Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I Finally Finished Reading 'Middlemarch'

Middlemarch by George Eliot

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have ridden the mighty moon worm!*

Well, no, but I did finally finish Middlemarch. I've been reading this book since January. I thought I would breeze right through it, but it turned out to be 800 dense pages of characterization of virtually every person in the fictional Midlands English town of Middlemarch. It centers mainly on two marriages: the marriage of young, idealistic Dorothea Brooke to the older, bachelor scholar Edward Casaubon, and the marriage of spoiled "princess" Rosamond Vincy to a newcomer to Middlemarch, the physician-scientist Tertius Lydgate. Rosamond's brother, Fred Vincy, wants to marry the sweet-natured Mary Garth, but encounters many obstacles in the course of that courtship.

Edward Casaubon is described as looking like the philosopher John Locke.

Public domain image
However, when I started reading this, I did not know what the philosopher John Locke looked like, so I imagined Edward as looking like the character John Locke on Lost, as portrayed by actor Terry O'Quinn. Edward's life work is a lengthy philosophical and theological work that compares several ancient mythologies. Part of the reason Dorothea married him is that she wants to be a part of something important, and she thinks helping Edward with his scholarship will help her achieve this goal.

Creative Commons image
While the Casaubons are on their honeymoon in Italy, they run into Will Ladislaw, a young cousin of Edward's. Will is considered somewhat disreputable in Middlemarch because his mother ran off and married a man "below her station," a Polish musician. He has no inheritance, no living, and is out in the world on his own. Dorothy feels an immediate sympathy with him. Edward feels jealousy over his wife's interest in Will, and changes his will to say that Dorothy will not inherit any money if she remarries Will.

I can't exactly say why, but I keep picturing Will Ladislaw as Ben Whishaw.

Creative Commons image by KikeValencia
Will and Dorothea are attracted to one another, but they are proper Victorians and wouldn't dare do anything about it. They can't even admit their attraction to themselves. Rosamond, on the other hand, is an improper Victorian. Because she's such an attractive young lady, she's used to flirting with men and having them give her anything she wants. In her head, she imagines Will is in love with her. She has no intention of acting on her attraction to Will, but she has a romantic fantasy built up in her silly little head. Rosamond's ignorance of practical matters causes her husband great, great distress.

This isn't an exciting classic, like The Count of Monte Cristo or Gone With the Wind, but it is an interesting book. I read it because my copy of Jane Eyre said that if I liked that book I might also like this one. I LOVED Jane Eyre. I must point out, though, that there aren't a lot of obvious similarities. Both deal with class differences and the shifting position of women in society, though.

Middlemarch isn't nearly as romantic as Jane Eyre, nor is it as witty as anything Jane Austen ever wrote. I said before (in this post) that I thought George Eliot was a contemporary of Austen and the Bronte sisters, but this wasn't accurate. George Eliot was born (as Mary Anne Evans) in 1819, and Middlemarch was published in installments between 1871 and 1872. Jane Austen died in 1817, two years before Evans was born. Emily Bronte's short life spanned 1818-1848, and her sister Charlotte lived 1816-1855. Jane Eyre was published in 1847. Charlotte Bronte came the closest to being Evans' contemporary, but she died relatively young and published her most famous work long before Middlemarch debuted.

George Eliot is more cerebral and philosophical than her Regency-era predecessor Jane Austen, and the pleasure of reading her is a more subtle one than the emotional Romantic-era drama of the Brontes. However, I was not unsatisfied with the ending, and I'm glad I had the patience to finish all 800+ pages.

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I bought this paperback at Barnes and Noble and was not obligated to review it in any way.

*Nerdy-ass Futurama reference. Sorry.


Shoshanah said...

I've read so little regency fiction. The only one I can think of is Jane Eyre, and that was only because it was assigned to us in high school. Although I really think it's too bad because I'm sure I'd really enjoy them, I'm just not as sure that I'm ready to invest so much time into a book. But I'm sure eventually I'll read Pride & Prejudice and likely go from there.

Erin O'Riordan said...

'Pride and Prejudice' is one I truly enjoyed. Oddly enough, I probably wouldn't have been quite as encouraged to read it if I hadn't read 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' first!