Author: George Eliot
No. of Pages: 889
First Released: 1871-2
Synopsis (Courtesy of B&N): “Strangled by the confining terms of her late husband’s will, an idealistic young woman throws herself into the struggle for medical reforms advocated by a visionary doctor. Considered by many to be Eliot’s finest work and one of the best novels in English ever written.”
Comments and Critiques: This was one of the massive summer reads for my online Classics Club book club. I even think I nominated it as an option, so I am admittedly a fan of this work. I first read it in 1996, back when I was supposed to be avoiding anything in English as part of the contract for my German immersion summer school program. However, this book was part of my rebellion from slogging through all things German for six weeks. Unfortunately, while I remember quite a bit from that summer, this book was not one of those things. I guess focusing on German for all but an hour a day caused me not to retain much of anything non-German related.
This book has quite the cast of characters from the snobby rich, proud poor, and blissfully ignorant middle class, good, bad, unfortunate, lucky and everything else in between. The one thing that I truly enjoy about this book is the fact that each of the key main characters grows, sometimes for the worse, throughout the novel. Those who start out overbearing redeem themselves as their stories progress, and vice versa. It really is a great novel to study human behavior.
To summarize such a tome I feel can’t be done. There are SO many subplots, relationships, and side stories that there really is not one overarching story. Part of this, in my opinion, is due to the way it was published – in weekly serial format. Another reason for this is the fact that it is just like living in a small town. The relationships, familial and otherwise, the different classes, occupations and such all have their own stories and subplots. The subtitle of the book is “A Study of Provincial Life”, and Ms. Eliot definitely succeeds in presenting provincial life in crystal clarity.
There were some in my book club who just couldn’t get into this book or did not like it. Make no mistake, this is a difficult book to get through at times. There are political and religious discussions that go on for pages and can cause the eyes to roll back into the head, but taken overall, it is well worth the struggle. The characters and the descriptions are so realistic that you can picture exactly what life was like for each of the characters. More importantly, not everyone gets a happy ending, which is as it should be.
While I wouldn’t call it the best novel written, I can see how it gets that moniker and would recommend Middlemarch to others. It is well worth the time and effort it takes to get through it, as it presents one of the most complete pictures of life in 1840s England that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.