Books Read in 2021. 8. Middlemarch – George Eliot

Genre: Romance, Classics

Narrative Style: Omniscient Third Person Narrator, Chronological

Rating: 3.5/5

Published: 1871

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Middlemarch is a slice of Victorian provincial life. It examines the inter-related lives of Dorothea Brooke, Fred Vincy, Tertius Lydgate, Will Ladislaw and Nicholas Bulstrode. Eliot touches on love, politics, money and the nature of marriage in her description of life in Middlemarch.

Time on Shelf: A long time. We bought this in the early nineties when classic novels were being sold for £1. This is where most of my classics came from. I have made a couple of attempts at reading this before but have never got further than 100 pages. This was added to my reading list after me and my husband watched a nation’s favourite books style programme and this was one that I hadn’t read. I was determined to finish it this time. Not least because he was breathing down my neck all the time.

Okay, so I made it through this time. And I’m glad I did. It was worth it. It was a struggle in the beginning to keep reading. Eliot’s style isn’t particularly hard to read but it isn’t a style I particularly enjoy. Everything is so very long winded. I’m sure this could have been told in less pages with less words per sentence but then I’m very much a modern girl in that sense. Eliot’s long, so long, sentences meant I wasn’t getting very many pages read at a time. Not helped by the fact that my copy was only 682 pages rather than the 800+ of a lot of editions. The print was tiny and as I’m now of an age to need reading glasses, it was hard to read for extended amounts of time.

But persevere I did and it started to flow for me. After about half way through, I started to enjoy it. I wouldn’t say I couldn’t put it down but I was interested to see how things would work out. There are a lot of plot strands but it is not hard to follow. Having said that, I did sometimes lose track of all the incidental characters. They were like the characters you might find gossiping in the Rover’s Return on Coronation Street who you might recognise on screen but struggle to name.

Part of the problem for me with the start of the novel is that I really didn’t take to Dorothea. I admired her decision to marry Mr Casaubon but it seemed absurd to me. And once Will Ladislaw appeared on the scene, it was fairly apparent how things would go. Obviously, there were obstacles but they were always going to get there in the end. I found other plot lines more entertaining.

There was a lot of comedy to be found. More than I was expecting anyway. Dorothea’s uncle, Mr. Brooke, was particularly amusing with his bumbling attempts at politics. The romance between Mary Garth and Fred Vincy was also sweetly amusing as she would not accept him until he made something of himself. Eliot mixes the lighter moments with more serious events such as the death of Mr Casaubon and Fred’s disappointment when he does not inherit his Uncle’s land as expected.

It was good to witness the downfall of Bulstrode and Eliot does not stint from punishing him for his past ills, showing how his piousness is a cover for a very dubious past and how he is undone by his desperation to hide it. I wasn’t totally convinced by the character of Raffles who turned up at various points to extract money from Bulstrode. He seemed a little like a caricature. Nonetheless, he sends Bulstrode into a tailspin as he tries to stop people finding out about his past. It was very satisfying to observe.

There are some clever twists and turns to the plotting. There is no doubt that Eliot was a master of her craft. The characterisation is vivid. You really get a feel for Middlemarch and its inhabitants. Even so, I didn’t love it and I doubt I’ll rush to read any other Eliot. At least not for a while.

4 thoughts on “Books Read in 2021. 8. Middlemarch – George Eliot

  1. Lydgate’s story was really sad and I was so disappointed with his ending. I would have liked to have seen more of Mary and Fred as well. I keep making myself read the classics but I rarely really enjoy them.

    1. funny isn’t it how we make ourselves read things, I suppose even if we don’t ‘enjoy’ it we can then take part in the conversation – these books are referenced so much. I do love George Eliot but I can’t understand the fuss behind Henry James.

      1. I don’t really know Henry James. I read The Turn of the Screw a long time ago and quite enjoyed it but I don’t think it’s particularly representative of his work.

  2. I’ve just posted a review of a Henry James novel and we’ve both finished with the same line! Middlemarch was my first read for the classics club and just like you I had it hanging around and couldn’t get beyond the first couple of paragraphs. When I did get into it though I loved it, there’s so much going on but I agree that Dorothea’s wasn’t my favourite story – I found the scene when Mrs Bulstrode changes into her black dress really heartbreaking and Lydgate? all that promise and hope. . .

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