This is another book I didn’t read all in one day (cf. War and Peace). I have been dipping into it all week, slowly absorbing the pastoral splendour of this classic and beloved novel, and discovering why it has stood the test of time — not to mention appearing on a million high school English tests.
There is a lot going on in the town of Middlemarch, and a lot of it has to do with politics that I simply did not understand and had to go research. What was the Reform Bill? What were Reformers? Did it have something to do with church?
No, it turns out it changed the laws regarding who could stand for parliament and how, and also gave more people the right to vote. (Not women though, obviously. That would have been crazy.) How that affects this story is that many of its central figures are either pro- or anti-Reform, and somehow that all ties into how they are able to run a charity hospital in the town. I think?
Of much more interest to me were the romances offered up by this epic, none of the objects of affection truly worthy — except, perhaps, for the lovely Mary, who nevertheless ends up with the wrong man — but all of them very real, and interesting, and infuriating in turn.
I was particularly taken with the story of Dorothea — prim, saintly, often insufferable Dorothea — and her devoted swain, and relation by marriage, Will Ladislaw, who is forbidden from pursuing her after her widowhood by a particularly nasty condition in her deceased husband’s will. The restraint with which the two lovers carefully don not say things to each other is captivating, as is their tendency to measure everything through the lens of the other, and their quickness to take offense or read into perfectly innocent encounters with others.
For the rest, the steady reform of profligate youngster Fred Vincy is a pleasure, and the comeuppance delivered to one particularly venal bastion of the community is deeply satisfying, and there are moments of dry, almost fourth-wall-breaking wit that raise a chuckle along with the requisite confusion that the author’s belief that you know exactly what is going on in the world of the time is bound to produce.
Of all the “Classics” I have read over the past years — maybe even ever, with the exception of Jane Austen’s ever-delightful output — I think that Middlemarch may very well be my favourite. I not only feel virtuous for having read it, but am genuinely glad that I did.
TBR DAY 160: Middlemarch by George Eliot
GENRE: Classic, Pastoral, General Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~15 years.
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.