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Middlemarch was famously described by Virginia Woolf as 'one of the few English novels written for grown up people'. Whilst I think this is rather a harsh assessment of English novelists, this is definitely one of the most intelligent books I've ever read.
The book centres on a small town called Middlemarch, during the early 1800s, and charts the lives of a number of its inhabitants. Describing the characters and plot is very difficult because there are so many of them and so much happens! But various themes are represented- marriages based on an idealistic idea of the other half, which turn out to be rather disappointing; living beyond your means; the struggle to overcome small minded traditionalists... in one book, George Eliot presents a pretty comprehensive overview of human characteristics and dramas.
The reason I like this book so much is that every single character, even the minor ones, is beautifully depicted and very believable. Unlike many other novels, the book is driven by the characters not by the plot. I read on because I want know more about the people, as much as 'what happens next'. When you've finished, you feel like you've learnt something. And you learn more everytime you reread it.
As you might know, I usually read fantasy, but I make the odd departure to classics and period romances from time to time. I wont deny that I found Middlemarch quite hard going, it is the only George Eliot book I have read. More importantly though is the fact that I loved it. The first thing I found striking about this book, particularly since it has a romantic theme was the number of main characters involved in it. There are four main couples, but that doesn't even go near all the people who are important to other aspects of the plot. You might think that having this number of main characters might be detrimental to the book, with each of them only treated superficially, however, you get to know each one of these people intimately as the viewpoint from which the book is written is constantly shifting. The plot was very complex compared to most books from this period I have read. A summary (which can't possibly to it justice!): Dorothea is a woman with very strict ideals who marries what she thinks a husband should be like, it turns out that she was disillusioned, specially when she meets her husbands cousin. Dr. Lydgate is a new doctor, coming into the town, with very high expectations of himself, he falls in love with the mayor's daughter and his life is tied up with the banker who is supporting him. The banker Mr. Blustrode is has a murky past! There is also Fred Vincy (Mayor's son) who loves a good but poor girl, she will not marry him as he is in debts and all sorts of trouble all the time! All the lives in this book are intricately wound together, I can't do the plot justice and I have left some of the most important main plot lines out! I hope you have a go at reading this book. Don't be put off by the fact you might have to struggle with it in the beginning. It is well worth the read, one of the best books I have ever read.
"Middlemarch" is often acclaimed as George Eliot's greatest piece of literature, and having now read most of her novels, I am inclined to agree with this assesment. Middlemarch itself is a small town somewhere in England, and the book traces the interweaving lives of various inhabitants. The plot itself is quite subtle and complex, as various relationships alter, and various truths come to light. Trying to give a full account of the plot would take, oh, about a full length novel, and it would spoil a few of the twsits and turns. So, here's a few tempters to be going along with. Dorothea is a bright, idealistic young gentlewoman who marries an older man - Casuabon, in the hopes of helping him in some great work. He turns out to be far less than she had imagined and her mariage soon becomes her prison. Meanwhile, clever and talented Doctor Lydgate courts and marries the local belle. She is a rather foolish lass, and, with the help of various unfortunate events, she ruins him. Will Ladislaw is related to Mr Casuabon, and attracted to Dorothea. His past is shrouded in mystery, and his exact relation to other figures only comes to light towards the end of the book. The there's Mr Bulstrode, a self made man with a bit of a past, Fred, a wild young man trying to get his life on track, the Garth fmaily, a lovely group of down to earth people..... and many more. Their lives intertwine and overlap as the story unfolds. Love blossoms, love dies, secrets are revealled and several people die off. This is a fascinating book - rare to have so many little lines of plot all woven together in such a brilliant way - it's very skilfuly created piece of work and an amazingly detailed portrayal of a small town in the eigtheen hundreds. There's a great deal of detail about society and ordinary life - detals of dress, of behaviour and of class that from an historical perspective are quite wonderful. Despite having such a huge number of charac
ters, all are well drawn, and most develope during the course of the novel. George Eliot is a superb writer; insightful, skilled and able to tell a good story. This book is certainly her best, and stands several readings. For real enthusiasts, I woudl recomend the TV dramatisation from a few years back - you can get the whole series on video and it really is rather good.
In Middlemarch George Eliot gives us a portrait of provincial life in Victorian England that has never been surpassed.