“Middlemarch” by George Eliot (1871) – joining the mile high club…

Deep rapture, euphoria, beatitude and other superlatives. Veneration, wonderment and general doffing of caps.

Have finally joined the several mile high crowd of fan club of all things Mary Ann Evans, and what’s even better is that there is still plenty more to come.

It did take a while to sink back into the downy cushions of so many characters and such grandiloquent text, but George Eliot is such a genius writer. Wondrous stuff. Such amazing characterisation and credible recounting of an entire community! So many snips and digs and connotations concealed in her asides! So bloody witty and so acutely observed and so much of its times and yet of all time. I finished this Big Read late last night and am still feeling bereft.

I first put this 900-pager down about six years ago without managing to make barely a dent into it, and without the advent of the blog it’s more than likely that I would have kept putting off the inevitable for the foreseeable, so am truly grateful to K for pricking my conscience back in the spring, and naming and shaming me into putting everything else on one side to read it now: who needs Eastenders indeed, as you so rightly said!

It might have been cheating slightly, but about a third of the way in, at the end of Book Three, I could resist no longer and ripped the cellophane off the dusty DVD of the 1994 BBC adaptation, as I had read that it had been praised for remaining so faithful to the original words – and I had a burning desire to actually see Mrs Cadwallader, Mary Garth, Mr Bulstrode and co firsthand. Was actually so glad I watched the first episode before continuing to read – the whole world of this tight community opened up even further and from then on in I was totally sucked in.

Couldn’t have loved the choice of actors more – complete with nineteenth century version of Doctor McDreamy à la Douglas Hodge, and an utterly ‘to swoon for’ Rufus (also dreamy) Sewell, not to mention the gloriously well-meant yet often inappropriate Robert Hardy…could rant on indefinitely. The series is awash with great acting and does a creditable job of conveying as much of the written word as is humanly possible – even though the book is so rich that it’s an impossible feat to include every detail and nuance.

Reading “Middlemarch” also felt a bit like being back at school: I kept the Sparknotes open at all times and read sections as I went along to keep me on the straight and narrow, as it were – it highlights the main themes as they come up and adds in the social comment, etc – simply brilliant.

Cosily returning to the epic again, was slowly but surely swept up and away with the stories unfolding of the overly expectant Dorothea with her miscalculated union to the intellectual Casaubon going so pear-shaped on her: “Having once embarked on your marital voyage, it is impossible not to be aware that you make no way and that the sea is not within sight – that, in fact, you are exploring an enclosed basin”.

Inwardly gasped and yet couldn’t help but comprehend the mismatched trials and tribulations of our other main couple, with their divided ambitions working against them (“Such was Lydgate’s plan of his future: to do good small work for Middlemarch, and great work for the world”), while the astute and tenacious Rosamond has a very different agenda and is so determined to net her man and set her own course – mind you, with a Christian name like Tertius, the writing should have been on the wall. These two are far from a match in heaven: ‘“Will you give it up? Said Lydgate, with quick energy. “I never give up anything that I choose to do”,’ comes the speedy retort. Her body language is portrayed so fabulously all the way through that I can still visualise her disapproving and glacial arched neck as their story progresses. I kept being reminded too of the initially mild May’s character in “The Age of Innocence” and the cat then sharpening her claws… We are continually entreated to Rosamond’s machinations through the tiniest of demonstrations: “She sat perfectly still… ‘It is useless for me to look, Tertius,’ said Rosamond calmly… She went quietly out of the room, leaving Lydgate helpless and wondering… “It is not necessary for you to tell me again,” she said, in a voice that fell and trickled like cold water-drops”…. Lydgate flung himself into a chair, feeling checkmated”.

So many memorable characters, so many gems: there is a wonderful moment when a funeral takes place part way into the story, and readers watch events alongside observers within the book, who are ‘hidden away’ indoors and watching from an upstairs window at the Casaubon’s – shades of twitching net curtains, indeed! – from this vantage point you can feel Eliot so cleverly demonstrating the lack of privacy in the small world of those inhabiting Middlemarch in her Study of Provincial Life. We get every shade of grey (as it were) on human nature in all its richness, with all of our idiosyncrasies so recognisable: we’d like to be models of discretion “…but our tongues are little triggers which have usually been pulled before general intentions can be brought to bear”; we’d like to love and be loved by all in sundry, but who cannot recognise the situation where, “If one is not to get into a rage sometimes, what is the good of being friends?”, or the observation that “Blameless people are always the most exasperating”.

Loved the tactic of having Dorothea’s uncle choose not to impart information about cousin Will at a tactical moment, and hubby Casaubon likewise not inform his wife of a letter he then writes to the same hunk we are all quietly gunning for, for it is of course the women, the expectations of the times and the opportunities available or not to all these characters that are so particularly fascinating in George Eliot’s world. You have to get to the very last page, however, for the most famous condition of all to be expressed via Dorothea’s contribution to the novel, and life in general.

Reams have been written over the years – it is possible therefore only to stand back and admire, devour and appreciate this great, great work. Just have to mention the truly brilliant read on The Bookshelf of Emily J blog here, too, and her three fantastic posts and reviews of “Middlemarch”, which I enjoyed so reading.

Enough said. To close, have to give a nod to my very favourite character of the whole novel: the quietly unassuming and truly noble Farebrother. Felt my heart aching for him at a certain point in the novel when he does the gentlemanly right thing – he is my unsung hero of this book. As Spark notes puts it:

“It is a quiet moment of dignity that will not be recorded in any historical record, but it is a noble moment that greatly affects other human lives for the better”.

Want to start the book all over again.

AN ALL TIME FAVOURITE BOOK

Rating : 10/10++++

Images taken from here and here, here, here and here.
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34 Responses to “Middlemarch” by George Eliot (1871) – joining the mile high club…

  1. Great review of my favourite novel ever! (I’m holding it in my gravatar image) It’s lovely to read about someone getting so much joy out of it 🙂 I agree the BBC adaptation worked well too. Time for a re-read!

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. jenp27 says:

    Nice review! I actually haven’t read it yet although I do own a copy. It seems daunting but review may convince me to get to it sooner

    Liked by 1 person

  8. TimPa59 says:

    A Ten plus plus plus plus – a new and elevated ranking? I agree, a wondrous monument of a book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know – plus plus plus and all split infinitives hopefully avoided, but plenty of hyperbole involved my end. After your comment on considering it your best ever read quite some time ago I knew I was in fairly safe hands, but reading it at this prime time in life might have made it all the better for me – not sure I’d have enjoyed it so much if had persevered first time round 6 years ago. Won’t ever know though, will I ? Have YOU read Mill on the Floss?

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  9. Kay says:

    Just cause you’ve finished doesn’t mean to say you can’t dip in now and again to jog you’re memory – I also have the audio tape read by juliette Stevens – hey ho your hooked ! Kay

    Liked by 2 people

    • The only audio tape have half listened to is Hard Times driving into the Welsh mountains. Saving up the second half for a repeat journey the other way round in September – Dickens another of those authors I feel I have much neglected and barely tipped the iceberg of, as it were. I like the sound of J Stevens reading as Dorothea and Celia – gawd, so much I wanted to write about her character too, it’s a bottomless pit of joyousness. Thank you again for the very strong recommendation, I genuinely would have left the book there indefinitely otherwise. xx

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  10. whatmeread says:

    Ah, Casaubon, that dried up old man with the jealous heart.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, the opposite of Mr Magnanimous. I was beside myself when the comments were coming thick and fast about her self-sacrificing acceptance of their married life – but his reaching out to her beyond the you-know-what is heart-rending. Do like the way G.E. gives a rounded picture of him as not just the bad guy though – couldn’t help but feel a little sad at him also being in the goldfish bowl gawping at his partner who is so much fuller of character than he had really appreciated. They definitely should have tried living together before tying the knot…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. TimPa59 says:

    10 a year? A mere bagatelle…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Lucy says:

    I love this book, too. I also checked the Sparknotes, too! I know my young teenage daughter will love the DVD, so I got it as a present for her, but can’t take the cellophane off and watch it before her birthday as she will suspect, so will have to wait patiently for a couple more weeks. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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  14. Jillian says:

    I really love the BBC adaptation. I’ve read parts of the book, but I really need to settle in & read it. It’s on my club list. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Going to check your list now!

    Like

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  17. Followed the link you left on the Classics Club intro page. I read this for the first time earlier this year, after seeing the BBC adaptation and adoring it. I was astounded again and again by Eliot’s ability to distill truths about human nature into a succinct, often biting sentence or two. I heartily enjoyed your post and am going to poke around your blog a bit and see if we have any other books-loves in common.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I suspect we are going to have a fair few books in common! This was my first George Eliot and am now champing at the bit to read more from her – hoping to get to “The Mill on the Floss” asap…

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    • The Mill on the Floss is one of my best friend’s favorite books, so I’m looking forward to reading that one sometime soon too. And then Silas marner. If you want to see my Classics Club list out of idle curiousity, it’s here. It’s gotten kind of massive, so once I finish my first 50, I plan to sign up all over again and do another 50.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Your list just keeps getting longer I see! Quite a few of ours overlap, but I had never heard of Fitzgerald’s Flappers, for instance. So loved “The Phantom Tollbooth”, what a great little book that is! One thing is for sure, we all have plenty to work through as the Classics Challenge list is so extensive…

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  20. louloureads says:

    This is one of my very favourite books. Such a great review! I’ve been avoiding the TV series because I am always suspicious of adaptations, but this has given me the courage to try it.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I hate to oversell it, but I did think it was absolutely brilliant. Even watched the “Making of” at the end (!), where the producers etc explain that they really tried to stay extremely faithful to the text, and as I had read it so recently I could actually recognise chunks of the writing being recounted – marvellous stuff. There were a few criticisms by reviewers I read that commented that Dorothea looked too old – but Juliet Aubrey was so perfect that I beg to differ! And Rosamond is SPOT ON. x

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