Middlemarch – My Thoughts


Folks following me on Twitter know I have been reading Middlemarch for a really, really long time. It’s that kind of a book, really, meant for a leisurely read, not a page turner by any means. Still, an excellent book that I am glad I decided to venture upon.

It took me a long time to decide to read Middlemarch. I have pretty mixed feelings about the author, George Eliot. I loved The Mill on the Floss, but intensely detested Silas Marner, and Adam Bede. Also, I don’t like preachiness, which pretty much classifies me into a George Eliot non-admirer.

Middlemarch also starts badly with references to St.Theresa, and a comparison between the main protagonist Dorothea and the saint. So, I went in ready to hate it, and ready to hate Dorothea. Dorothea first comes across as an idealistic ninny, who marries an elderly man because of her hero-worship for his intellect. Her male counterpart is Lydgate, an idealistic doctor who marries a beautiful, worldly, ambitious woman, and is essentially trapped in a joyless marriage. This book is primarily their story, but really it is a story about a way of life in a small country parish, and a study about the society of that time (post-Napoleonic era).

So, although I initially disliked Dorothea and Lydgate, as the book progresses, and as their characters start to take shape, it is impossible not to feel for them and their quandaries. This book reminds me how fortunate we are today to be able to take our time choosing a spouse, and giving us adequate time to know somebody’s character before marriage (not that we now make wiser choices 😉 ), but still…

Unlike other books, this one does not pay too much attention to the actual romances itself, the focus is mainly on what happens after the romance, what happens when you are married and disappointed with your partner, and I must admit I love this aspect of the book. Romances are all very well, but have you ever wondered, now what happens to that happy pair? Well, I have and this book somewhat satisfies my desire to know what happens after that happy ending at the wedding aisle :).

That said, I am glad I read this now, rather than during my teenage years, where it could have totally traumatized me about marriage. The hairs on my neck rose when I read about Lydgate and his wife bickering with each other over money, and the way both attempt to control each other. Definitely, not something that marital dreams are founded upon. This section of the book had me wincing at Rosamund’s (Lydgate’s wife) awful attitude. I hated her, god! I swear, I could have killed her, but at the same time, she reminded me of someone awful whom I know. Towards the end of the book, Lydgate compares his wife to a basil plant (apparently, it flourishes wonderfully on a murdered man’s brains). Shudder!

But this is not a depressing read at all. Yes, all the characters go through some trying situations, but at the end of the day things work pretty well for them. Not well, in the way I was hoping or expecting though. I somehow kept thinking that Lydgate’s wife would die of cholera (there were so many references to cholera, but it all turned out to be a red herring), and that Lydgate and Dorothea would get together. They seemed like a perfect match, at least in my eyes. But no, that doesn’t happen.

But everybody does have their happy endings for the most part, and so did I, because I simply loved reading this book 🙂 .

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  • Hi, Nishita. I looked up “Middlemarch” on Google Images and your blog (and book cover) appeared on the first page – the book cover stood out, so I stopped by here. I’m glad you took the time to enjoy the book; I liked Dorothea’s idealism from the beginning, but that’s just me. Daniel Deronda is my favorite Eliot novel. If you’ve read any Tolstoy, I compare the books to two of Tolstoy’s: Middlemarch/War and Peace were long epic masterpieces; Daniel Deronda/Anna Karenina were shorter, but more intense and emotional works of art.

    If you’re interested, I have a web page with quotes from Eliot’s novels. The “couple of years ago” reference refers to 1996, when I read Middlemarch first and then 4 other Eliot novels. I was really on a roll that year! 🙂

    The Wit and Wisdom of George Eliot

    If you dislike Eliot’s preachiness, stay away from the novels of Dinah Maria Craik, a contemporary and competitor (at least in her mind) of Eliot – she preaches a lot about the subservience of women to men. (Overlooking that aspect, her novels can be quite good and engaging.) Some quotes of hers mistakenly attributed to George Eliot:

    Did George Eliot Write This?

    Again, thanks for posting about this book. It was good to read your take on it, as well as your commenters’ views of it and her other novels.

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  • I didn’t remember the part about the basil plant! And oh, yes, Rosamund was so thoroughly awful, but I still liked reading about her and most of the rest of the characters. I’m with you in not liking Dorothea at first (I actually thought her younger sister had more sense in that stage of their lives), but she really grew on me and I quite admired her by the end. Glad you liked the book! It definitely takes some time to read.

    • @Christy: Oh, yes. Totally with you on the sister. But in the end, that girl was so annoying. Motherhood should not change a person thaaat much 😀

  • @Jenny: I did not feel particularly depressed for Dorothea. In my mind, I felt she had a lot of growing up to do. I much preferred the more realistic (but still retaining her ideals) Dorothea at the end of the book.

    I did feel extremely sorry for Lydgate though.

  • I felt so depressed for Dorothea a third of the way through the book that I couldn’t continue. She could have done something so much more awesome with her life! But I’m going to give it another try one of these days.

  • Somehow, this long book became even longer for me toward the end…so much so that I never finished it. I did enjoy reading about the characters, even though some of them became excessively trite, but perhaps that’s part of the point: a documentary on society then? I normally love classics, and long clasics even more, but I think I’ll have to pick this up again another day; at least to finish it. I’m glad you found my thoughts, posted so long ago, and came to leave a few of yours.

  • I’m glad to hear you loved it 😀 Mill on the Floss is going to be my next Eliot, so it’s good to know you got on with it so well.

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