Finished: Middlemarch

To be completely honest, guys, I came like *thisclose* to DNF-ingMiddlemarch. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that this is only the second book off my list and by the time I got to the part where I really didn’t want to keep going, I was only about 100 pages from the end (and I’ll be damned if I’m going to give up on a 800 page investment!) And the fact of the matter is that I don’t really know what it was that wasn’t getting me in to this book.

On paper, or on e-paper, as this current case may be, this book is full of stories that would be fantastic to read. I mean, a man falls in love with a brat and spends his life regretting his decision and bending to her will? Sure (even if that does mean I want to PUNCH ROSAMOND SQUARE IN THE EYE FOR THE LAST 700 PAGES OF THIS BOOK! GAH!). A love story about two people who society wants to keep apart? Sign me up? A sweet country tale of a man who makes himself better to earn a decent living and the admiration of his lady love? I’d read that one more than any of the others. But, to be honest, when all three of these stories showed up inMiddlemarch, I got nothing. Well, I shouldn’t say “nothing”. Because I really did like parts of this book! And there were reading days that seemed to just fly by with the pages. But then I would put the book down and not pick it up because every time I thought about reading it, suddenly doing the dishes would become the most important task ever. And I. Hate. Dishes.

So lets try and figure out what’s up with that, shall we? A little post-book game tape playback, if you will. I think my biggest issue that I had withMiddlemarchwas how withdrawn I felt from the characters. Maybe this is a facet of it’s being a Victorian novel? (someone with more experience/knowledge of the genre, help me out here!) But I felt like I wasn’t actually being allowed in to the character. I mean, we were told how they felt, but it was just a telling. There was something missing to make me feelwhat the characters feel. I’m not sure what that missing thing is, but that’s what part of this project is about – learning what that ‘thing’ is and how to identify it/find it! I found this was the biggest case in the scenes between Dorothea and Will, and wonder if maybe the lack of dialogue and the omniscient perspective of the narrator kind of held things back a length or two. It didn’t seem to bother me much with some of the “shallower” characters (Mary, Fred, the Farebrothers’, the Brookes, even Celia and Chettam), but when it came to the Rosamond/Lydgate or the Dorothea/Will scenes, I felt like I didn’t get quite as much out of them as I could have if I felt closer to, well, everything.

That said, I did deeply enjoy the crazy events that seemed so perfectly in place in a Victorian novel – issues of mistaken parentage, town gossip, misunderstood exchanges of money, all of that jazz. It reminded me, in places, of some of the twists we see in Dickensian works. I was as much one the edge of my seat as I could be when Raffles was sick in bed at Bulstrode’s, and knowing how much was riding on his death, and knowing how things would look to the public once Lydgate was involved, it was truly a social-comedy delight to see the town gossips take the matter and run with it. Maybe that’s a bit cruel, considering this gossip was responsible for driving two good men (alright, one good man and one middling-to-fair man) out of the realm of decent public opinion, but to be honest – it was more fun to see how they’d deal with it than it would be to offer them sympathy! And ah, the joys of literature – the ability to have those feelings without worrying about hurting the feelings of real-life people!

At the end of the day, I am glad that I was able to get through Middlemarch. Not only because it’s another book off the list, but because it’s teaching me how to look for the things that are missing, how to name the things I’m looking for in a great reading experience – and while I’ve been blogging and talking about books for a while, I’ve never actually slowed down and really looked at those two skills.

Now, I’m thrilled to say, I’m moving on rather nicely through Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind which, to be honest, I had a hard time not reading while I was trying to finish Middlemarch. I’m only a few chapters in but, to be honest, the sweeping nature and the lazy Southern tone of the book are really what I need right now, as spring has set in and spring break has started! And you, darling fellow reader? What book is putting that spring in your step? Any big reading plans, as spring breaks hit nation-wide?


On Marriage, Money, and Mortification

*I had this entire post written up, ready to go, I hit ‘published’, and apparently WordPress decided that I didn’t need to actually publish the post, and it was all erased. needless to say – irritated.*

So by now my reading of Middlemarch has brought me through page 700, a bit past the start of Book Eight, “Two Temptations”. And damn – people in Middlemarch need to quit marrying out of duty/family/baby’s from the cradle. It seems like the only people in the book who are actually in any kind of healthy relationship are Mary and Fred, and that’s probably just because they aren’t actually in any kind of relationship, but rather are merely in the phase of promising and dreaming of a relationship. Seeing how that phase worked out for everyone else in the novel, I don’t necessarily think that’s a promising sign for these two.

I want to start by addressing the parts of the book that I have no intention of addressing: namely, anything having to do with the Reform, Mr. Brooke’s running for Parliament, and anything having to do with general politics or agriculture of any kind. While I can appreciate why Eliot included these bits in her novel – not only do they serve to create a fuller picture of the Provencal life she paints, but I imagine this was an issue on the minds of many writers at the time – let’s get it straight. These parts be BORING. So boring. Like, eyes glazing and skipping over the pages boring. Which I’m trying REALLY hard to prevent, because I want to give this book the attention it deserves on it’s first read through, but it’s hard when these huge paragraphs (or God forbid whole chapters) pop up. So lets get on to talking about what I think is the heart of the novel: the relationships between the primary sextet (which means, to me, Fred, Mary, Dorothea, Will, Rosamond, and Lydgate).

Oh, Fred and Mary. I think I like these two best of all. They seem to be the most…rational, at least. I love the way that Fred seems to really grow up throughout the course of the novel, and that everything he does really does seem to be for Mary and their possible future together. I think that Mary is an admirable character, namely in the fact that she’s so much less of a sycophant than so many of the other girls in the novel! I’m sure that it helps that she has her own source of income and the fact that her family isn’t bat-shit crazy, but I think it’s refreshing to see regardless. I have a good feeling that these two will eventually end up together, but I hope it’s not until after Mary gives in to Fred a little bit and Fred has learned even more to take responsibility for himself and his future.

Speaking of futures, this brings us rather nicely to a discussion of Dorothea and Will, definitely the saddest and most tragically wonderful couple in the story. I feel like if you were going to point at one relationship and say ‘See, totes Victorian’, it would be Dodo and Will (does anyone automatically think Dodo bird whenever Celia uses this particular endearment? If you didn’t, sorry – bet you will now!) I mean, there couldn’t be more things standing in the way of these two being together – Casaubon’s stupidpants will, Dorothea’s skewed sense of loyalty, Will’s pride, the opinions of the townsfolk towards Will, which is totally of the

Condescending Wonka

variety. It makes me sad for the two of them, honestly, but it also makes me even more sure that they’ll totally end up together and happy and somehow Dorothea won’t lose all her new money in the bargain. Also, did anyone else pick up on a bit of the Anne/Mr. Wentworth vibe when Will does all his talking about making himself better and securing a better position all for Dodo’s sake? I can only hope that their ending is that romantic!

And, lastly, I want to talk about Rosamond and Lydgate. OH MY DEAR SWEET SWEATPANTS, ROSAMOND. I thought we were cool – I was kind of digging on the sweet and innocent dreamer routine you had going. And then you started talking more and you quickly went from this:

to this:

First World Problems

I mean, seriously. This girl might just be the whiniest character I’ve ever run across in literature. And there’s poor Lydgate, in a marriage he wasn’t planning on, trying his hardest to get by even after the people of Middlemarch are just, like *eyerollatthenewdoctor*, and Rosamond just keeps running him in to debt and taking silly pregnant horseback rides and carrying secret desires to galavant with Will and then, when Lydgate has the nerve to ask her to tone down the spending, she goes behind his back to his family like a total Smarmerton! WAY NOT COOL. But then. Oh, but then. There is this:

“‘I have only wanted to prevent you from hurrying us into wretchedness without any necessity,’ said Rosamond, the tears coming again from a softened feeling now that her husband had softened. ‘It is so very hard to be disgraced here among all the people we know, and to live in such a miserable way. I wish I had died with the baby.” (p.718)

I MEAN COME ON?!?!?!?! Who above the age of six responds like that?!

Anyway. Needless to say, I’ve about had with Rosamond, that silly twit of a girl, and I’m not sure I can take much more of her in the 300-some pages I’ve got left! In personal news, things with the wedding are rolling right along, although I just got bummer news today that the local farmstead in my town (where we were hoping to have the reception) is booked for our date, so now I’m just trying to scramble a bit and find another place! I’m feeling way under the weather today, and what with a late night last night (including some rather silly, unexplainable issues with WordPress) I think just about the only thing I can handle today are the last few chapters of The Magician’s Nephew, the first chronicle in the Narnia series, which is the small book that’s been keeping me company all week. What about you? What book’s been holding your hand and getting you by this week?

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?

Middlemarch: Background and Context

 George Eliot was the male pen-name for female Victorian writer Mary Anne Evans, born November 22nd, 1918 and died December 22nd, 1880. Eliot said that she used a male pen name in for her work to be taken seriously. Given the opinions of women writers at the time (or, you know, all that fun anti-women grumbling that was popular among so many of the Victorians), its not entirely surprising that she would choose to do so. She is the author of seven novels, including two others that I’m planning on reading for this challenge: Silas Marner (1861), and Mill on the Floss (1860). Other works include Adam Bede (1859) and Daniel Deronda (1876). She was a writer of the realism school, meaning a great many of her novels are about depicting people as they are (including a great knack for deeper psychology on the part of Eliot) without many frills or interpretation. Realism is described by the always trusty (mmhmm duh most definitely) Wikipedia as being a literary and artistic school that existed in contrast to romanticism (which, as opposed to being all ‘this is how people are, isn’t that fascinating because it’s real life no matter how boring’, was far more ‘isn’t life pretty and grand and it’ll only get prettier and grander when we realize how pretty and grand all people can be on the inside with their prettiness and grandness’), and started to really get it’s ball rolling right around the time of the Industrial Revolution. From what I’ve manged to glance at so far in Middlemarch, we’ll have to see just how tasty I find this ‘people as they are’ representation, although I’ve heard nothing but delicious little niceties about the novel from those whose literary opinions I hold so dear.

(that’s her, the darling Eliot herself, channeling a George Lucas princess long before the Jedi himself)

As for Middlemarch itself, the novel is one

set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during the period 1830–32. It has multiple plots with a large cast of characters, and in addition to its distinct though interlocking narratives it pursues a number of underlying themes, including the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism and self-interest, religion and hypocrisy, political reform, and education. The pace is leisurely, the tone is mildly didactic (with an authorial voice that occasionally bursts through the narrative),[1] and the canvas is very broad.

Doesn’t that just sound thrilling? To be honest, while that description might not sound like literary adrenaline (‘the tone is mildly didactic’? read: boring. ‘the pace is leisurely’? read: huge), there are a number of characters who do sound particularly interesting. I’m interested to see how things play out for Dorothea, in all of her shiny-faced love and ‘squee’-ing love for Mr. Casaubon; I also feel myself having a soft spot for Rosamond, who is described as being naively innocent. Other than that, I do feel like there is one thing that’s worth mentioning in terms of better understanding where Middlemarch is coming from.

The Reform Act of 1832 was an act put forward by the Whigs, one that proposed great changes to the structure of the electoral systems of both England and Wales. As Trusty Wikipedia tells us, it’s an act that

granted seats in the House of Commons to large cities that had sprung up during the Industrial Revolution, and took away seats from the “rotten boroughs“—those with very small populations. The Act also increased the number of individuals entitled to vote, increasing the size of the electorate from about 400,000 to 650,000, and allowing a total of one out of six adult males to vote, in a population of some 14 million.

Needless to say, the bill faced opposition, most strongly from the House of Lords, the counterpoint to the House of Commons in the British parliamentary system. However, at the end of the day, it was a reform that led to a series of other reforms through Britain, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland throughout the 19th century.

In terms of the effects on Middlemarch, from what I can tell so far is that the Dorothea’s uncle, Mr. Brooke, is a politician or local religious figure of some kind who came down on the Whig side of the reform, setting him apart from some of the landed gentry surrounding him in Middlemarch. Doing a bit of research in to the reform has been a little help, but needless to say it’s not the political commentary that I’m looking forward to the most about truly diving in to the novel!

I’m excited to truly get a start on the first book of the new project, and despite the fact that I feel like this post is slightly more negative than I would have intended, I don’t think I could have picked a better book to start with than Middlemarch! For those of you who have read it – what did you think? Any words of wisdom before I start the adventure? And for those that haven’t – any intention to?