>I made a couple of stabs at Middlemarch when I was in my early 20s, then finally read it successfully in graduate school. Prose that had seemed so difficult before now seemed effortless after a year of reading academic writing about language acquisition and phonology and the like.
George Eliot’s 1870 novel about life in a provincial small town is definitely well worth the effort. It’s a longish (about 765 pages) book, which of course it must be to support so many compelling characters. Middlemarch is, as Virginia Woolf famously observed, “a novel written for grownup people” –there’s something in it for everyone: marriages (both good and bad) births, deaths (suspicious, expected), politics, money troubles, temptations, moral and social struggles and much more.
And there’s George Eliot, who crackles with wit and intelligence. Not a cool, detached intelligence reminiscent of Jane Austen, but a fierce burning intellect. She doesn’t hesitate to jump right into the novel and let the reader know that she’s devoted to these characters and names her reasons why she likes this one or feels sorry for that one. She’s not one bit cloying or sentimental, either. The authorial intrusion was jarring at first, but after a while, it felt less like an intrusion and more like a friend popping in and animatedly discussing characters that I was also becoming devoted to. Almost 10 years later, Dorothea Brooke, Will Ladislaw and Dr. Lydgate still feel like part of my landscape. Mr. Casaubon still makes my skin crawl with revulsion. I forgot to add Rosamond Vincy to my “slap list” last month.
While reading Middlemarch, I was grateful to be reading an edition (Bantam Classics) that included notes at the back of the book that clarified 19th century terminology, phrasing and references used in the novel. The foreword by Margaret Drabble was well-done as well.
Although I’ve only read it once, Middlemarch feels like the novel of my adult life, so I’ve got plans to read it at 10-year intervals (1999, 2009, 2019, 2029, 2039…) until death kicks my bookworm ass once and for all.