Middlemarch by George Eliot | Originally published 1871-2, this ed. 2003 | Barnes & Noble Classics | Paperback $9.99
George Eliot’s most ambitious novel is a masterly evocation of diverse lives and changing fortunes in a provincial community. Peopling its landscape are Dorothea Brooke, a young idealist whose search for intellectual fulfilment leads her into a disastrous marriage to the pedantic scholar Casaubon; the charming but tactless Dr Lydgate, whose pioneering medical methods, combined with an imprudent marriage to the spendthrift beauty Rosamond, threaten to undermine his career; and the religious hypocrite Bulstode, hiding scandalous crimes from his past. As their stories entwine, George Eliot creates a richly nuanced and moving drama, hailed by Virginia Woolf as ‘one of the few English novels written for grown-up people’.
Well, if this is a novel for ‘grown-up people’ I don’t even want to grow up.
Middlemarch by George Eliot is on my Classics Club list. (That’s a list of 50 classic books I intend to read within 5 years.) I gave it a good shot, but the time has come for me to give up and move on with life.
It’s just so damn boring.
The problem is twofold. First, I struggle with Victorian “social” literature generally. I try to appreciate it for what it is, but this genre is just not my forte. The thing is, I knew going into the novel that this is a particular failing of mine, and in an effort to get more out of the book I chose to read slowly, take notes, and divide up my reviews by book (Middlemarch is actually made up of 8 volumes).
This might have worked, if it hadn’t been for my second problem: I am easily bored by stories that reflect my own boring life back at me. Or rather, the boring parts of my life — I have to say, my life overall has not been entirely devoid of adventure, tragedy, and excitement. My breaking point came when I was trying to read through the section in Book II on the hospital board voting for the chaplaincy during my lunch break after a particularly long, drawn-out meeting with my fellow librarians. It was as though all the mind-numbing yet necessary political minutiae I’d just waded through for the past 2 hours was being replayed on the page, and it made me want to rip the damn book in half.
I soldiered on through the rest of this part of the story and even partway through Book III, but the novel had lost all charm for me. The lovely prose and little flashes of Eliot’s humor and insight were lost in a storm of constant thoughts like: “I don’t CARE about these people and their petty bullshit.”
I should clarify that I don’t think that Middlemarch is objectively a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad book. It’s just a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad book for me.
If you just love Middlemarch, can you forgive me? If you want to share what you enjoyed about it in the comments, please feel free. And if you, like me, just couldn’t get into it, I’d feel much better about my failure if you’d share that with me, too.
In atonement for my abandonment, I’ve decide to add a different title to my Classics Club list as a replacement for Middlemarch. I’ve picked out 5 possibilities below. Vote for whichever seems most intriguing to you in the comments.
- East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952)
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (1831)
- The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (1920)
- The Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934)
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)