Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, October 6, 2014

Middlemarch A Study of a Provincial Town by George Eliot (1871 to 1872)

"What do I think of Middlemarch? asked the great American poet Emily Dickinson. "What do I think of glory?" And Virginia Woolf called it "The magnificent book, which with all its imperfections, is one of the few English books written for grown-up people". Many of what Woolf thought were imperfections are in fact strengths. It is possible to argue that Middlemarch is the greatest English novel."  A. S. Byatt

Middlemarch by Gerorge Eliot (1819 to 1880, England) is universally regarded as one of the greatest novels of all times, perhaps the pinnacle of the Victorian novel.  I am so glad to have at last read this magnificent work.   I recently learned that Eliot was among Proust's favorite English writers. In an article in The Guardian by A. S. Byatt she says that Eliot learned much from Balzac and I can see that.  I think it may help in understanding this novel to have been married for a longtime.  Book bloggers often talk about whether a book is part of the canon or not. ( I think the notion of a literary canon was first created by American professors at Columbia and Harvard but the meaning of the term has expanded way beyond that and has or was a subject of dispute among academics.). No one could deny Middlemarch a place near the top of the canon.   It is a must read classic for all literary autodidacts.  

I will just make a few random observations on the book (for homework help seekers, just go to Wikepedia and copy the whole article on Middlemarch and turn it in as your work).

I think it is important to see it as the full title would have us do, as a study of a small town in the Midlands of England in around 1830 to 1832.  It is a portrait of life in the imaginary town of Middlemarch.    It is intensely focused on marriages, the place of women in society, the importance of the clergy, and social structure. There are deep themes about the nature of love.  It  focuses on relatively affluent, upper middle class people, more on women than men   It does not rise to the highest levels of society like Proust and Zola and it does not take us into the lives of the very poor like Dickens or Hardy (meaning most people at the time) or the decadent rich.  There are no brothels or factories, no opera parties, no famous artists or courtesans. Eliot is a very close observer of a particular segment of society.    Balzac soars higher and sinks lower in his depictions of life.  There are didactic narrative  intrusions but if Tolstoy can do it so can Eliot.

It is an exciting book, you want to see what will happen next.  There are lots of minor characters and several plot lines.   

Please share your experience with Eliot with us.

My post on Silas Marner

I hope to read The Mill on the Floss in 2015.  Proust loved it.  


Violet said...

I re-read Middlemarch at the beginning of the year and really enjoyed the experience. You will like Mill on the Floss, for sure.

ds said...

Middlemarch is, hands down, my favorite 19th century novel (over Dickens, over Balzac), probably because of its focus on a woman--Dorothea--the differing natures of marriage, women's roles, love, the constrictions of a small town, etc. Your point about the limitations of Eliot's focus is acute and well taken, but within those limitations (she wrote what she knew) she is brilliant.

Suko said...

Mel, I read Middlemarch many years ago, in college. I am definitely overdue to reread it! I'm nearly positive that I can find my battered (paperback) copy on one of my book shelves. Thank you for inspiring me to look for it, and hopefully read it again.

Heidi’sbooks said...

I have this on my TBR list--I so want to read it. Now how is it that we don't read the books we really want to, but end up reading crazy things.

Mel u said...

Violet- thanks for your comment. I am very much looking forward to Middlemsrch

ds. Within her scope Eliot is sublime

Suko. I think you might see Middlemsrch differently now.

Heidi's Books. I agree exactly,