Middlemarch by George Eliot
3 words: lyrical, character-focused, absorbing
Middlemarch. I still can’t believe how much I love this book. And as the weeks go by, I continue to ponder it and feel enriched by having read it.
Part of me wishes I’d read it earlier in life, because one of the things I hear over and over is that readers who return to this book find themselves observing the characters differently as their own circumstances and life experiences change. I love that this book is bountiful enough to offer that kind of reading. I’ll have to begin my re-reading experience closer to midlife… and I’m OK with that. But it would’ve been more rewarding to have had a younger person’s take on it.
Here are the aspects I loved most…
While Dorothea Brooke could be considered the main character, the other characters — so beautifully drawn, so complex and vivid, so imperfectly human — are vitally important to every aspect of the story.
Eliot lovingly crafted not only a rich and nuanced story, but also a cast of individuals who are realistic enough that I feel like I could carry on a conversation with them. I feel like we go way back.
And the characters and the situations they face are real and painful and joyful and strange and uncomfortable and comforting and loving and harsh.
There are young people doing foolish things, and older people, too. And young couples figuring out the world and older couples who are happy. And others who are not. And the small details of their interactions make them abundantly real. I feel like this book could be read as profiles of four married couples. I didn’t expect the wisdom that emerges from the way the people of this book relate to one another. But it’s the greatest gift this book gave me.
Another surprise: the narrative voice was fascinating. An omniscient narrator comments on the actions and secret motivations of the characters, and the warm wisdom of that voice was comforting and delightful and unexpected. It seemed a very modern way of telling the story.
Classics can kinda scare me, because dense prose can be tiresome. But this book wasn’t scary and wasn’t hard to read. It wasn’t dense or burdensome. While Eliot is fond of the Very Long Sentence (some of them went on for a full paragraph), she knows how to string together words in a very pleasing way. I found that I needed to slow down my reading a bit and just enjoy the words. The reading wasn’t difficult, but it wasn’t fast. It felt like a comfortable stroll through a beautiful garden — not hurried, and so much to claim one’s attention and to delight.
Now I want more
I found myself wanting to talk with readers who are set just like me, and ask them to give me another classic that’s this wise and warm and absorbing and delightful.
Give this book a whirl if you like… a big, absorbing story; classics; reading about a village; nuanced character portraits so detailed you’d recognize the characters if you met them; fiction that inspires the reader to examine her own life
So, my fellow readers… what classic novel is your favorite, and why should it be my next big read?