Thought I’d start a new series about what I’m reading each month – although I may still be reading this book next month and, let’s face it, the month after – because George Eliot’s Middlemarch is l-o-o-o-ng!
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not hard going or dull in any way. It’s just that weighs in at a hefty 785 pages and my reading time is limited these days, usually to about 10 minutes each night before I look at the clock and realize that it’s fast approaching midnight.
So, a few words about Middlemarch! It’s considered by some to be the best novel written in the English language and I should mention that this is the third time I am reading it. Yes, you read that correctly. What can I say, it’s just so fricking good! The first time I read it was when I was studying it as an English Literature undergraduate as part of a Victorian literature course. Now I’m just reading it for pleasure. 🙂
Its length hints at the richness of plot: the story follows five or so main characters and their intertwining fates over several years, all in the small English parish of Middlemarch. There’s Dorothea, young and idealistic, fired up, not only with ideas about how she can better the world, but with a love of God that verges on the mystical. There’s the new doctor in town, Lydgate who, despite his brilliance and ambition, makes a bad decision which sets him on the road to ruin. Then there’s the beautiful and self-centered Rosamund Vincy, the intense artist Will Ladislaw and the amusing pairing of Fred and Mary, childhood sweethearts who you just can’t wait to see get married at the end.
The characters are fascinating and it’s all thanks to Eliot’s writing. I remember reading Middlemarch for the first time and being struck by how real these characters are, how contradictory. There are no heroes or villains here and, though there’s one character that I found myself hating passionately at certain points in the novel (I can get very emotionally involved in books!), Eliot always shows us the characters’ virtues and flaws equally so that it is hard to completely withhold sympathy from anyone. When scientists claim that reading literary fiction improves empathy, Middlemarch is the book I think of. I actually think that reading it has helped me be more understanding and less judgmental of others.
Have you read Middlemarch? Or do you also struggle to find time to read? We’d love to hear in the comments!