After a month-long group-reading of George Eliot‘s Middlemarch, I am now faced with a harder task of writing a review about it. Nothing I say can do justice to Eliot’s massive masterpiece, which truly deserves a place among the literary greats.
Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life is an 8-part novel made up of over 700 pages describing the life and times of a small but progressive town in the English countryside. The omnipresent narrator gives readers a peak into the private and public lives of a select group of characters depicting different life situations and struggles faced by members of the upper and lower classes of society in the mid 1800s.
The novel, originally serialized during its first publication, follows the main characters, Dorothea Brooke, Dr. Lydgate, Sir James Chettam, the Vincy Family, and the Garth Family, and other characters in their lives which connect them to each other. The narrator takes readers through the different stages of the characters’ lives – from budding romances and awkward courtships, to marriages filled with hopeful expectations; from the formations of young dreams and ambitions, to the realities of financial and class limitation. Forces governing the thoughts and actions of the characters of Middlemarch include ambition – political, intellectual, academic, and spiritual; religion, and its power to influence ones life and choices; vocation and occupation, and the desire or need to make something of oneself or make significant contributions for the betterment of society; social and financial independence, while being part of a bigger community; self-preservation and improvement; friendship and family, and the duties one is bound to; and of course love, both passionate and platonic, in all its various forms.
The greatness of Middlemarch comes not from an exception plot, but from Eliot’s depiction of its main characters and their general society. Eliot gives her characters depth by taking them on difficult journeys ending in self-discovery and realization. Her characters, though unique, are flawed, and possess shortcomings which depict human weaknesses and vanity. Though published almost a century and a half ago, the qualities and ideas exhibited by the characters of Middlemarch are still very much present in modern people and society. Despite the changing times, many of the class biases and prejudices in Middlemarch society are still present today, and readers can still relate to many of the characteristics found in the town’s inhabitants.
A seemingly daunting novel at first, Eliot captures her readers attention by speaking directly to them, divulging each character’s secrets as if gossip overheard. Through her unique style of narration, Eliot draws her readers’ focus and forces them to contemplate certain issues at a time, the effect of which is like having voyeuristic access to a person’s inner life and most private moments.
Middlemarch is a testament of great literature – a true “Classic.” Eliot’s understanding of people and society reflected in her characters, and her simple, yet complicated plot is what sets this novel apart, not just from its contemporaries, but also from many modern novels. Eliot’s mastery of storytelling and insights on human nature is what makes Middlemarch a literary giant, both then and now.
For those who have not read Middlemarch, it’s hard to believe that this is a very entertaining read. Despite my difficulties understanding some of the text, which is due to my own shortcomings, and having to get used to the rhythm of a Classic novel, I truly enjoyed Middlemarch. It made me smile and it made me laugh out loud; it made me sad, and it made me cry; it made me angry, and despite being written in the 1800’s, it did not fail to shock and bewilder me.
I haven’t said nearly enough of what I really wanted to say about this novel; words can’t express what I feel about it, so I’ll leave it to you to experience it for yourself. Please, do yourself a favor and read this book! Don’t let it intimidate you…every word of it is worth your while!
I’d like to thank my reading buddies at Goodreads, Angus over at Book Rhapsody (and his review of Middlemarch) and Ycel, for reading this incredible novel with me, and for letting me vent and rant about my least favorite characters. Looking back, I know I could have read this novel without you guys, but I would have missed the wonderful experience of discussing it with you and sharing my thoughts, and also of hearing (reading) your thoughts, take, and interpretation of the different chapters and characters in the book. Thanks for sharing this journey with me, and I look forward to reading with you guys again!
Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life (1874) – George Eliot
Oxford University Press; 682 pages
Personal rating: 5/5