“It is troublesome to talk to such women. They are always wanting reasons, yet they are too ignorant to understand the merits of any question, and usually fall back on their moral sense to settle things after their own taste.” (Ch.10, 119)
Middlemarch is a slow, unfolding story of the lives and loves of one Midlands town as well as a reflection on the larger political issues and changes in mid-19th century England. The enormous array of characters might at first be overwhelming, but Eliot’s poised vision really helps flash them out and depict their inner thoughts. There’s Edward Casaubon, the pompous, egotistical pedant whose research had been disproven by peers; Nicholas Buldtrode, the vain banker haunted by a sordid past whose desires had been much stronger than his theoretic calling; Tertius Lydgate, the idealistic young doctor seduced by vanity. His wife Rosamond Vincy, the acknowledged beauty of the town, daughter of a wealthy manufacturer, is a snob critical of all MiddlemRch bachelors who looks to elevate her social position by the marriage to Dr. Lydgate.
Amid the intricate choreography of the many inhabitants who cross paths by associations, central to the plot and its underlying theme is young gentlewoman Dorothea Brooke, who has an ardent theoretic nature. She is an idealistic woman who desires for a substantial, rewarding, and meaningful life. She is naive and impetuous to marry a man, twenty years of her senior, whom she thinks has a mind above herself, and to whom she be the supporter and adorer. After his death, there remains only the retrospect of painful subjection to a husband whose thoughts had been lower than she had believed, whose exorbitant claims for himself had been blinding her.
The book on short is about self-deception: how everyone, regardless of social station, is deluded with a false vision of happiness–whether it is achieved by marrying, securing power, or gaining wealth. In fact, Eliot’s strength derives from her ability to analyze and to set dramatically into motion these circumstantial and intrinsic forces that one feels to be the sinew and bloodstream not just of the town Middlemarch but of any reasonably sophisticated society.
The book is continually interesting and engaging for its sheet breadth. George Eliot sets out to give a panoramic view of a provincial town and how traditions and provincial convention affect its massive spectrum of inhabitants. She gets into their heads and shows how they think and what motivates their actions.
908 pp. Penguin Books. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]