What more can I possibly add to decades upon decades of criticism about George Eliot's masterwork, Middlemarch, one of the best novels ever written? Nothing original, I'd have to say. All I think I can do is comment upon why I enjoyed the novel so very much. Set against the "provincial community" of Middlemarch, England, a group of intertwining stories create a pastoral-like landscape peopled by the (somewhat) upper classes. This isn't the territory of The Duchess per se, but more an extension of Austen's kind, good, solid people from good, solid backgrounds trying to better their lives.
Eliot's broad strokes and epic storylines hold all the characters in check. There's Dorothea, a beautiful girl with a mind of her own who marries poorly and is then trapped into a terrible codicil by her ridiculous husband, Casaubon. Dorothea's somewhat silly sister Celia, their Uncle Brooke, a landowner, and his "pet project," Will Ladislaw, a young man of great curls and not much else, who is a cousin of Dorothea's husband. There's the doctor, Lydgate, his wife Rosamund (silly, silly girl), her brother Fred and his beloved, Mary (will she ever accept his hand in marriage; will he ever stop being foolish?). And then all the parents and rectors and other doctors and clergymen and their mothers and aunts and so on and so on. Goodness, their stories intertwine almost as much as their bloodlines, indeed. And it's amazing to me how the author kept it all straight. The ways in which the novel progresses, the scope of the story, and her consistent and unwavering narrative voice all combine for an utterly delightful (there's really no other way of putting it) reading experience.
But what I enjoyed most about the book is Eliot's heightened, almost philosophical prose. Her pages of snappish, witty dialogue, the lovely way she has of creating a character by broad, sweeping strokes and then allows the reader to get to know them even better as the 800+ pages trundle on like a good walk through the countryside. Happiness finds some people, but not all of the characters. Distressing, even traumatic events happen, but it all works out in a way as it ultimately should, with grand love stories and well-intentioned elders making way for the next generation to carry on. Leave many hours in front of you if you want to tackle this book -- it's perfect for long days with nothing to do except read so your imagination can picture the dresses, the landscape, Ladislaw's curls, the horses, Raffles, and everything else in Eliot's world. It's a book for the dreamers among us, that's for sure.
READING CHALLENGES: Another one for the 1001 Books challenge, of which I am going to come in woefully incomplete before year's end...