Thread: Literary Middlemarch by George Eliot
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Old 08-20-2012, 10:26 PM   #20
sun surfer
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I finished reading today. What an incredible book! I loved it.

The book that it most reminded me of from what I've read is War and Peace. This may seem an odd comparison at first but aside from long lengths, they both present a huge cast of characters with multiple plots and with both you have a sense of visiting with these various people for awhile, rather than a specific story with a beginning and end, but in addition to all that, it is the perceptiveness of both authors to human natures of many kinds that is most striking.

In a way, I kind of see them as a similar type of masterpiece, only one from a more masculine perspective and the other from a more feminine perspective.

Separately, I find it interesting that Tolstoy epically used a rather larger setting and historical event to mould his story around but that Eliot accomplished something similar with this tiny sleepy English town.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fantasyfan
...First there is the sheer intellectual brilliance of George Eliot. One is always aware of a powerful mind organizing and controlling the vast canvas of this novel....
This is what impresses me as well. To have a mind that can not only handle such an expanse but control it with attention to detail and complex motives such as with Middlemarch is a form of genius in my opinion.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fantasyfan
...But for me an even more impressive quality is her ability to create sympathetic, complex characters whose belief systems and social attitudes may vary significantly from her own. This ability to focus with a compassionate understanding is something I find very moving.
I agree; she has such an acute yet extremely well-rounded grasp of human nature. Perhaps it doesn't include every type of nature known to man through the ages, but still there's a remarkably vast scope for a book about a small English town in the early 19th century.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bookworm_Girl View Post
I found an inflation calculator on the Bank of England website. In rough numbers, 100 pounds for goods & services in 1829 is similar to 9000 pounds in 2011 (or $14000 USD).
Thanks for that! I wish I'd read it earlier! I was wondering about that all through the book, but never got around to trying to look it up.

Just using an example from the end of the book since it's very fresh in my mind, Dorothea's yearly sum that she and Will were to live on after marriage was 700 pounds, which would equal 63,000 pounds (or 98,000 dollars USD) in 2011, and that's not including any salary of Will's. Perhaps that's not "rich", but it's funny to hear Celia trying to convince Dorothea that she won't be able to stand being "poor". But I suppose when you take the more rigid class structures of that period into account and Dorothea's huge change in social status as a result it makes more sense.

Quote:
Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
One of Middlemarch's claims to fame is that it was the first real example of what's called the "multi-plot novel", where a book has multiple, interwoven, stories, which all converge at the end.
Interesting. All through the book I was reminded of War and Peace, as mentioned earlier, and so, reading your post now, I was curious and went to see how long after Middlemarch it was published. Turns out Tolstoy actually beat Eliot to it, by a few years. So, if there are no others before, wouldn't that make War and Peace the first real example of the "multi-plot novel"? I don't think the major plots in War and Peace are wrapped up as neatly as they are in Middlemarch by the end but otherwise it seems to fit.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fantasyfan View Post
...Another interesting point made by David Carroll in the pb copy I mentioned is that in the MS of the novel Eliot quoted a line from Goethe's Faust at the beginning and the end of the story:

"Alas! our actions equally with our sufferings, clog the course of our lives".

She deleted this in the final printed form but Carroll says that it became her own motto. I think it conveys a sense of the painful nature of life clearly evident in much of the book which I believe focuses so much on the responsibility we bear for every choice we make and every vision we embrace.
Interesting; thanks for that! I wonder why she took it out.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bookpossum View Post
This is my first book with the LBC, as I have been meaning to read "Middlemarch" for some time, and this is a great way to do it....
Welcome!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bookworm_Girl View Post
...I like the way that Eliot is able to create sympathy with the reader for the various characters despite their vices or weaknesses. For example, one is able to identify with both Dorothea and Mr. Casaubon about how their marriage does not live up to either of their expectations, thereby making both of them melancholy in the situation.
One thing I enjoyed in addition to this was how, with certain characters, she would at first present them from an outsider's perspective, almost inviting us to dislike them and not feel any sympathy for them, and then later on at the proper moment, would basically say "Ha! You think you know this person so well to judge them, but now let's delve deeper" and invariably challenge our views. I find this true with Casaubon, Bulstrode and Rosamond, among others.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bookpossum View Post
I suppose that is really what makes this book such a great one - that all the characters are flawed and human and there is something to sympathise with in each of them - nothing is black or white, good or bad. Just so many subtle layers there to discover and appreciate...
Yes, I agree wholeheartedly! Shades of grey.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bookpossum View Post
...But can we be too harsh in our judgement of Rosamond? She was a product of her family, and of being petted and indulged all her life simply because she was beautiful. She was shallow, vain and manipulative because she thought she was the centre of the universe and deserved whatever she wanted. But she did do the right thing by Dorothea and Ladislaw when it could all have ended in grief, so she did respond to Dorothea's goodness and generosity of spirit...
I think there was something to be said that even the most selfish can be moved to selflessness themselves when affected by true compassion such as Dorothea's.

And though I never thought I would sympathise for Rosamond through most of the book, Eliot by the last third or so really made me feel for her shattered naive illusions and situation.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bookpossum View Post
We are left to assume that Ladislaw and Dorothea had a happy marriage. I suppose we could feel that Dorothea should have remained single and done "good works" with the wealth, but how free was she to do that in reality, given the status of women at the time? At least she was able to decide to marry him despite the disapproval of various people.
Just today after finishing I have been reading around the internet about Middlemarch and am surprised at the slight controversy with peoples' opinions on Dorothea's fate.

I understand from a feminist point of view being dissatisfied with her choice, but it was her choice and she's not perfect. I do not think Eliot should be criticised for ending the book with a questionable choice by Dorothea, and in fact I respect her for doing so.

However, my thought on the matter is that the view they are taking - that Dorothea would have been more correct and empowered in not being with Ladislaw so as to use Casaubon's money for her good "plans" - is not the only one. There is also the love story between Will and Dorothea. I think choosing love is a good ending for her. We can surmise that there's a good chance that she was happy because of it the rest of her life.

Certainly the final vision of her as "hidden away" with a somewhat ordinary politician husband isn't the happiest for us to read about but who's to say it isn't happy for her?

To refuse Will's love would've probably meant an ache in heart the rest of her life, and loneliness with no future husband or children. And she had already half compromised in her visions of good deeds because she didn't have enough to do what she truly had wanted to do with the new village and was settling instead on helping with the hospital, which was not really necessary, except for to help Lydgate keep his position, since it could be folded in with the other hospital.

So to me, I see her choice as completely correct anyway. I do warn that I can tend to be a hopeless romantic at times, but love is important. Who's to say she's selfish and submissive in this act? Perhaps somewhat selfish, but only in a naturally human way, and only when judged against her saintly actions before, and only when it is also considered that she is now taking it upon herself to help her husband and future children.

As for submissive, I don't really see it. Will treated her as an equal, and even put her on a pedestal, and I would think there's a good chance he continued that in marriage. She didn't have a way of having a profession herself so her only choices were refuse love and use her money to support a hospital when it could go on without that support, as she had already decided, or take love and support a husband and children. For the time and given her opportunities, I don't see how choosing a husband to love would seem so submissive. I feel it was a happy ending for her.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bookpossum View Post
...Fred grew on me as the story unfolded, I suppose as he started to take some responsibility for his actions - I was appalled by him to start with. But then he too was a product of his indulgent family, and he was decent, as you say, fantasyfan. And he had the sense to recognise Mary's goodness and strength, rather than taking off after a pretty face because she was severe with him.
I think I had a soft spot for Fred because I wanted him to do good and end up happy, seeing the spark of goodness in him through his early tribulations.

As to Mary, I quite thought through the book that perhaps she may have been modelled after Eliot herself. When at the end she published a book it reinforced my notion.
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