Monday, April 8, 2013

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: Middlemarch by George Eliot

My final spring break book was not exactly a beach book. I wanted to work on my Back-to-the-Classics challenge, so I downloaded Middlemarch by George Eliot onto my ipad (trying to travel light).

What a great choice! Middlemarch is an extraordinary book.

I don’t necessarily recommend the free kindle version. It’s a bit hard going at first. It has an old fashioned, almost "dear reader" style as the narrator sets up who’s who and what’s what in the provincial Midland town of Middlemarch. It’s a long book, and my version didn’t have page numbers, just a vague kindle "quantity" of 12795. I’d been reading for quite some time only to find myself 2% done and I began having second thoughts. I prefer actual pages so I can judge better how far along I am and how much farther I have to go. But, I shouldn’t complain when I had the convenience of an easily portable classic for free.

And, it didn’t take long before I was so engrossed that I couldn’t put the ipad down. Middlemarch is chockfull of very real people that are so well portrayed, I needed to know what was going to happen to them.

Dorothea Brooks is our primary heroine. Stubbornly selfless, intelligent and beautiful, Dorothea wants to learn everything so she can do something great. She sees her chance when she meets a learned man more than double her age who has been spent his life on a study of mythology. His health and eyesight are now failing him. Dorothea believes that as a wife and helpmeet she can further his work. Although he never saw the need for a wife before, he can appreciate Dorothea’s devotion to him. Despite everyone’s better judgment, they are wed. It doesn’t take long for the marriage to become a prison for Dorothea.

A hero of sorts in the story is Dr. Lydgate. A young man come to town with high ideals and a passion for his profession, Lydgate is not wealthy, but he is well-born and that attracts the attention of a beautiful young social climber, Rosamunde Vincy.

Rosamunde and her brother, Fred, have been raised to think very highly of their own merits and to be dismissive of others. Rosamunde has had plenty of suitors, but finds no one in Middlemarch good enough. She sets her cap for Dr. Lydgate, primarily on the strength of his family connections. She doesn’t have much interest in the things that he cares deeply about.

Fred is a lazy young man. His father sent him to the university to be trained for the church, but Fred failed his examinations. Fred finds this to be of no real concern since he cannot see himself as a churchman anyway. And, he has a rich uncle who has no children. Everyone knows Fred is favored to be the heir. In the meantime, Fred is in love with Mary Garth, a plain and sensible young woman who is nurse to the ill-tempered old uncle. Mary loves Fred, but she can’t marry a man as useless as Fred seems destined to be.

These storylines are all carefully developed and then interwoven. We meet the family, friends, and co-workers of these main characters. We cheer for their successes but more often cringe for the problems that befall them, often the result of their own mistakes. There are very good people in Middlemarch, others who are all too human, and some who make life miserable for everyone else. The book examines the politics of the time, reform–both political and medical, religion, and the role of women and of marriage. It’s a hefty book, but it reads very easily because it’s all bound up in the lives of several fascinating characters.

This is the first George Eliot book I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. And it's my second read for the Back-to-the-Classics Challenge, hosted by Sarah Reads Too Much.


  1. This is on my to-read list (was supposed to tackle it in January...didn't happen) just because I feel like Eliot is such an important author and yet I've never read her. I will definitely use my hardcopy though rather than an e-format.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed this one. It's never really appealed to me before, but I am tempted after reading your review.

  3. Yes, this book is very long, but I was so glad I made the effort. Some of the lesser people in the book are delightful. I loved Mary Garth's parents. The writing it wonderful too.