Blurb: Middlemarch is a complex tale of idealism, disillusion, profligacy, loyalty and frustrated love. This penetrating analysis of the life of an English provincial town during the time of social unrest prior to the Reform Bill of 1832 is told through the lives of Dorothea Brooke and Dr Tertius Lydgate and includes a host of other paradigm characters who illuminate the condition of English life in the mid-nineteenth century.
Thoughts: Brilliant. I'll be frank and say that it is, to start with, a pretty impossible read. But when you get into the rhythm of the narration, it is an incredible one. The novel is simultaneously epic and minute, profound and insignificant, a metaphor for life and a simple documentary.
Realism as a literary concept is a tricky one. Fiction is by definition not real. Yet Middlemarch manages to create a world that has a sense of the real in it. I read an essay somewhere that said that no one really knows how to define realism, but everyone agrees that Eliot is it. The beauty of her writing is tied up in her belief that 'all truth and beauty are to be attained by a humble and faithful study of nature'. Her focus on the minute and inner workings of the seemingly insignificant is not only beautifully executed but also succeeds in slowing down our sense of our own reality: shaping how we observe the world around us.
It is a marathon of a read, and like many marathon reads it is not really until after it is over that you realise what a masterpiece you just experienced, but there are moments of this novel so profound and beautiful that reading it is truly a joy. Here is one of my favourites:
"An eminent philosopher among my friends, who can dignify even your
ugly furniture by lifting it into the serene light of science,
has shown me this pregnant little fact. Your pier-glass or extensive
surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid,
will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions;
but place now against it a lighted candle as a centre of illumination,
and lo! the scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine
series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is
demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially
and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion
of a concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive
optical selection. These things are a parable. The scratches
are events, and the candle is the egoism of any person now absent--
of Miss Vincy, for example."