Middlemarch – Review

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.

Published by booksbythecup

Lover of good books and tea

22 thoughts on “Middlemarch – Review

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed and stopped by. It was a lovely cover I picked up at a great price. I have been considering getting a nice Penguin clothbound edition but since I annotated this one I would like to review my notes when I read it again.

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    1. I love long books. I actually read it as a buddy read and we considered it over an 8 week period with weekly discussions. I didn’t find it hard to read at all. Sometimes with longer classics it’s good to switch back and forth between the book and audio.

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  1. Did you feel like Dorothea’s sister could have taken on the role Mary Garth did? I read this book about 6 years ago, and I did like it, but I also felt some of the characters could have been consolidated. I may not be remembering it well. Basically, tell me more of your thoughts on Cecelia, please.

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    1. I can’t believe I just remembered I was working on a response for you and forgot to post. 🙈

      I don’t think the characters of Mary and Celia could have been consolidated. Neither are primary characters but their relationship with some of the other characters give us some things to think about. Eliot manages the characters well and although there are many I think both played their role well and gave me something to think about. (no one could possibly have more characters than War and Peace, right? but I digress).

      Celia as Dorothea’s sister would tell her the truth in a matter of fact way although Dorothea couldn’t see things from the perspective of her sister (when she got something in her head she was determined). Celia seemed content for life to just go on with ease, she didn’t seem as vocal with other people as she was with her sister. She didn’t want to upset things or people, she liked nice things and didn’t want to to rock the boat so to speak. She was content to marry Sir James (I really would have liked more from Eliot on this relationship) although she knew he was in love with Dorothea. Her character was a nice contrast in a sibling relationship but also I got the impression that even though they were so different in their outlook, they loved each other. Celia also represents the typical woman of her day (marry and have kids, let your husband take care of everything) with little voice. I wonder if Eliot provides this relationship as what is characteristic of the time period and we just assume as the reader that Celia is content. She tells Dorothea at one point “Don’t be sad, Dodo ; kiss baby. What are you brooding over so? I am sure you did everything, and a great deal too much. You should be happy now.”. (In the context of this conversation of course tragedy has stuck and Dorothea I can imagine might have a bittersweet type of emotional struggle but Celia matter of factly seems to imply she needs to just sit and be happy and play with the baby- Dorothea of course has no intention to sit around and do nothing).

      Dorothea didn’t seem content with this and Mary didn’t seem to be that sort of woman either. Mary told Fred once “How can ever to be so contemptible, when others are working and striving, and there are so many things to be done–how can you bear to be fit for nothing in the world that is useful? And with so much good in your disposition, Fred, –you might be worth a great deal.'”. Mary was the person in Fred’s life that prompted him to give thought to his actions and decisions. And Mary wasn’t going to just marry him just because. He needed to make something of himself and was ready to refuse him repeatedly when he just declared he loved her.

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  2. Middlemarch is on my classics club list. I plan to overhaul the list soon, and make some savage cuts, but Middlemarch will stay. I have a copy – not half so lovely as yours – and you’ve certainly whet my appetite. If I enjoy it as much as I think I will, I’m promising myself a clothbound version as a reward. It will join my clothbound Austens 🙂 I just have to pick the right time to read it… it won’t be just yet 🙂

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    1. I’ve been thinking of revising my classics club list as well so it will be a bit more diverse with a balance of male and female authors.

      I’m delighted the post stirred your interest and please when you decide to read it let me know. This is a book I know I’d read again in the future.

      Aren’t the clothbound editions beautiful? I thought about getting Middlemarch as a treat to but I’m undecided. 😊

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      1. I was just reviewing your list and we have a few in common. Do you ever buddy read?

        I don’t have Adam Bede on my shelf but I do have Silas Marner and plan to read it this year.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I read this nearly 30 yrs ago & would love to reread it. In fact I’m considering it as one of my possibilities for a chapter a day read (like I’m doing with Les Mis this year) for next year. An annotated edition would be interesting – is there one ?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am not aware of an annotated version (although I looked it up when you asked on book depository and a hard copy isn’t available now). I actually annotated my own copy as I read it and since it’s not something I’ve done much of I have a lot of post it notes and page flags in my copy. So a reread in the future should be more interesting I think since I put some of my thoughts down in the book.

      What a great idea…a chapter a day? Les Mis is on my TBR so that might be a good idea for when I do decide to read it.

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