Middlemarch by George Eliot

19089‘We believe in her as in a woman we might providentially meet some fine day when we should find ourselves doubting of the immortality of the soul,’ wrote Henry James of Dorothea Brooke, who shares with the young doctor Tertius Lydgate not only a central role in Middlemarch but also a fervent conviction that life should be heroic. By the time the novel appeared to tremendous popular and critical acclaim in 1871-2, George Eliot was recognized as England’s finest living novelist. It was her ambition to create a world and portray a whole community–tradespeople, middle classes, country gentry–in the rising provincial town of Middlemarch, circa 1830. Vast and crowded, rich in narrative irony and suspense, Middlemarch is richer still in character, in its sense of how individual destinies are shaped by and shape the community, and in the great art that enlarges the reader’s sympathy and imagination. It is truly, as Virginia Woolf famously remarked, ‘one of the few English novels written for grown-up people’.


Quite possibly, the best novel I read in my entire adult life. Previously, I used to think Jane Austen second to none… Suffice to say that is no longer the case.
More than thirty characters, none of whom is treated perfunctorily, and a comprehensive panoramic view of provincial English life in the 1800-s, this novel is an unparalleled leviathan. Over 900 pages of exquisite detail, flair, and a masterful eye and hand, coupled with a colossal patience, creates a vast social landscape in which each portrayed face leaps at the reader and secures an unalterable place in his/her memory.

It is difficult to pick favorites among such characters, as even the most despicable are so cleverly rendered that even if you dislike the character, you can’t help but appreciate George Elliot’s depiction of him or her – all those suggestions, ties, weaknesses, virtues, rationalizations… Yes, of course, I loved and rooted for Mary Garth above all, and I was happy for her and Fred Vincy. (Under those many layers of shortcomings, he is after all a decent fellow.) What did I enjoy most? The continuous motion of the lens through which the author analyzed her characters. It’s a process that demands constant reassessment and adaptation from the reader… One can’t even speculate on what it demanded from George Elliot.

To sum up, a masterpiece – recommended to one and all.


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