Thursday, May 21, 2009

Middlemarch - George Eliot

Title: Middlemarch
Author: George Eliot
Published: 1871 Pages: 838
Genre: Classic/Literature
Rating: 4/5

What to say about a book that I've been working on for a month? Well, for starters--as my mom would say--Wahoo Waterloo! Actually, this book has nothing to do with Waterloo. :) A little personal history of this book: I was assigned to read this book for a sophomore level college course (not sure the course topic other than British Lit--we also read Tom Jones, Pride and Prejudice, and Hard Times). I read about half the book and it has been sitting on my shelf ever since. That was probably 8 years ago! I've been intimidated and scared by this book, but I've done it. I've finished. My review will be rambly long, but I'll try to break it up so you can skip around if you choose.

Middlemarch is an intimate look at the lives of certain citizens of the town of...well...Middlemarch. Eliot does not focus solely on the rich nor the poor but a mixture of the two and everything in between. The characters are servants of religion, doctors, philanthropists, farmers, artists, intellectuals, wives, husbands, sisters, parents, children. I guess it could be said that there are two main characters, Dorothea Causabon and Tertius Lydgate, and although these characters are not love interests as many main female and male characters are expected to be, they are dear friends who help each other grow throughout their trials and triumphs. You know I hate summaries--basically this is a nineteenth century soap opera. As Virginia Woolf said, "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people."

What I liked
That I finished it? Ha! One of the things that I really appreciate about this book is that Eliot created a small world with complicated characters that I was interested in for 840 pages. Sure there were times that I got bored and wanted to skim through (I didn't!), but I began to care deeply for the characters and what happened to them throughout the novel. I also found Eliot's writing insightful and sincere. I kept a pencil with me at all times and shamelessly marked up my copy of this book. I was always finding something to think about just a little bit more, and as the narrator notes: "I at least have so much to do in unravelling certain human lots, and seeing how they were woven and interwoven, that all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web, and not dispersed over that tempting range of relevancies called the universe" (141).

What I struggled with
This paragraph could be quite long if I let it. This was not an easy book for me to read. When starting the book I decided I would read 35 pages a day, which is an incredibly modest amount, but I was rarely ever able to read 35 pages in one sitting. Middlemarch is hands down one of the most tedious and difficult classics I've read. I had to do a lot of re-reading and I had to make sure my mind was in the right mode. If you undertake a reading of this book, give yourself time. Be patient. I think those who have finished can attest that it will be worth the work, but it will be work (unless you are a superhero reader). There were certain plotlines that were absolutely lost on me--mostly the politics and the working relationships. Luckily the more important plotlines (important to me, that is) were easy to follow.

The Characters
Middlemarch has great characters. I think Dickens' characters are still my favorite, but what I really liked about the characters of this book is that they are so deeply flawed. Dorothea has crazy notions at the beginning of the book and falls into a loveless marriage with a "dried bookworm towards fifty" (23). Everyone told her she was crazy, but did she listen? Of course not and she becomes miserable. Lydgate, in my opinion, also marries someone who is not suited for him, and they come into money problems and his medical practice suffers, but he is too prideful to comfort in his wife. But with a ginormous novel, the characters grow and develop. They work through their conflicts (mostly) and become better people. I loved Dorothea--she is a strong and independent woman and I can't help but wonder how much of Eliot is Dorothea (when I think of Eliot I think of an incredibly progressive woman--but my knowledge is limited). Something that could fall in the "Struggles" category is how many characters there are. So many! And with names like Featherstone and Farebrother I got incredibly confused. And the political guys? Forget it! Mostly they were like a bunch of sqwaking hens to me.

I'm starting to lose steam! The narrator is omniscient, but every once in a while an "I" will get thrown in (for example the quote above). This really annoyed me as I wasn't sure who this narrator was supposed to be. Mostly the narrator was unobtrusive, though. There are about a million themes running through this book--inheritance and birthrights, money, education, land ownership, medicine, marriage and love (Eliot lived unmarried with George Henry Lewes), politics--and probably the most fascinating to me was the role of a woman. The female characters in this book are so varied in personality and ideals and I loved seeing the different interactions with their male counterparts.

In the end?
I'm glad to have read it. It will go back on the shelf--but this time on the "read" shelf. And boy does that feel good. Will I read it again? I'd love to. Probably not for years, but I know that I achieved a very basic reading of this incredibly complex and rich novel and need to really dig deeper with the next reading. I now wish that I had finished it for class--I'm sure I would have learned a lot. Do I recommend it? Eh... If this were half the size, I'd say yes! If you devour classics, definitely add this one to your list. But as I said before, make sure to keep your patience in check. I'm guessing in the end, though, you'll appreciate this classic as well.

What is your Middlemarch? You know, kind of like the White Whale of reading...?

Date Finished: May 21, 2009 #26


Corinne said...

I'm glad I get to be first on this one :) First of all WELL DONE review. I am with you on all points. I had to start it and quit once also, before finally finishing it (a dear friend gave it to me because she loved it so much...I knew I HAD to read it at some point!!). I really liked it as a study of marriage and the interplay between couples. I agree that I skipped over the political stuff a lot, I just didn't care enough to understand. I REALLY liked Dorothea as a character and appreciated how she grew.

I think it was worth it, but I would, like you, only recommend it to REALLY hardcore Classics fans :)

verbatim said...

Thanks, Trish, once again for your inspiration. This is sitting on my shelf TBR, because I've read so many reviews and other books that seem to refer to it, figure it's something I must read, but it is intimidating. Right now I'm finishing Woman in White (600+ pages) so Middlemarch won't be next on my list, but I'll get there. A

Melody said...

Wow, thanks for the awesome review, Trish! I'd love to read this but I hesitate after seeing it's about 800+ pgs... and that reminds me I haven't even started reading The Woman in White despite the glowing reviews I read on several blogs!!

Eva said...

I loved Middlemarch! :D For some reason, dense classic prose and I are really good friends...I guess because I'm so wordy myself. ;)

Let's see, until I read it last year Les Mis was my Middlemarch; I trued it out in high school and gave up in disgust about two or three hundred pages in. I was terrified of revisiting it, but I ended up loving it to pieces.

Nowadays, I'd say any novel by William Faulkner or James Joyce would be my white whale. Oh, and Proust. I would weep if I found out that I had to read Ulysses or In Search of Lost Time or The Sound and the Fury. Oddly enough, I enjoy Joyce and Faulkner's short stories, but they're written in normal English, lol. The only stream-of-consciousness that works for me is Woolf!

TheBlackSheep said...

Funnily enough, I just read this book and can't remember a thing about it. Had to refer to my own review before commenting. I basically said the same things. A bit long winded, Soapy but good in the end. I'm also with you on the bits that dragged on - I though she could have used a good editor. The endings surprised me because they often turned out much differently than I had hoped for. Eliot was more realistic than I expected. Once again, for anyone having trouble reading it, I can recommend the audio book. It's much easier to get through than the written page.

White Whale? Most Am. Lit. I'm afraid. Steinbeck and Hawthorn both make me want to commit Hari Kiri just to get out of having to read them. Hemingway is OK and Twain I cen get through without thoughts of suicide. I know it makes no sense, but most Am Lit has a very dry, dusty feel for me and I'd rather just not go there.

Amy said...

Kudos to you for reading this book! I've always kind of wanted to read it, but not enough to work through it. I have heard it's a master example of characterization. Anyway, well done!

megan said...

I really enjoyed this review! I'm impressed that you made it all the way through - I can't count the number of times I've picked up Middlemarch only to put it back on the bookshelf.

I love the idea of reading it, but have never been able to persevere beyond a few pages. It just doesn't capture my imagination the way that a Dickens novel, for example, does.

Jodie said...

My Middlemarch was another Elliot book - Daniel Deronda. I finished it but kind of disliked masses of it. I think Bleak House also stands as a book I'm most afriad of.

Trish said...

*Corinne - Ya, I don't think this is one to recommend to those timid of classics--I fear the length alone would turn many people off. I didn't see any reviews when I searched, so let me know if you have one and I link it. Dorothea really is a great character, huh?

*Verbatim - Woman in White read much faster than this one (I read it earlier in the year), even though they are close in length. Very different books, but this one is worth the time (take it slow!)

*Melody - Read Woman in White first. It is a mystery and much quicker paced. And trust me, I know how scary 800+ pages is--I can't even remember the last time I read a book this long!

*Eva - I admit I struggled with the dense prose most of the time--really had to read it slowly! I'd love to read Les Mis one of these days, but probably not this year. I've only read a few Faulkner and love them but they're hard!! Joyce = ick. :)

*Blacksheep - Not a thing?? :) I really really liked how realistic Eliot is in this book. There are some things that wrapped up too neatly but other things that surprised me. Interesting about American Lit. For some reason I've probably read more British Lit than American, but I enjoy both. Hawthorne is really good, Hemingway is not my favorite, hope to read more Twain this year. How long did it take to listen to the audio version?!?

*Amy - The characterization is outstanding in my book--a really close study of the every day lives. It was work, though!! ;)

*Megan - I was bound and determined to finish it through! It took a month, but I feel so much better now that it is done and that I didn't wait until the very end of the year to try and squeeze it in. Dickens is fantastic!! Do you have a favorite Dickens novel?

*Jodie - I haven't read Daniel Deronda--the only other Eliot book I've read is Silas Marner. Much easier and much shorter! Bleak House is one that really intimidates me, too.

Lezlie said...

Well done, Trish! I imagine you doing the same happy dance I did upon finishing The Faerie Queene. :-) It is an amazing feeling to finish a book like this. Good for you!!


JoAnn said...

Great review, Trish! I started this book years ago with an online book club, got behind schedule and put it aside. I just checked the shelf and my bookmark is at page 490! I'm afraid at this point I'll need to start over, but I WILL get to it one of these days!

Amanda said... white whale is Anna Karenina. I read about half of it a year ago and I just started to get a bit bored. I mean, I knew the ending. And while at the beginning the characters where a bit interesting, I just started to loose interest. I really want to finish but now I don't even remember where I left off and can't imagine reading it all over again from the beginning. Ahhh!

Great review of Middlemarch though. I thought about reading it once and then decided not to when I saw the size. I still may.

Charley said...

Nice review of Middlemarch. There were a couple of passages about marriage that really made me laugh, and I was impressed at how complex the plot was. Moby Dick is my White Whale read. I'm a bit scared to read it because it has loomed over me for so long now - I'm afraid once it's over, I'll feel lost!

Paxton said...

Congrats! I remember being as timid about reading Three Musketeers as you were about Middlemarch, but it turned out for the best. I think now, my Middlemarch is Moby Dick. I'll do it one of these days.

One I'm reading now, Dune by Frank Herbert, is long and involved. It's also considered a sci-fi classic, but I'm trying to soldier through it as we speak. Lord of the Rings is the same way, but I didn't get any satisfaction out of that one.

Amanda said...

Hi Trish! I think you're amazing just for getting through this book. We read Silas Marner in my classics club two years ago, and i had to listen to the first half on audio to get through it, which was unusual for me. Having said that, I did end up enjoying the book, and I want to read Daniel Deronda. Because of its length - I think it's about as long as Middlemarch - I've been putting it off. I'm a little scared.

My white whale is probably Bleak House by Dickens, though I admit I haven't started it yet. I'm too scared.

Jess said...

Very impressive! This book is too overwhelming for me to attempt. Congrats on finishing (and the great review).

Dar said...

Wow Trish, congrats on finally finishing this one! You should be proud especially at over 800 pages. I've always had the inclination to read this one but I don't know that I have the patience. Love the way you did this review-really well done. My white whale is definitely War and Peace. It's been on the shelf so long. Ah well, maybe one of these days. lol.

Steph said...

This was a great review! I really think that your strategy of just tiny chunks each day was a good one, because you broke the book down into portions that were manageable for you. Currently for the read-along I'm doing with Claire for 2666, dividing the book into it's individual parts and limiting my reading to one section per month is really helping me get through it (otherwise I would likely not have wanted to tackle such a loooong book).

I took Middlemarch on a 6-week backpacking trip through Europe, and managed to not even read a single page! So I guess Middlemarch is my Middlemarch! That and Great Expectations by Dickens (I am terrified of him!). I think it's fair to say that any "classic" that is over 450 pages is intimidating to me!

Trish said...

*Lezlie - I actually thought of you when I finished Middlemarch, thinking that this is probably how you felt! It does feel really great, huh?

*JoAnn - Yikes! I can't remember how far I got 8 years ago--I actually couldn't remember *anything* about the book except the main character's name (Dorothea). I hope you get to it one day.

*Amanda - Yikes, I've heard awful things about Anna Karenina! It's hard when you've started a book, gotten halfway, then have to start all over. This one isn't too terrible, but it's not one to be rushed through!

*Charley - I meant to talk about how some of Eliot's thoughts in the book were funny, but I forgot! Yes, I laughed out loud a few time also. I did read Moby Dick, maybe that same semester as when I was supposed to read this one, but it was a lot of work, too. Melville is tough for me!

*Paxton - I'd love to read Three Musketeers one day! Moby Dick is a good one, but another one that requires time and patience. I've heard great things about Dune!

*Amanda - Weren't you supposed to read this one in May for the Fill in the Gaps project? As I was reading it I was thinking of you--I think you'd be able to get more out of this book than I could. Silas Marner is the only other Eliot I read and while I didn't love it, it was more accessible for me. Bleak House is quite frightening! :)

*Jess - LOL! I said the same thing a month ago and everyone yelled at me! Well, gave me a hard time anyway. There were lots of things I didn't get in this one, but I'm glad to have finished.

*Dar - Woohoo! You know I hate those long books and they scare me to the core! :) Oh goodness, War and Peace is a white whale to me, too. If you do decide to read this one, maybe keep another fun book on the side.

*Steph - I've been hearing so much about 2666 lately, I really need to check it out! I generally stay away from long books, but I was bound and determine to finish this beast finally. :) By the way, I don't blame you for not reading a single page of this while backpacking. Great Expectations is a really good book.

megan said...

Hmmm...a favourite Dickens novel! I look back very fondly on Nicholas Nickleby, as it was the first Dickens that I read in high school, and I just raced through it.

farmlanebooks said...

Great review! I've never read Middlemarch, but I'm sure I will one day. I'm not ready for a classic that length at the moment, but your review has made me want to read it at some point - thank you!

Amanda said...

Trish, yes, they are doing Middlemarch for the Project FitG, but pretty much just the people who have that one on their list. I'm not sure I put Eliot on my list at all, and if I did, it was Daniel Deronda.

Michelle said...

This book sounds very intense, and I am not sure that I would be interested in reading this for quite a few years. I think the more people read, the more they grow and evolve, and I know for sure I am not there yet. I am having a really hard time getting through Tess of the D'Ubervilles. I find that I have to be "there" to fully appreciate and understand the story and that is really hard to do in my life right now. I am still working on it though. Congrats on finishing this one though, I know that you have been talking about it a lot and I know that feeling of accomplishing a goal such as this. That in and of itself is inspiration. Thank you for that! You are amazing!!!!!

moonrat said...

rar!! we're only up to book 3 (book 4 is due on Monday) over at Fill-in-the-Gaps.

but i admit i'm quite enjoying it this far. i'm having trouble reading it slowly the deeper into it i get.

S. Krishna said...

Though this book sounds interesting, it sounds like I would have a tough time getting through it. I admire that you plowed through, and that it was well-written enough to keep your interest!

tanabata said...

Congratulations on finishing! I think I actually have a copy of this from when I got some classics for cheap. I haven't had any motivation to pick it up and read it though. I tried Daniel Deronda a few years ago, but just wasn't getting into it and since it was borrowed, I gave up and gave it back.

The next time I read a long chunky classic it MUST be The Tale of Genji, as I've been meaning to read that for a few years now. I'm hoping later this year but we'll see.

Nymeth said...

I think my Middlemarch is, well, Middlemarch :P Books like Moby Dick and Ulysses don't count because I don't think I'll be trying them again :P I loved your review - it really made me want to read it, and even though you show that there are good reasons why this book is so intimidating, you also show they can be overcome. I shall gather all my patience and try it. Perhaps over the summer? Wish me luck :P

bermudaonion said...

Congratulations on finishing the book. After your review, I don't think I'll be reading it.

Madeleine said...

Thank-you Trish (due to some personal problems I haven't been blogging much, so I am back and pretty new to your great blog)

This is a book I will avoid, I have so many books waiting for me and the proverbial 'so little time' I have a few 'difficult' books in my TBR and do the same, asign a certain amount of pages a day so i know I eventually will get through it.

Thank-you for your review

Lisa said...

Yay for finishing! I'm not sure what my Middlemarch is- there are SO MANY classics that's I've bought and never read. There aren't many that I was supposed to read for class and did not- I was either good at picking classes or read it when I was supposed to. :)

Laura said...

First of all--way to go Trish! I'm glad you enjoyed the giant book, even if it was hard work and tedious at times. I think it would take me about 6 months to read it, and by the time I got to the middle, I would have forgotten what happened at the beginning! Do you think it was necessary for the book to be that long? Were there lots of paragraphs or chapters that you feel could have been cut out, yet still have the same effects and storyline?

Trish said...

*Megan - I haven't read Nicholas Nickleby but I'll have to look into it. My favorite so far is Our Mutual Friend, but I think I'm alone in that. :)

*Farmlanebooks - It took years for me to work up the courage and patience to read this one! It was a good classic, but there are great shorter ones out there.

*Amanda - Ohhh--I haven't taken the time to figure out how FitG works. :-/ I've heard really mixed things about Daniel Deronda, but I don't actually know anything about the book.

*Michelle - Tess is a really tough classic also! It took me about three weeks to get through that one and it was also a lot of work. I liked that one better than Middlemarch, though. Take your time and enjoy. And thank you for being so sweet to me.

*Moonrat - I'm so glad you're enjoying it! There were parts that I really got into and wanted to keep reading more, but then some slower parts.

*S. Krishna - Ya, this book is rather long and sometimes I had to force myself to pick it up. Othertimes I wanted to read just one more chapter, just one more. :) Guess that happens with long books.

*Tanabata - I actually saw The Tale of Genji at the used store today, but it was all marked up so I put the copy back (pet peeve). I haven't heard much about it, though.

*Nymeth - Oh no--you've got to get through Moby Dick at least once! I took a class a few years ago on Shakespeare and Melville (yes, weird combination!), so we had to read Moby Dick. Don't like Melville's shorter works, though. I think you'd really appreciate this one! Plus you have good luck with classics.

*Bermuda - LOL!! I don't blame you for not wanting to read it. :)

*Madeleine - I hope things are OK with you. And yes, I completely understand about the too little time, too many other difficult books. I kept thinking "I could get through 3 books in the time it took me to read this one!"

*Lisa - Yay! I was REALLY bad about reading my assigned reading. :) Sounds like you're classes were pretty good.

*Laura - Yes, there are a ton of things that probably could have been cut out. So much politics that I never did understand--even after glancing at Sparknotes. But, she was trying to take a close look at all aspects of the community, so I guess it can't be love and tension all the time.

Susan said...

You read it! and you loved it! I am so happy. It is a little work to read - I took a break over Christmas from it, because we were in England - and picked it up in January. It's still my top read of the year. I loved it, for the same reasons you do - the variety of characters portrayed and the recurring themes examined at differing levels. It's such a marvelous book!

I suppose my white whale is Ulysses and War and Peace. I've tried to read War and Peace for so many years!! Lately I bought a new edition, in two separate volumes, and a new copy of Ulysses. They're both sitting on my bookshelves still....