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Jerkass 19th Jul 2004 20:59

George Eliot: Middlemarch
This really is only a very partial book review...I would have put it in the Very Partial Book Review section if we had one.

To this point (about 150 pages in), I can only say that I found msyelf enjoying it, although I kept telling myself that it really wasn't my kind of thing. Unfortunately, with two small children (one of them a newborn) in the house, I get to read it so infrequently, and there are so many characters in the opening sequences of this book, that on the occasions I sit down to read it, I spend the first fifteen minutes reviewing the last section or two that I have read, just to remember who everyone is. Then I fall asleep on the sofa.

Hopefully, I'll finish some day, and I can come back here for a useful discussion. I know Palimpsest has at least one huge fan of this one.

John Self 19th Jul 2004 21:18

Don't worry, Jerkass, I'm quite partial to the occasional partial book review.

Anyway - I got to page 200 of Middlemarch before repeatedly falling asleep - so ner!

Col's yer man for this one. Or woman.

Jerkass 19th Jul 2004 21:25

I'm confused...which of us is the woman?

Colyngbourne 20th Jul 2004 8:57

Yep, I'm a fan of Middlemarch - without having read Bleak House yet, which garnered so many superlatives in its review, I think Middlemarch is my top read ever. I couldn't do it justice at the mo, since it's a good few years since I last read it (though I watched the '90's series on video the other week) - if I get a chance to read it before September, I'll review it.

My main lasting impression of it is of the range of characters and predicaments portrayed, none of which are reviled; distaste of certain actions might be implicit but Eliot doesn't judge and points up such flickering instances of goodness where they can be found, of sacrificial relationships despite faults and often terrible flaws. But it never comes across as worthy or as Eliot holding up some precious community, saying 'go and do likewise'.

youjustmightlikeit 20th Jul 2004 16:55

I read this on my lunch hours a few years back in the pub across the road, i too fell asleep while reading it, yes, in the pub, yes, in the middle of the day. The bar maid had a soft spot for me though, so she used to refill my diet coke as a slept.

But i do remember it being a very involved read, an enormous list of characters and intrigues. One of the set books on the Open University English Literature degree course too, which the missus is thinking of taking up.

pandop 20th Jul 2004 20:05

This is on my 'to be read pile', but as I have bought a lot of books lately, I am not sure when I will get round to it.

I did like the BBC adaptation though


Jerkass 23rd Jul 2004 21:20

Right...I have used my lunch hour to compile a list of characters, so that when I next find the time to read this, I won't have to spend 90% of the time before falling asleep on the sofa trying to remember who everyone is...

Colyngbourne 23rd Jul 2004 21:24

That is so sensible - I should have done that when I read The Idiot last January. It was headache-inducing, trying to remember all the names and variants that are used.

Jerkass 24th Jul 2004 14:52

I suppose I should have said, yesterday, that I had spent my lunch hour compiling a partial list of characters from the first 150-odd pages. I then tried to finish the list when I next had reading time in the evening...and fell asleep with about 30 pages to go.

I think this reading thingy just may be hopeless for me.

I did manage to finish Vernon God Little for the book club, and I'm looking forward to our discussion of that one. The only problem is that I finished it about three weeks ago, and I'm not sure how much I remember. Doh. Fortunately, I made several notes...but I don't know where they have gone. DOH!

As a side note, I've just noticed that there's a strangely contorted and completely nude Barbie doll sitting on the computer desk next to me, with her right arm in the air, waving. The bottom half of her body is lying flat on the ground, with the tops of her feet downward, and the top half has been rotated 180 degrees and has been bent upward so she can sit up. Bizarre. I hope my oldest daughter put her there, and she doesn't just go around doing these things on her own.

Jerkass 24th Jul 2004 15:18

There are a couple of things I've remembered, while flipping through pages recording the various thousands of characters. First, I find all of the sections in which Eliot stops to explain, "This is how things were back then," to be quite helpful, although I wonder if those sections would have bored her audience at the time. [By the way, if we know a female author is writing under a male pen name, do we refer to her as "her" or "him"?]

It's hard not to suspect that Eliot might have included these sections with an eye toward future generations of readers. Especially for someone like me, who grew up with an impression of that time period as one for cowboys and Indians, Little House on the Prairie, Conestoga Wagons, and the occasional abuse of some immigrant children on a factory floor in one of our established cities on the East Coast, these passages are an enlightenment. I have, of course, picked up some knowledge of Victorian England over the years--there are all those Dickens films, after all [I'm joking now]. Eliot, though, paints a picture of civility in the Victorian English countryside (at least amongst the upper-ish classes) that is at least somewhat new to me, not because I had any fixed impressions otherwise, but because I had never had it presented to me in this way before [remember that I've somehow managed to avoid most of the great works of literature over the years--other than a lot of Dickens films--something I'm trying to fix now]. I am aware that this probably doesn't make Eliot special for the time period; I'm just saying that I have found it quite interesting and helpful so far.

Some of the flavour [for lack of a better word, after waking up far too early with an infant this morning, forgive me] of the times comes through in the characters' conversation, with no editorial comment from Eliot at all--although it is clear she is making an editorial comment through the presentation of the dialogue itself. An example, between the beautiful Rosamond Vincy and her "frightfully plain" acquaintance Mary Garth, who often is casually described as being "fit for a governess," rather than for a wife, due to her plain appearance:


...when [Mary] was in a good mood, she had humour enough in her to laugh at herself. When she and Rosamond happened both to be reflected in the glass, she said laughingly--

"What a brown patch I am by the side of you, Rosy! You are the most unbecoming companion."

"Oh no! No one thinks of your appearance, you are so sensible and useful, Mary. Beauty is of very little consequence in reality," said Rosamond, turning her head towards Mary, but with eyes swerving towards the new view of her neck in the glass.

"You mean my beauty," said Mary, rather sardonically.

Rosamond thought, "Poor Mary, she takes the kindest things ill."
And which young woman wouldn't want to be called, first and foremost, useful? Some people don't know how to accept a compliment!

Perhaps my favourite passage so far, though, which will be brilliant throughout eternity regardless of the times, came as the reader is introduced to Mr. Lydgate, the new young surgeon in Middlemarch:


Mr. Lydgate had the medical accomplishment of looking perfectly grave, whatever nonsense was talked to him.

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