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 :).