In the Middle of Middlemarch (Reading the Classics Part 1)

Reading about bloggers’ favorite books recently inspired me to pick up some classics I missed in college.  A lot of people mentioned Middlemarch as a favorite. I always meant to read something by George Eliot so this was long overdue, and I’m really enjoying it so far.

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about reading books because we feel we ought to, and how long do you slog through a book before you go to something you like better (usually something “fluffier”).  This is a long, meandering novel with a lot of different plotlines, and Eliot’s prose is not always easy to follow – especially the detailed discussions about religion and politics.  That said, this is NOT a book I’ve wanted to put down.  It’s the way I feel about Austen and Hardy most of the time – sure, it’s literature but it’s also kind of fun to read.  But at the same time it gives you a lot to think about.

I won’t review the book here, but wanted to mention that another blog, Things Mean A Lot, is hosting a blog read-along of Middlemarch next week if you want to join in.

George Eliot is an interesting writer because she’s one of the few women writers in the British literary canon – but she also published under a pseudonym so people thought she was male.  Even though some female writers were published at the time, she said that she wanted her books to be taken seriously, rather than treated as romance novels.  She was quite successful during her life time, and although her identity was revealed fairly early in her career as a novelist; and though she met with societal disapproval, her books remained popular.  She also spent twenty years in a common-law relationship with George Lewes, a married man, and did not have any children.   Throughout her life she seems to have reinvented herself numerous times and broken with tradition and family expectations of her. Middlemarch was published in 1871 in serial form and a few years later in one volume.

The book broadly describes provincial life and the major political issues of the day (early 1800s) but the main character is Dorothea, who is very intense but not terribly practical. She wants to devote her life to intellectual study and doing good works, and has no interest in the things that interest most other people like marriage, children, home, money, or possessions.  Her sister Celia is smarter, but not in an intellectual way.  Instead she has a greater understanding of life and people, and you can tell she’ll probably be happier for it.

One thing I’m loving about this book is how different all the characters are, and how all of them are strong and weak in different ways.  At this point in the story no character is an absolute hero or villain.  I also like that this book really takes you inside the different marriages and shows you how each couple changes over time, and how small rifts in communication can grow and cause problems.  No one in this book seems to be perfect for each other, but maybe some of them can make it work. I guess I’ll see.

So that’s it for now.  It’s taking me a long time to read so I wanted to post an “interim report.” Also wanted to share what an unexpectedly cool book this is.

And on that note, are there classics you love?  Ones you read, or reread, just for fun (or wish you had time to reread)?  Are there classics you’ve never read but have always wanted to?  Some of my favorites are The Return of the Native, Emma, Tom Jones, and David Copperfield, to start with. And on my “mean-to-read” list: Anna Karenina, The Woman in White, Bleak House, and I really ought to read something by Henry James or Theodore Dreiser or William Faulkner (I’m open to suggestions).

And now, I’m going back to my reading…

  4 comments for “In the Middle of Middlemarch (Reading the Classics Part 1)

  1. August 21, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    My friend, what you are doing here with “Middlemarch” is awesome. When I get back tonight, I will come back for a more thorough look. In the meantime, I wanted to answer your question about Hardy novels to read here for you too.

    First, an observation about Goodreads.com, the “Victorians” group really is quite wonderful. You can probably find a place to satisfy each and every one of your literary desires. Have fun exploring! I find Goodreads to be a great way to organize my library electronically, and find new books that I want to read too.

    Regarding diving into Hardy, I started with his first novel written under his own name, “Under the Greenwood Tree” (and check out the sublime BBC film adaptation too), then read “A Pair of Blue Eyes,” and then it was into the more well known novels of his canon, in order, “Far From the Madding Crowd,” “The Return of the Native,” The Mayor of Casterbridge,” “The Woodlanders,” “Tess of the d’Urbervilles,” and the towering pinnacle of Hardy’s fiction, “Jude the Obscure.” I would be remiss at not putting in a big plug for his poetry and short story fiction too! Enjoy! And do let me know how you are enjoying Hardy as you read him.

    I’ll be back later! Cheers! Chris

    • August 23, 2010 at 7:42 am

      Thanks Chris! Sounds like Blue Eyes comes first chronologically? I have that on my shelf so will start there. I’ve read a fair amount of Hardy but not for a while. Looking forward to diving back into it. I’ve been on Goodreads but haven’t seen that group so will definitely take a look.

    • August 26, 2010 at 10:41 pm

      Chris, hope you like my latest post on Middlemarch — and also check out this post: http://wp.me/pVH00-5x. Looking forward to discussing Hardy with you!

  2. August 23, 2010 at 3:00 am

    “One thing I’m loving about this book is how different all the characters are, and how all of them are strong and weak in different ways. At this point in the story no character is an absolute hero or villain.”

    Yes! I loved that too. The characters are just so human.

    As for favourite classics, well, do read The Woman in White! It’s an absolutely riveting read.

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