I chose this as I had never read any George Eliot and had heard a feature about this on Mariella Frostrup’s book show on Radio 4 recently. I know it has been described by Virginia Woolf, amongst others, as the greatest English novel ever or something to that effect. I felt not having read any Eliot, of which this is probably the most famous, was a big gap in my reading history so I downloaded the complete works onto the iPad for the grand sum of 49p and got stuck in…
Well, this monster very nearly threatened to knock back my book a week challenge. It is huge, and for much of it I felt, never ending. Middlemarch tells the story of some of the principal figures in a provincial English town. The main character is Dorothea Brooke, a young pious woman who marries the older, very serious clergyman Mr Casaubon. Other prominent people are Mr Casaubon’s directionless cousin William Ladislaw, the philanthropic businessman Mr Bulstrode, newcomer doctor Tertius Lydgate, young university drop-out (if that’s not too modern a term!) Fred Vincy and a whole host of others. There are marriages, illnesses, deaths, debts and social scandal along the way, but to be honest not a lot actually happens.
I liked the characters. Particularly Dorothea to whom I initially took an immediate dislike but came to value her loyalty and sense of justice and honour throughout. And her Uncle Arthur Brooke who is a bit of a comic turn. It is an interesting commentary on the position of women and of class in 19th Century Britain, and is set against the background of great impending change such as political reform and the coming of the railways.
It is just so long, and just so wordy. It is incredibly hard to get through the dense description and seemingly endless ‘asides’ to get to the plot and characters. Whereas Jane Austen can perfectly sum up a person in one or two choice words, George Eliot spends several pages. I probably missed many profound ideas by, I’m sorry to admit it, skimming a little now and then. Its one of those books which I admired, but didn’t particularly enjoy. I hate it when books become a chore.