Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Middlemarch

When a friend's mom told me she loved George Eliot's Middlemarch, I knew this was a story I had to read. "It's a book," she told me, "about people who shouldn't have gotten married and did. About people who should have gotten married and didn't. About people who married the right person, and people who married the wrong person."

What better novel could you have? On this glowing recommendation, I put it on my list, and just a few weeks ago finished this stunning portrait of marital bliss--or the very opposite, depending on the characters.

The Book
Middlemarch follows the lives of four Middlemarch families, all of various social levels and political persuasions--the Vincys, a comfortable upper-class family with a prim and beautiful daughter, Rosamond, and a lazy, ne'er-do-well son, Fred. Mr. Brooke, with his wards, the religiously fervid Dorthea and placid, sensible Celia. The Garths, with their hard-working older daughter, Mary, and a host of little children, and the Bulstrodes, a prosperous banking couple of dubitable origins. Also indispensable to the plot are an assembly of single gentleman: Reverend Casaubon, Will Ladislaw, and Doctor Tertius Lydgate. (What was his mother thinking to name him that?)

Are there more characters than that? Oh, certainly, with 800+ pages you need a variety of actors. But those are the principle ones, and all you have to keep track of.

Rosamund Vincy catches the eye of Tertius Lydgate, dashing young doctor. The two fall madly in love under the pleasant (and fictitious) expectations of an adoring wife and a rich husband. Fred would like to have the heart of Mary Garth, even if she is beneath his family, for they have loved each other since childhood. But Mary, wary of his unsteadiness of character, will have nothing to do with him. Dorthea chooses Reverend Casaubon, a man much older than herself, under the prospect of joining him in a great work: a scholarly treatise on old mythologies. And so, married and unmarried, these couples set the stage for a kaleidoscope of greed, secrecy, despair, redemption, and struggle for the ultimate need of man and woman to join together as one.

My Thoughts 
This is a large book, written by a very strange authoress. For years I've loved the Focus on the Family radio drama of George Eliot's Silas Marner, but never explored further into her works due to her break with the church. Her private life was a scandal, even in her own day, and she wrote under a pen name to separate herself and her other writings from her fiction, wanting it to be judged on its own merits.

But in spite of Eliot's personal shortcomings, I found Middlemarch to be a brilliant and biblically grounded portrait of wedded life. Eliot shows the tragedy of self-deception, and the ability to train oneself out of personal flaws into better character. Also, she shows the necessity of a husband and wife confiding in one another, and the joy of a marriage where they hold each other accountable. She covers everything, from parents who chose to know and invest in their children's mates, to parents who left their children to indulge their own inclinations. Even in the worst, most heart-breaking marriage, Eliot shows again and again that poor bad choices can be redeemed, if only a couple is willing to repent. But it takes two, and unfortunately in Middlemarch, the two never saw eye-to-eye. That theme, too, is a vital part of marriage portrayals--the marriage that could have been, but never would be due to sin.

Eliot's characterizations are brilliant--from malicious old Peter Featherstone to Calvinistic, self-tormented Mr. Bulstrode. She has the touch that makes for a classic story--the ability to bring together characters of different beliefs, lifestyles, strengths and weaknesses, and treat them all individually and honestly.  Eliot makes no disguise of which characters she loves most in this novel. Dorthea, Tertius Lydgate, and Will Ladislaw are people she holds near and dear, and though she makes no disguise of it, I love her ability to delight in them on paper. Every author has their favorites, and she was charming in the way that she admitted it.

I loved Simon Garth, Mary's father, very much. A loving father who took a proactive interest in the future of his daughter, he won my respect and affection right away. And can we just take a moment to appreciate Will Ladislaw? Artistic, passionate, hot-tempered and occasionally hasty of speech, kindhearted and generous, (plus a good writer), I loved him. Though I think I had a previous reason for doing so. ;)
Can we also take a moment to state that is
a terrible picture of Will Ladislaw? *shudder* 
Eliot's only flaw was her inability to take a hands-off approach as to the reader's conclusions. She constantly guided, told readers not to judge, and explained character motivations to the point of exasperation. There is a delicate dance of fiction--it is designed to pour medicine down the character's throat (and thus the reader's) by disguise. Eliot showed her readers the spoon and the medication, and explained exactly how the characters should take it, and exactly what effects they ought to feel. Some of these flaws would be cleaned up in movie form, leaving the gold of Eliot's work--the characters themselves--on screen. But as dreadful as it sounds, the book was so brilliant and rich and deep that this writing style shouldn't frighten you away. You'll love the characters so much that you'll forget to notice it after a while.

Middlemarch contains occasional language and misuse of the Lord's name.

The strength of this book lies in its vividness of the everyday. It's not in kidnappings and murders and abductions and buried treasure that characters are made and broken. It's the little strains of learning an honest trade, buying more furniture than they can pay for, ignoring gentle warnings, and heeding the promptings of conscience that guide the tone of the various marriages.

I highly recommend Middlemarch as a most effective story on the importance of selfless love and honest communication between a husband and wife. Whether you are married or hope to be married in future, this book is a four-star novel.

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

2 comments:

  1. H'mmm. I've been avoiding George Eliot for some years now, but my paternal grandmother loves this novel and has recommended it to me a couple of times. Maybe I can hold my nose long enough to read it...

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  2. Your perseverance won the day! :D This book sounds like it's a really good, as well as instructive. It's interesting how you say she captured the little details--I think doing that takes the greatest artistry, because you're making something commonplace beautiful. ;)

    Enjoyed your post!

    Love,
    Carrie-Grace

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