Middlemarch by George Eliot – Parts One and Two

So, as you may have reckoned, I chose to go with Middlemarch by George Eliot as the first book off my list! I’m about 250 pages in, and, while its taken me a bit to get my mind back in the cadence of reading Victorian fiction, I’m finally starting to really love these characters, and am glad that I have over seven hundred pages left to follow them through.

For those of you who haven’t read the book, the first two portions of the novel introduce us to a number of the lovely and quirky townsfolk who run around the town of Middlemarch. The novel opens with Dorothea, a girl who doesn’t care for frills or jewels, but only to read and study things of a religious and dogmatic nature. Her sister, Celia is, as seems to always be the case, described as pretty much the exact opposite, and for some reason seems to be in constant reverence and awe of her sister, even going so far at times as to keep herself from speaking in order to avoid potentially being judged by Dorothea.

As the novel opens, Dorothea is being pursued by two suitors, the horse-riding and boot-licking Sir James Chettam and the “too long with the dead” Casaubon who, despite having a name that reminds one of the delicious, glazey, billion calorie delight that is Cinnabon, is remarkably un-glazey in his personality. Pretty much ever time he speaks, or looks at someone, or breathes, all he’s saying is “listen to this vague scholarly nonsense that is not only hard to follow but is completely un-topical and out of date by at least a hundred years”. That’s the thing with Casaubon – he’s a scholar who has no interest in contemporary scholarship. Instead, he wraps himself up in the academic debates of the past generation. He’s boring and cold and old and just, well, dowdy. And Dorothea eats it up with a spoon! Meanwhile, Sir James is all “I love you, please let me give you ponies and puppies and don’t you just love me because I love you”, but Dorothea will have none if it, trying to push him towards her sister instead. Dorothea and Casaubon marry, and it’s only after they leave for Rome that Dorothea realizes that Casaubon is cold and old and dowdy, and that his great scholarly work is likely never going to come to be much of anything, and it makes her pull one of these:

Luckily Will Ladislaw, the nephew that Casaubon has taken in to his reluctant custody, is also in Rome studying art and he’s there to keep Dorothea entertained, much to Casaubon’s chagrin, because needless to say said nephew is also young and attractive and romantic.

While all this is going on, we also meet the dear Rosamond and her brother Fred Vincy, and Dr. Lydgate, a newly arrived physician in Middlemarch, and the ways in which their narrative all interact. Dr. Lydgate fancies Rosamond, but doesn’t want to marry because he’s so interested in bettering both himself and his profession, all the while Rosamond is insipid and shallow and hopelessly in love with Dr. Lydgate after he spends a great deal of time at the house taking care of Fred when he catches fever; meanwhile Fred is a bit of a Dandy who borrows money from Mr. Garth, the father of the girl he fancies (Mary Garth) and then can’t pay it back, facing a bit of rude awakening when it must inform the family. Of course, on the side of ALL OF THIS is stuff concerning local politics, running for Parliament, the Reform Bill, and I’m sure some characters that I’ve barely met but will become vitally important. Needless to say, this is one of those SAME BOOK, MANY PLOTS varieties of literature.

I’M SO SORRY THERE IS SO MUCH SUMMARY HERE! For serious, massive summarizing is something I generally can’t stand doing. But Eliot has so much going on here that I feel like I have to bring you guys with me, or my thoughts won’t make much sense.

So far, I’m having a slow time getting in to what’s going on here. I mean, it’s finally starting to pick up a bit, but it’s taken about the first 250 pages to see how these plots and characters are going to come together. All the little side plots are kind of hard to follow (especially those relating to politics, Parliament, the reform, and the blabbidy-bloos that surround all of that) and the meandering pace is forcing me to slow down and really follow who we’re talking about, whose related to who, and why its all important to remember. However, such a slow pace isn’t necessarily a bad thing!

Slowing down has allowed me to get to know these amazing, independent characters that I expect Eliot really wanted to be the focus of the novel to begin with. And rest assured – these characters are human. Each one of them is flawed, preoccupied, shortsighted, and a dreamer (expect maybe Casaubon, but he’s basically a walking corpse anyway). It’s nice to have Lydgate’s perspective to read through, as he’s also a newcomer to the town, so I feel like his voice echoes a bit of the readers mind, as he tries to figure out the social and town relationships and politics. I’m not sure Eliot intended to do this, but I sure hope she did, because it’s working out rather perfectly that way. I am also having a wonderful time trying to figure out how I feel about Rosamond – part of me wants to hate her for being so damn daft, but the other part of me can remember being a girl, doodling hears and ‘Mrs.____’ on my notebooks, who wasn’t concerned with much else outside of what immediately effected me. She’s sympathetic, but, to be honest, getting to be grating. And I can only assume it doesn’t go up from here.

Probably the character I’m getting to love the most (and this should likely come as no shock) is Dorothea. In the beginning, I could understand a bit of what she was feeling for Casaubon – after all, I’m a girl who went *squeeing* after many a high school teacher and older man myself. At the same time, HOW BADLY DID I NOT WANT THEM TO GET MARRIED?!?! I think that Dorothea is already developing a bad habit of selling herself short and not giving herself enough credit, being far to willing to get lost in Casaubon’s goals as opposed to her own. Then again, after the way he treated her in Rome, and the good time she had with Will Ladislaw, who know’s what can happen in those last 700 pages or so!

WHEW! That’s a lot. Sorry it’s so much – I promise the next post won’t be so much summary! Look forward to a new Friday tradition I’m hoping to start, premiering this Friday, and over the weekend I’m planning on stopping back in with another Middlemarch update! How about you – what are you reading? What are you loving or loathing about it?

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