you need to know plot wise:

Not much. Really. That is to say, not an enormous amount of action occurs, but the good stuff isn’t in the action

I dot-point:

  • Miss Brooke and Celia Brooke are orphans living with their Uncle Brooke.
  • James Chettam wants to marry Dorothea Brooke. Dorothea feels she has a higher monastic calling, and just doesn’t really like him.
  • Mr Casuabon enters the scene. He’s pompous and oh-so puffed up with his own importance. He is also creating a magnum opus that is to be his greatest literary masterpiece about something saintly and Dorothea thinks she can be his right-hand maiden in this venture.
  • He asks her to marry him.
  • She accepts.
  • Also we meet T. Lydgate (surgeon) who is in love with Rosamund Vincy, daughter of the provincial mayor.

So that’s Book One.

BUT in between that we meet DOZENS of people. SOO many people. At first I started post-it noting them – but my laptop started looking like a porcupine, so instead I created a character map:

MiddleMarch-CharacterMap@book1

I daresay it will change A LOT though – seeings as there are another 7 books to go…

The thing that is so addictive about Eliot, is that she has this amazingly clever way of saying a lot with very little. She is able to bypass the superficial and quickly sketch the sum of a character without extra frilling.

Her writing is so politely blunt and wickedly smart; I wish I could fill a bathtub and submerse myself in it —  I might then absorb some of it and be able to write 1/168th as artfully as she does.

There’s a combination of intellectual analysis, combined with warm empathy, that makes you want to read more. I found myself getting caught up in the words, the rhythm, the FEEL of her world and in that minutiae I started to care. To quote a goodreads review: ‘It’s bloody brilliant’

THINGS I LOVE: (Spoilers; if you have been living under a rock like me and never read MM – I mean, it’s only 150 yrs old…)

  • Shameful secret: my favourite is DOROTHEA. I shouldn’t like her best. But I do. I can’t help it – She is so righteous, and has such noble and ridiculous ideals – I want her to fall flat on her face – but I am pretty sure I will cry when it happens. I have a secret book-crush on her. I have a feeling it may kill me. But we shall see…

“She loved the fresh air and the various aspects of the country, and when her eyes and cheeks glowed with mingled pleasure she looked very little like a devotee. Riding was an indulgence which she allowed herself in spite of conscientious qualms; she felt that she enjoyed it in a pagan sensuous way, and always looked forward to renouncing it.”

  • Celia is AWESOME. And not given nearly enough air time. I hope she ends up with Chettam – he has money, and would look after her splendidly.

“She is engaged to marry Mr. Casaubon,” said Celia, resorting, as usual, to the simplest statement of fact…

“This is frightful. How long has it been going on?”

“I only knew of it yesterday. They are to be married in six weeks….she says Mr. Casaubon has a great soul…Oh, Mrs. Cadwallader, I don’t think it can be nice to marry a man with a great soul.”

“Well, my dear, take warning. You know the look of one now; when the next comes and wants to marry you, don’t you accept him.”

“I’m sure I never should.”

“No; one such in a family is enough. So your sister never cared about Sir James Chettam? What would you have said to him for a brother-inlaw?”

“I should have liked that very much. I am sure he would have been a good husband. Only,” Celia added, with a slight blush (she sometimes seemed to blush as she breathed), “I don’t think he would have suited Dorothea.”

  • Will is the BEST. He is like this sparkly leaf blown whither and yon and had some seriously great lines. He doesn’t like Dorothea (yet) – but I am pretty sure he will.

“Genius, he held, is necessarily intolerant of fetters: on the one hand it must have the utmost play for its spontaneity; on the other, it may confidently await those messages from the universe which summon it to its peculiar work, only placing itself in an attitude of receptivity towards all sublime chances. The attitudes of receptivity are various, and Will had sincerely tried many of them. He was not excessively fond of wine, but he had several times taken too much, simply as an experiment in that form of ecstasy; he had fasted till he was faint, and then supped on lobster; he had made himself ill with doses of opium. Nothing greatly original had resulted from these measures.”

200px-Dorothea_and_Will_Ladislaw

Dorothea & Will

THINGS I AM NOT HAPPY ABOUT:

  • Dorothea, intent on self-imolation on the alter of martyrdom MARRIES Casuabon. WHY??? He is a cold, cold amphibian. In my head, he alternates between:

FVZOO6CH7ANSLLA.MEDIUM

&

professor-farnsworth-right-300x241

  • Lydgate is in love with Rosamund. I have BAD BAD feelings about this. I think Rosamund is a spoilt selfish little you-know-what… but she hides it well.

veronica1

well, maybe not SO well…

Sadly, it may be too late by the time Lydgate works it out. Lydgate, too, is pretty dang cool:

 

Rosamond & Tertius Lydgate

Look at her: she TOTALLY thinks she is all that AND a bag of potato chips…

***

“Mr. Lydgate had the medical accomplishment of looking perfectly grave whatever nonsense was talked to him, and his dark steady eyes gave him impressiveness as a listener.”

 

I leave you with Best-quotey-bits of Book 1…it is by no means complete – but I had to stop @ 6….

***

“Life isn’t cast in a mould—not cut out by rule and line, and that sort of thing.”

***

“She says, he is a great soul.—A great bladder for dried peas to rattle in!” said Mrs. Cadwallader.

“What business has an old bachelor like that to marry?” said Sir James. “He has one foot in the grave.”

“He means to draw it out again, I suppose.”

***

“These charitable people never know vinegar from wine till they have swallowed it and got the colic.”

***

“Poor Mr. Casaubon had imagined that his long studious bachelorhood had stored up for him a compound interest of enjoyment, and that large drafts on his affections would not fail to be honored; for we all of us, grave or light, get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act fatally on the strength of them.”

***

“The remark was taken up by Mr. Chichely, a middle-aged bachelor and coursing celebrity, who had a complexion something like an Easter egg, a few hairs carefully arranged, and a carriage implying the consciousness of a distinguished appearance.”

***

“In short, woman was a problem which, since Mr. Brooke’s mind felt blank before it, could be hardly less complicated than the revolutions of an irregular solid.”

 

Sincerely,

Valancy: currently making friendship bracelets for Dorothea and Celia…cos they are my FAVOURITES

🙂

NEXT: Book 2: Old and Young; if you’d like to join in…Please Do!

Header Image: Portrait of George Eliot, by: I HAVE NO IDEA – I can’t find a credit for it anywhere — but it was too beautiful not to use. If anyone knows, let me know! Other Middlemarch Illustrations: 1910 edition, New York, Jenson Society

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11 thoughts on “Classic Review: Middlemarch, George Eliot (or venturing into provincial life…)

  1. I don’t know, Ms Valancy, I’m in a rotten reading mood, compounded by the world around me, but you tempt me, o terrible temptress you!

    (Not under a rock, only raised on the Spanish/Latin American classics–an different barrel of fish altogether)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah…the Spanish/Latin American barrel of literary fish — that sounds VERY intriguing… (and the barrel reference totally reminds me of Cutthroat Island movie – Geena Davis/Matthew Modine – there’s this one scene where they pull this ENORMOUS eel out of a barrel – which also had part of a treasure map…) wait – what was I talking about again? Ooh – that’s right – if you delve into the barrel and want a read-a-long-person (*waves hand frantically*)
      🙂
      PS: I am so sorry about the reading pit of despair…fingers crossed you land a GOOD one (see what I did there—heh !)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for a brilliant review of Book 1 – I am now determined to buy them and read them – all 8 of them! Like you, I have obviously been living under a rock, imagine all the other classics I have missed by living under said rock!! Now I just need at least 36 hours in the day – the extra 12 hours is just for reading. Aaaah!! Wouldn’t life be grand!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Mrs J, just thought I’d mention that it’s not eight separate books—it’s just one REALLY LONG book, divided into eight parts. And since it’s in the public domain, you should be able to download it for free from Project Gutenberg or elsewhere on the net.

      If, and when, you decide to read it, I hope you enjoy it!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yes – Please! Join the middlemarch bandwagon! Did you know that originally it was only going to be broken into 3 installments and published like most other serials at the time…only Eliot kept writing and it kept getting bigger and bigger…So Lewes (her husband-but-not-husband-cos-they-never-married) decided to publish like Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Eight Installments, published every 2 months for five shillings (Eliot received 2 of them as royalties.) Publishers didn’t really want to agree, but eventually they did. And Lewes was right – the method generated SO much interest. You can still see the seperate ‘books’ in museums and collections etc — They are very distinctive – with these rather luridly green covers. :/ Thankfully, like Juhi said, sensible people have put them all into one volume for us (I would be leaving them EVERYWHERE otherwise!)
      🙂

      Like

  3. • wait, you’re comparing Casaubon to The Simpsons?! How could I have NOT seen this connection?!!

    • And Rosamond to Veronica Lodge? AGAIN! How could I NOT HAVE SEEN THIS?!

    • And I too was so pleased with Lydgate (though he’s bound to be an idiot to fall for someone like Rosamond) that I put that entire quote in the Quotes edition post—do feel free to add there any quotes that you didn’t include here.

    • I LOVE THAT YOU LOVE CELIA!!!! I LOVE HER TOO!!! WHY DID ELIOT GIVE HER A SHORT SHRIFT? or is that only me? She comes off a little bovine-like in her docility when really the girl is just even-tempered!

    • And yes, yes—I can see myself tearing up too when Dodo falls flat on her face!

    • I LOVED THAT EXACT QUOTE ABOUT WILL TOO BUT realized my post would fly off if I bloated it up any more. So glad you included it here!

    • A MIGHTY YES TO THIS: “There’s a combination of intellectual analysis, combined with warm empathy, that makes you want to read more. I found myself getting caught up in the words, the rhythm, the FEEL of her world and in that minutiae I started to care.”

    Eliot is so funny, isn’t she? Totally wasn’t expecting that!

    P.S. Thank you so much for putting that character map together. It’s bound to come in handy later!
    P.P.S. That header image is gorgeous!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Maybe post-modern/contemporary animations owe more to the classics than we thought?? There could be a Magnum Opus in THAT couldn’t there??! lol.

      And definitely Veronica – cos when she is nice, she is very very nice – but I think when she is bad she will be horrid…

      I think Celia is probably the most SENSIBLE of all the characters so far (barring Mrs Cadwallader) but she looks so placid in comparison to everyone else. I am waiting to see if she has a heroic bent…

      And I definitely didn’t expect to like them (or Eliot’s writing) anywhere near as much as I did. I am SO glad you organised this…I would have totally missed out. Extra bonus points to you!

      🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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