Aug 23, 2010

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Middlemarch by George Eliot

George Eliot named her ambitious seventh novel after the fictional small down in which the story is set, and subtitled it “a study of provincial life”. Attempting to sum up Middlemarch might be an entirely futile exercise, but if I were to do it I’d say that this is, above all, a novel that establishes a complex web of relationships, political machinations, spheres of influence, and personal likes and dislikes, and then goes on to explore how these affect the lives of a particular group of characters.

Although it was published in 1874, Middlemarch is set half a century earlier, between 1829 and 1832, at a time of great political upheaval and social change – the time of the Reform Bills that would extend (male) suffrage, of the beginnings of the railway system, of great changes in the practice of medicine, etc. It’s important to remember that this is a work of what we would today call historical fiction, and that this fact is not irrelevant for an understanding of the novel. One of the themes of Middlemarch is exactly the often forgotten individual in the face of the defining moments of history –as the novel’s brilliant closing lines remind us, we owe much to people who have been forgotten. Change is not merely the result of the actions of those we call heroes and heroines, but also (and perhaps mostly) of unremembered lives. There isn’t much that history can tell us about what hasn’t been recorded, but fortunately literature can attempt to recreate those lost stories and therefore fill the gap. For an excellent post on this very topic, please make sure you read Jodie’s review of Wolf Hall and The Lacuna.

In general terms, Middlemarch is a novel about unhappy marriages, frustrated and fulfilled love, ethical dilemmas, small town life, gossip, misunderstandings, foolishness, kindness, malice, ambition, intellectual passion, science, religion, politics, people living above their means, the weight of social expectations, the oppressive side of gentility – in one word, it’s about life. Of course, that’s an abstract and cold way to put it, and the novel’s strength lies exactly in its combination of a bird’s eye view of life in a small Victorian town and of a focus on specific characters. On the one hand, we have general Victorian social commentary (which is both historically contextualised and very contemporary), and on the other hand we have complex, flawed, realistic human beings, doing what human beings have always done and continue to do. George Eliot does not isolate her characters from their circumstances, quite the contrary, but her extraordinary characterisation makes them recognizably and universally human. She also excels at writing extremely moving moments between people: Mr and Mrs Bulstrode when the truth finally surfaces between them, several scenes between Will and Dorothea – these all brought tears to my eyes. This is not a romantic book in the sense we traditionally attribute to the term, but it’s something I much prefer: a book about the depth of human connections and everything that constrains them.

I feel like I could talk about Middlemarch in general terms all day and still not cover the half of what it’s about, so instead I’ll to discuss some of its main storylines more specifically. First and foremost, there’s the story of Dorothea Brooke, who the prologue seems to suggest will be the protagonist of the novel. This is more or less true, through Dorothea is almost absent for hundreds of pages at a time. Still, the prologue tells us what this is going to be a story about what happens to women who are passionate, intense, earnest, genuine, intelligent and infinitely intellectually curious, and yet live in a world that disallows all these traits in females, and who are therefore not allowed to find any outlets for their passion and curiosity. There’s probably some room for debate when it comes to whether or not this is what happens to Dorothea in the end, but still, the portrait rings true.

These women, we are told, are “the offspring of a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness of opportunity”, and “their ardour alternates between a vague ideal and the common yearning of womanhood; so that the one was disapproved as extravagance, and the other condemned as a lapse.” When we first meet Dorothea, she’s an earnest and trustful eighteen-year-old who longs for excellence and for knowledge; for a mind superior to her own who will patiently tutor her until she can achieve greatness for herself. She thinks she finds this in Mr Casaubon, a learned man much older than she is, to whom she anticipates she will submit with nothing but pleasure.

However, readers aren’t in the least surprised when they find her crying less than a month after her wedding, or when they watch her struggle as she loses her blind trust in Mr Casaubon’s judgement, as well as her respect for him. That her husband could be wrong or could act unjustly comes as a shock to Dorothea – and kudos to George Eliot for acknowledging how painful this realisation is, for not making her naivety incompatible with her great intelligence, and for not making the whole process of her loss of faith in Casaubon sound silly in the least.

Dorothea seems doomed to be unhappy, mostly because “there is hardly any contact more depressing to a young ardent creature than that of a mind in which years full of knowledge seem to have issued in a blank absence of interest or sympathy.” I could accuse her of marrying foolishly; I could say I wish she had listened to her friends and loved ones. But I can’t bring myself to, because I’m only too aware that she wouldn’t have been any happier if she had followed other people’s advice and let them decide for her. She desperately needed to follow her own path, and yet—and yet I cannot help but wish it hadn’t brought her quite as much pain.

What struck me the most about Dorothea was her earnestness, as well as the condescension with which she was often treated. Because she was a woman, and a young one at that, she was frequently dismissed and not taken seriously. No, this is not surprising for a Victorian novel, but still it’s a story worth telling – and despite the centuries that separate us it’s something I can relate to. I could also see something of myself in Dorothea’s earnestness, in her constant attempts to communicate seriously and genuinely, and in the acute loneliness that followed when people didn’t respond in kind. There’s something a little tragic about being the only person in the room who lacks social artfulness, who doesn’t play power games, and who’s trying to have honest, soulful conversations about topics that aren’t deemed fit for polite society. In addition to all this, I loved Dorothea for her generous spirit and for her unflinching kindness – for being the only person who would say, “I believe that people are almost always better than their neighbours think they are”.

But to speak of Dorothea’s story in isolation is to betray everything George Eliot set out to do in Middlemarch. So let me move on to Lydgate, a doctor trained in Paris who moves to Middlemarch and begins to feel “the hampering threadlike pressure of small social conditions, and their frustrating complexity.” There’s a lot that I could say about Lydgate – I could discuss his worth ethics, and how this is portrayed in the novel in relation to class; I could talk about his scientific dreams and ambitions and what ultimately hampers them; I could talk of his view of science, medicine and progress, and how these are received in Middlemarch; and so on. But what interested me the most was Lydgate’s relationship with Rosamond. Here we have an unflinching and very perceptive portrayal of both the social and the private, emotional consequences of an unequal partnership between a man and a woman.

This passage, which comes towards the end of the novel, absolutely broke my heart:
He could not promise to shield her from the dreaded wretchedness, for he could see no sure means of doing so. When he left her to go out again, he told himself that it was ten times harder for her than for him: he had a life away from home, and constant appeals to his activity on behalf of others. He wished to excuse everything in her if he could—but it was inevitable that in that excusing mood he should think of her as if she were an animal of another and feebler species. Nevertheless she had mastered him.
I worry that this might sound accusing out of context, but in the book it really isn’t, I don’t think – mostly because Eliot carefully contextualises what led to Rosamond becoming this “animal of another and feebler species”. Because she was not raised to ever seen herself as an adult, a responsible or capable human being, or an intellectual equal of men, she doesn’t behave as one, and the result is misery for her and her husband alike. The story does seem to be more sympathetic to Lydgate than Rosamond, and sometimes the narrator treats her with ambivalence. But the context it provides, and the careful analysis of what make her who she is, prevents any of her less appealing traits from being presented as inherently female.

Besides, there’s the presence of Dorothea in the novel, which doubly ensures that nothing about Rosamond’s personality is simply explained away as a result of her femaleness. In Dorothea and Rosamond’s stories I see the first stirrings of feminism – all through the novel there’s a sense of gratitude to women like Dorothea, to whom we owe so much of the freedom we have today. Its counterpart could easily be a reproach of women like Rosamond for not breaking free of those limited moulds of femininity, but I think the story does manage to avoid that.

Finally, there’s the subplot that involves Fred Vincy, Rosamond’s brother and the son of a local gentleman. Fred is in love with Mary Grant, and as her father Caleb Grant (one of my favourite characters, and about whom I could write a whole post) is a working man, she’s considered to be beneath him by most Middlemarchers.

As I’m sure you can guess, this subplot deals with class quite extensively – with prejudice, yes, but also with the relationship between class and work. Fred’s father pressures him to become a clergyman because this is one of the few professions considered fit for a gentleman. Mary, on the other hand, says that the only thing that is undignified is to do something for which you have no inclination at all, and at which you’ll be no good – and that she refuses to have a mediocre clergyman for a husband. Fred’s dilemma gives Eliot the opportunity to comment extensive on the limited notions of “respectability” and on how these affected people lives. She manages to poke fun at conventions, but at the same time she takes the emotional and social consequences of openly defying them absolutely seriously.

I know this post is already ridiculously long (is the fact that this is the longest novel I’ve reviewed to date a valid excuse?), but I can’t end it without mentioning the narrator’s voice: in the fashion of the Victorians, she (I do of course know the narrator is not the author, but I’m going to call it “she” anyway) is given to commenting on the story as she tells it. This is a much maligned technique, but it’s one that I don’t find anywhere nearly as limiting as it’s often accused of being. In the case of Middlemarch, her voice most definitely doesn’t close the narrative, and it gives her endless opportunities for irony. E.g.: “It commences well.” (Things never began with Mr. Borthrop Trumbull: they always commenced both in private life and on his handbills.). Her aside are also sometimes slightly aphoristic, but somehow she manages to make them work. Another example:
There may be coarse hypocrites, who consciously affect beliefs and emotions for the sake of gulling the world, but Bulstrode was not one of them. He was simply a man whose desires had been stronger than his theoretic beliefs, and who had gradually explained the gratification of his desires into satisfactory agreement with those beliefs. If this be hypocrisy, it is a process which shows itself occasionally in us all, to whatever confession we belong, and whether we believe in the future perfection of our race or in the nearest date fixed for the end of the world; whether we regard the earth as a putrefying nidus for a saved remnant, including ourselves, or have a passionate belief in the solidarity of mankind.
What I loved the most about the narrator’s voice was that although she can be biting and ironic, she’s never malicious – on the contrary, she’s always generous and humane. This ties in with why the asides don’t really reduce the story to a single interpretation or (dreaded words!) an overt “moral”. We’re not invited to judge the characters along with the narrator, but rather to consider them charitably and to acknowledge the many complexities of their humanity. I loved what A.S. Byatt had to say about this:
When I was younger it was fashionable to criticise Eliot for writing from a god's eye view, as though she were omniscient. Her authorial commenting voice appeared old-fashioned. It was felt she should have chosen a limited viewpoint, or written from inside her characters only. I came to see that this is nonsense. If a novelist tells you something she knows or thinks, and you believe her, that is not because either of you think she is God, but because she is doing her work - as a novelist. We were taught to laugh at collections of "the wit and wisdom of Eliot". But the truth is that she is wise - not only intelligent, but wise. Her voice deepens our response to her world.
I’m almost done here, I promise. Let me just say a few words on the experience of finally reading Middlemarch: I don’t know why I was intimidated for so long, really, as the only slightly daunting thing about this novel is really its length. But it doesn’t feel like a long book – or rather, it doesn’t feel like an unnecessarily long one. At the end of 900 pages, I felt slightly bereaved. I missed the characters dreadfully, and I desperately wanted more. And as I was reading I was never bored, never lost, never anything but fully immersed in the story. This is something worth remembering about the Victorians: whatever else they were, they were fond of plot and of telling a good story. And I’m sorry, my dear Modernists, but I don’t find that a bad thing.

Middlemarch is a novel of almost endless scope; an epic and bittersweet story about all the rights and wrongs that form a human life; and a story that tells even of triumphs with a tone of melancholy. I’ll leave you with its brilliant closing lines:
But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
Other favourite passages:
“And to me it is one of the most odious things in a girl’s life, that there must always be some supposition of falling in love coming between her and any man who is kind to her, and to whom she is grateful.”
(This is said by Mary Grant – Harriet Vane would very much agree.)
That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.

For my part I am very sorry for him [Mr. Casaubon]. It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self—never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardour of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted. Becoming a dean or even a bishop would make little difference, I fear, to Mr. Casaubon’s uneasiness. Doubtless some ancient Greek has observed that behind the big mask and the speaking-trumpet, there must always be our poor little eyes peeping as usual and our timorous lips more or less under anxious control.

Here was a man who now for the first time found himself looking into the eyes of death—who was passing through one of those rare moments of experience when we feel the truth of a commonplace, which is as different from what we call knowing it, as the vision of waters upon the earth is different from the delirious vision of the water which cannot be had to cool the burning tongue. When the commonplace “We must all die” transforms itself suddenly into the acute consciousness “I must die—and soon,” then death grapples us, and his fingers are cruel; afterwards, he may come to fold us in his arms as our mother did, and our last moment of dim earthly discerning may be like the first.

If youth is the season of hope, it is often so only in the sense that our elders are hopeful about us; for no age is so apt as youth to think its emotions, partings, and resolves are the last of their kind. Each crisis seems final, simply because it is new. We are told that the oldest inhabitants in Peru do not cease to be agitated by the earthquakes, but they probably see beyond each shock, and reflect that there are plenty more to come.

To be candid, in Middlemarch phraseology, meant, to use an early opportunity of letting your friends know that you did not take a cheerful view of their capacity, their conduct, or their position; and a robust candour never waited to be asked for its opinion. Then, again, there was the love of truth—a wide phrase, but meaning in this relation, a lively objection to seeing a wife look happier than her husband’s character warranted, or manifest too much satisfaction in her lot—the poor thing should have some hint given her that if she knew the truth she would have less complacency in her bonnet, and in light dishes for a supper-party. Stronger than all, there was the regard for a friend’s moral improvement, sometimes called her soul, which was likely to be benefited by remarks tending to gloom, uttered with the accompaniment of pensive staring at the furniture and a manner implying that the speaker would not tell what was on her mind, from regard to the feelings of her hearer. On the whole, one might say that an ardent charity was at work setting the virtuous mind to make a neighbour unhappy for her good.
What others had to say:
Trish’s Reading Nook, You Can Never Have Too Many Books, Athyrium filix-femina (The Lady Fern), Becky’s Book Reviews

Middlemarch Readalong

As you probably know, a few months ago I invited my fellow book bloggers to read this book along with me and post their thoughts this week. It’s of course perfectly fine if you’re behind – I’ll be glad to add your link to this post no matter when you finish. I can’t wait to hear what everyone else has to say.

The Book Stop – Progress Report
Dolce Bellezza- Review
She Reads Novels - Review
A Victorian Tea Party at The Indextrious Reader, plus review and favourite passages.
Silly Little Mischief - Progress Report, Final Thoughts
A Good Stopping Point - Progress Report
Vishy's Blog - Review
A Good Stopping Point - Review #1 and Review #2

(Leave me your link and I'll be glad to add it!)


  1. I'm generally afraid of chunksters, but I trust Eliot, and I certainly trust you, Ana. This one is going on my stacks because it sounds like something that would take me forever to read, but it would be enhanced by the investment of time, and the story sounds just fantastic. Wish I'd gotten in on the read-along!

  2. What an excellent review! I started Middlemarch with an online book group a few years ago, fell behind, and stopped after several hundred pages. It's still on my shelf with the page bookmarked. Have wanted to get back to it for some time, but I'm afraid I'd have to start over now. Maybe after Bleak House...

  3. You know this already, but this book intimidates me!! Even after reading your review, I just don't think I could handle it.

  4. I have been wanting to read this book for so long, and yours is truly the most comprehensive and thought provoking post I have ever seen about it. It sounds like it has all the elements that I love, and I was not aware of it being historical fiction of a sort. It really sounds as though there is a lot going on in this book, which makes me even more eager to give it a try, and I really appreciate your review of this one, even if it was a bit longer!

  5. To be honest, I'm intimidated by books like this, but you've made this one sound very appealing and "approachable," for lack of a better word.

  6. I've never read George Eliot, but you make this sound so wonderful I can't resist. Off to add it to my reading list.

  7. I adore Middlemarch, and I'm so glad you did too as I've been suggesting it and voting for it here on your blog. :) I wish I would have had the time to re-read it this summer. Eh, maybe in winter. Great post!

  8. Between you and A.D. Nuttall's book about Mr. Casaubon, it seems I must give Middlemarch another try. I found it quite dreary on the first go, but of course I was at that time in a miserable relationship myself, so I may have overidentified with Dorothea. :p Its hugeness intimidates me, too, but I think if I made it a longterm project, and read it a few chapters at a time, I could manage.

  9. My thoughts when I arrived: "Not even Ana will be able to convince me I need to add this one to the wish list."

    My thoughts after reading your review: "You should have known better, Debra Anne. What's that you always say about the phone book?"

    Seriously, Ana, I enjoyed every minute of this review. And I suspect I would really enjoy the book as well. The length still intimidates me...but some things are truly worth the time, aren't they?

    And this:

    I loved Dorothea for her generous spirit and for her unflinching kindness – for being the only person who would say, “I believe that people are almost always better than their neighbours think they are”.

    Oh how I loved that.

  10. Wow, Nymeth, you've given such a complete picture of the novel! I read along with you, and have my post here, but it is much shorter than yours. I put down the quotes which I felt were most meaningful to me; George Eliot was quite perceptive! I'll be back to comment further on yours when I'm not at school. ;)

    Thanks for hosting such a classic read!

  11. Aww, the Modernists tell a story okay! ;-)

    I love this novel, and am so glad that you did too, though definitely not surprised. Wholeheartedly agree with what you say here about the authorial voice, and its combination of biting-ness and generosity. And although I do see the text as being a bit harsher toward Rosamond than you do, I agree that her faults are never put down to the inherent failings of womankind. Also, on my latest re-read (which was actually a re-listen, with my partner David), I noticed more judgment of Lydgate than I had previously - the problem is not just the Rosamond has been socialized to be a helpless brat, but that Lydgate has been socialized to WANT that in a mate, you know?

    LOVE Caleb & Mary Garth. Their ethic of doing the work that is meaningful to you. I think they're my favorite characters in the whole novel. Whenever a Caleb chapter would come on our audiobook, David would tease me about how much Caleb reminded him of me. :-)

  12. I'm so often frightened by long books that I often forget that one of their rewards is the total sense of immersion in the world they have built. It's always so great when you read a book where you feel like it could have been longer and it's sad to bid it farewell. I've not read any Eliot, but she is an author I'd like to try one of these days. You've made me optimistic about my chances with Middlemarch!

  13. Middlemarch is such a masterpiece! I didn't get to reread it for your readalong, but I have enjoyed this review as a refresher. I'm looking forward to reading what others have to say!

  14. Middlemarch can certainly seem intimidating at first, but one of the elements that I most love about Eliot, and Middlemarch in particular, is the interrelatedness between the characters and their actions. I think more than any of Eliot's other works, Middlemarch exemplifies the question of one's awareness within a group.

    One of my favorite lines from a novel is the line about Rosamond as the basil plant that "flourished wonderfully on a murdered man's brains"... it's so evocative and goes straight to the heart of the conflicts that arise in her relationship with Lydgate.

  15. Oh I need to pick this one back up. I got 100 pages into it and just never continued. And I was really enjoying it too, it's just that I was reading so slowly...I got frustrated with myself.

    I so agree with you about Dorothy though. In just the 100 pages that I read, I grew to love her and my heart ached for her...and even though I'm a guy I felt that I could relate to her in a way if that makes any the way that everyone else wants to tell her what's best for her, how she's finding her identity, talking about things that others find not the most interesting of topics. I just loved her. I really want to read more of her story. More of all of this really!

  16. Nymeth, you've been on the loveliest reading streak lately. Hooray for Middlemarch! It's one of my very favorites. I'm due to read it again in 2019.

  17. I have just finished 500 pages of 'Middlemarch' :) I wanted to finish it before today but got distracted by life. Am hoping to finish it in the next few days. I have still not read your post - I have just read the first few lines :) Just wanted to convey my congratulations to you on finishing 'Middlemarch' (it is quite a chunkster at around 900 pages!) and to also let you know that I am enjoying it and will be posting on it soon and will also read your review in its entirety and will comment on it soon :)

  18. Thanks for hosting this readalong, Ana. After two failed attempts at reading this book, I'm so glad I made it to the end this time. My post is here. We seem to have had a lot of the same thoughts, though you've expressed them better than I have!

  19. I too loved Middlemarch, but you've also reminded me of just how much I love Eliot overall. I'm hesitant to consume the rest of her works because then there won't be any more - I might just read this one over instead. =)

  20. Bravo! Wonderful! Middlemarch is one of my all-time favs and reading your review makes me want to reread it. Thanks.

  21. You know, I saw this in the library last week and almost picked it up! But I didn't, simply because it's so, so huge. I thought it would take me forever to read it. I'm regretting that now! Middlemarch sounds like a delight to read.

  22. I have wanted to read George Eliot for the longest time! This sounds like a book I would enjoy.

  23. This is a book that intrigues me and also intimidates me!! I really enjoyed your thoughts on this and feel that after reading it and your other posts that some day I may actually feel like I could accomplish reading this one!

  24. This is an excellent review! I am now convinced that I MUST read this book, ASAP.

  25. I find your thoughts so profound. I have not read anyone put in so much into writing a post about a book... I am intrigued. :)
    And well I know I will be scared to read this book, but maybe I will be able to do it too :)

  26. Great review, Nymeth! You obviously took a lot out of this novel, and it was very interesting to read about what you loved out of it.

    Also congrats on getting through it--I'm pretty sure I never could. :)

  27. I absolutely love this book, so thanks for writing about it and reminding me all over again how wonderful it is.

  28. Andi: The time investment is definitely worth it. You'll get so much out of this one!

    JoAnn: I can't imagine managing both this AND Bleak House in close succession :P I do hope you return to it sometime, though! And I need to get to Bleak House myself, but only after a break from long classics :P

    Amanda: I think you'd enjoy it, but it's such a time investment that I understand hesitating unless you're sure you'd really like it.

    Zibilee: I did get carried away this time, but thank you for reading ;) I've no doubt you'd really enjoy this!

    Kathy: It is approachable! It takes forever to read, yes, but it's such a good story.

    Clare: I'm glad to have convinced you!

    Trisha: Thank you! I'm glad I finally listened ;)

    Jenny: My younger self might have overidentified with Dorothea too :P I hope you do give it another try! I read it as my secondary book for two months and a half, and it worked perfectly that way.

    Debi: lol :P And yes, they really really are!

    Bellezza: Thank you again for participating! I love the passages you picked.

    Emily: I was mostly teasing about the Modernists ;) I absolutely agree with you that it's not just how Rosamond was socialised that is the problem. Lydgate does expect that from a partner, and doesn't quite seem able to treat her as a capable adult. I do agree that the story is harsher on her than on him, but I was pleasantly surprised that it points fingers at the pattern behind it all rather than at these people in particular. Caleb and Mary Garth were indeed wonderful! I really loved their work ethic too.

    Steph: I know what you mean, as I tend to forget that myself! But that sense of immersion is a wonderful thing.

    Shelley: It really is a masterpiece :)

    Gricel: Yes - I couldn't agree more! And that line was powerful indeed.

    Chris: If I ever tell you you can't possibly understand or relate to something because you're a guy, please kick me in the shins ;) I hope you do return to it some day, and take your time without worries or deadlines. It helps to make it your secondary book... that way, you won't feel that your reading is stalling, and before you know it you're done.

  29. Such an excellent post! You reminded me of all the best things about Elliot and have me wondering why I am always thinking so ill of Daniel Deronda.

    And this:

    'There’s something a little tragic about being the only person in the room who lacks social artfulness, who doesn’t play power games, and who’s trying to have honest, soulful conversations about topics that aren’t deemed fit for polite society. In addition to all this, I loved Dorothea for her generous spirit and for her unflinching kindness – for being the only person who would say, “I believe that people are almost always better than their neighbours think they are”.'

    is perfect, such an honest expression. Makes me want to give you a big internet hug.

    Love your comments about authorial voice. I don't think I understood until this year that omniscient narrator was now considered rather bad, rather than just out of fashion. I'm still not sure I understand why because to me it doesn't seem limiting, it just provides enlightenment on how the author would like you to view the novel - we're not obliged to agree with them. Interesting to hear AS Byatt's views on Elliot's choice - thanks for including her quote.

  30. I've heard that this is a well written story but kind of difficult to read.

  31. Bybee: I remember you saying before you've been re-reading it every decade, which I think is an absolutely lovely idea!

    Vishy: Don't worry, take your time! There's no rush whatsoever - only in that I'm absolutely dying to hear what you thought :P And yes, I did feel quite accomplished once I finished ;)

    Helen: Thank you for participating! I loved your post :)

    Meghan: I know what you mean! That's the trouble with dead authors :P

    Kinna: Thank you for the kind words!

    Emidy: It IS huge, but very much worth the time investment :)

    Stephanie: I really think you would!

    Staci: You most definitely could! It might take a while, sure, but it'd be worth it.

    Emily Jane: Thank you! And yes you must.

    Veens: Thank you for the kind words! This is one of those books that really, really spoke to me, and so I got a bit carried away when writing about it :P I understand being scared, but now I look back and wish I'd read it sooner!

    Heidenkind: Thank you!

    Katherine Langrish: You're most welcome :) There's so much here to love.

    Jodie: I'd absolutely love to hear what your trouble with Daniel Deronda was, but I guess I'd better read the book first :P Also, aww - the intended internet hug is very much appreciated ;) That baffles me too about omniscient narrators - they don't necessarily equal the author pointing a gun to your head, after all. And an omniscient narrator can be as unreliable as a close third person or a first person one, which leaves lots of potential for all kinds of interesting storytelling tricks.

    Ladytink: I actually didn't think so! But then again I'm weird in that I actually enjoy convoluted Victorian syntax :P

  32. What a great review! I have always thought of reading this book, but never made the plunge. I, scratch that, I *know* that I am intimidated by the book because I have heard mixed things about the story. Your review has convinced me that I really should give this read a chance.

    By the way: I am glad to know that I am not the only one who can write long reviews, but I think you win in that department. Don't get me wrong, I say this in great kindness because I do like your style. It is very cool to read the details of what you liked, disliked, etc. about a book. Fantastic!

  33. This is a wonderful post, enumerating everything that you gained through reading this book. Thanks for the encouragement to keep going past the slow (for me) beginning; I enjoyed reading this one even if I didn't completely love it. Glad to have met all these characters (especially the Garths, I so agree!)

  34. ibeeeg: I completely understand the intimidation, but I think you'll find it worth it. And also, thank you so much for saying that kindly! I did get a bit carried away this time ;)

    Melanie: Thank you again for joining in! The Garths were wonderful, weren't they? I'm clicking over to read your thoughts in a minute :)

  35. I've gotten my halfway post up.

  36. Nymeth I think my troubles can be summarised without spoiling it for you: for me the book became a bit dull when the narrative focused on Daniel Deronda. Although there was lots of magical moments surrounding him where Elliot explains life in a way which makes you automatically more enlightened (she really was a genius about human nature) I much preferred Gwendoline even though she is possibly an awful person and I kind of think Eliot would hate me for saying that ;P

  37. I would like to read this one day.
    'an epic and bittersweet story about all the rights and wrongs that form a human life; and a story that tells even of triumphs with a tone of melancholy'-
    Thats beautifully put.

  38. I loved reading your wonderful and brilliant review, Ana! You have covered such a vast range of topics in your review that I don't even know how to comment on it :)

    I loved your comment "through Dorothea is almost absent for hundreds of pages at a time." :) I remembered the opening line of one of the chapters of the book, when I read your comment : "One morning, some weeks after her arrival at Lowick, Dorothea - but why always Dorothea?" :) I personally wish Dorothea had come for more pages in the book. I really adored her character.

    I also loved your comment - "her father Caleb Grant (one of my favourite characters, and about whom I could write a whole post)" :) Caleb Garth is one of my favourite characters too :)

    I loved all your favourite passages, especially the one on hearing the heart grow and the squirrel's heartbeat.

    On Lydgate and Rosamond - I actually liked Rosamond's character for most of the book, though things become tough for her and Lydgate after a while and Rosamond is not able to see things from another person's perspective.

    I love the cover of the edition that you read. Is that Dorothea contemplating on something?

    Thanks for hosting this read-along and for this brilliant review!

    You can find my review here -

  39. That was long, indeed!:) But an excellent review. I got stuck after 238 pages and just had to read somehing else. I'll get back to Middlemarch later. I've liked the book this far. It is just somehow very slow reading for me.


  40. Ana - Not done with Middlemarch yet, but here is my progress report! :)

  41. Wow, what a great response to the novel! I loved it in the end too.

    I think what you say in the very beginning is why I like it so much too. It's full of "complex, flawed, realistic human beings" and I too loved how it was romantic by being realistic. It made it far more engaging and, as you say, heart-breaking when it ended. I loved being a part of that community for so long, even though it was full of sad and unsatisfied people.

    You have far more sympathy for Rosamond than I did. I really disliked her!

  42. Hi Ana, I wanted so much to read this but haven't found the courage to do so. It's on my bookshelf, though. Your excellent review is giving me that slight push to do it...

  43. I was waiting to read your Middlemarch review until after I had written my review posts of Middlemarch. You have done a masterful job of describing the themes and tone of Middlemarch. I love the quote you include from A.S. Byatt. I love your discussion of feminism & Middlemarch. Also, coincidentally, the quote about "That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact . . ." is one that I also had picked for my own review.

    In case you are still planning to update the links on this page, here is a link to review #1:

    And here is a link to review #2:

    It's totally okay if there's a moratorium on the updates, but I thought I'd include them just in case.

  44. I was pretty intimidated by the book going in, but I must say it did not take too long for me to get sucked in. You can see my review here:


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.