Oh, please stay, and let me give you some tea.
Be warned, you will need several cups, perhaps several pots of tea when you decide to embark on the journey, the experience of reading and appreciating this piece of classic Victorian literature. I finished this book months ago and I’ve struggled to summarize or should I say, succinctly formulate my thoughts for one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Life in the fictional provincial town of Middlemarch begins with young Dorothea Brooke and her sister Celia who are under the guardianship of their uncle. Dorothea’s thoughts and feelings are not worn on her sleeve, she’s a young woman with deep feelings, expressing without reservation her thoughts and opinions. She is not the typical complacent woman of her day. She has an intense desire to help others by engaging in meaningful work and looks for opportunities to do so. But as many novels of this time period depict, women are not encouraged to nurture any ambitious thoughts outside of marriage and family.
Dorothea has become infatuated with the idea of how much she can learn and how purposeful her life will become when she marries a much older clergyman, Edward Casaubon. It becomes evident early in the novel that this marriage will not be what Dorothea envisioned (dreamed) of when she accepts Mr. Casaubon’s dry letter of proposal. Celia tells her sister plainly:
You always see what nobody else sees; it is impossible to satisfy you; yet you never see what is quite plain. That’s your way, Dodo.
How true this proved to be! By the end of Book 1, Dorothea and Mr. Casaubon are married and Dorothea’s expectations for her marriage change from bright and hopeful anticipation to cavernous, despairing and if I might add, depressing. Dorothea and Mr. Casaubon don’t seem well suited for each other and could not be more different than oil and water or should I say dust and spring flowers? (If you read the book you know why I said dust).
We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, ‘Oh, nothing!’ Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hearts – not to hurt others.
Another young woman, Rosamond Vincy, daughter of Mayor Vincy, is ambitiously looking for her opportunity to escape Middlemarch. Mr. Tertius Lydgate, a modest doctor, hopes to live simply and help others by means of his medial practice in Middlemarch. He unintentionally becomes smitten with the beautiful Rosamond and as in the case of Dorothea and Mr. Casaubon, their goals and priorities don’t seem to make them a compatible couple.
Fred Vincy, Rosamond’s brother, is in love with their childhood friend Mary Garth, but Mary won’t indulge or entertain Fred’s declaration of love. She’s content to work hard and help her parents care for her younger siblings. She’s not charmed by his looks or her own feelings. She encourages Fred to give up his idle, lazy lifestyle and do something meaningful with his life. In Mary we see a young woman not easily swayed by feelings and emotions or hopeful wishes of what Fred might be if she married him. I don’t blame Mary one bit for telling Fred to move along, especially at one point in the book where he disappoints Mary (and me too). Eliot presents an array of complex female characters and I couldn’t help but compare and contrast things about all of their personalities.
There are several other characters in the book that I won’t discuss at length: Mr.Bulstrode, Fred and Rosamond’s uncle, Will Ladislaw, a relative of Mr.Casaubon (who Casaubon is jealous), an ailing Mr. Featherstone (Mary works for him), and the Garths (Mary’s parents). Eliot’s cast of characters, their circumstances, their lives, choices and challenges, were so multifaceted and humanly honest, it becsme very easy to be swept up into their lives, peering into their thoughts and emotional struggles. Each character offered some nuance, contributing something to the story, I can’t imagine any of them being left out. The opportunity for more comparisons and contrasts in personalities, relationships, decisions and the consequences abound. I seriously had a book hangover when I turned the final page and I finished this book nearly 3 months ago. *Sigh*
I lived in Middlemarch and could easily return if anyone cares to stop by and discuss with me. I shared a halfway point review while reading; what can I say, the thoughts came tumbling out and I didn’t say nearly as much as I could have. Plus one of my favorite blog posts to date was on how Middlemarch was the book that convinced me to start a discussion on annotating books. I happily complied.
In conclusion, Middlemarch is one of the best books I’ve read this year. If you have not read it, I highly recommend you make plans to change that sooner than later. Although Rosamond had her flaws, I give her credit for recognizing the importance of reading great books.
She found time to read the best books and even the second best.
Just a few of the beautiful quotes from the book to give you a slice of the breath and beauty of this book.
Dorothea, was like the inheritance of a fortune. What others might have called the futility of his passion, made an additional delight for his imagination…
Trouble is so hard to bear, is it not? – – How can we live and think that any one has trouble – – piercing trouble – – and we could help them, a day never really try?
Life would be no better than candlelight tinsel and daylight rubbish if our spirits were not touched by what has been, to issues of longing and constancy.