“Scenes which make vital changes in our neighbours’ lot are but the background of our own, yet, like a particular aspect of the fields and trees, they become associated for is with the epochs of our own history, and make a part of that unity which lies in the selection of our keenest consciousness.”
After following a cast of characters halfway through the book, I’ve become completely immersed in each of their stories. I can speak from experience, one may wonder why an author has so many characters in the beginning (O!M!G! nothing is worse than the character overload I experienced in W&P). Well presented and carrying their own narratives with ease, Eliot realistically sets the scene and tone in the lives of the people in Middlemarch.
Here’s some thoughts on Book 4, Three Love Problems (appropriately titled)
-1- Dorothea & Mr. Casaubon, married, are worlds apart from each other: Dorothea frustrated with his coldness and resistance to allow her to help him achieve a meaningful mark in his religious profession. Casaubon who, “all through his life, had been trying not to admit even to himself sores of self-doubt and jealousy.” These poisonous qualities continue to drive him further away from any possibility of happiness, when dear Dorothea is eager to help him in whatever way she can. It’s almost as if he’s afraid of something, well maybe someone (his cousin Ladislaw).
These people are married and have not had ONE meaningful discussion to communicate their expectations. Dorothea and all her expectations of marriage to Casaubon continue to entrap her in a prison of sadness & disappointment. “She was blind, you see, to many things obvious to others – – likely to tread in the wrong places, as Celia warned her; yet her blindness to whatever did not lie in her own pure purpose carried her safely by the side of precipices where vision would have been perilous with fear.”
-2- Rosamond & Mr. Lydgate – Unlike the Casaubons, Rosamond has fixed her sights on marrying the new doctor in Middlemarch, although we learned early on he never intended to marry so that he could concentrate on helping others in his medical practice, but falls in love with Rosamond. Lydgate loves her, but many in Rosamond’s family warn against the marriage because Lydgate has simple expectations and wants to lead a simple life. Rosamond is keen on an opportunity to live a life of comfort and luxury with hopes that her husband will make some scientific discoveries that will place her in a station above the simple town of Middlemarch.
-3- Mary Garth & Fred Vincy – Fred has been in love with Mary since the books beginning but Mary has wisely discouraged Fred from forming any attachment to her. “Fred must leave odd being idle.” Amazing that everyone except Fred can see the necessity of him making something of his life, instead of waiting (as he had been for an inheritance). I do wonder what, if anything will come of this long time friendship, will it be the one relationship in Middlemarch that results in really love and happiness?
I’m usually not one to decide if a book is a 5 🌟 read until I turn the last page. But what Eliot has crafted in this 800+ page book has been memorable and remarkable. To keep you vested in the lives of all of these characters (I’m waiting for more on Mr. Rigg and how things will unfold from Mr. Featherstone’s surprise to everyone).
How do you know when you’ve read a 5 star book? What is the criteria for a book to be outstanding in your opinion?