Have you ever heard anything quite as romantic as “you are my basil plant”? I’m going to hold on to this gem of a quote for a long time. Reading Middlemarch (MM) would have been worth it for this quote alone.
The book does have more to offer than 1 quote (it has a few gems – I shared them on my Goodreads if you’re interested). With MM, George Eliot (real name Mary Anne Evans and hereafter “Evans”) set out to depict provincial life at the time. Well, if early nineteenth-century provincial life was all about the drama consuming the local medical community, young men struggling to be adults, and young women realizing that marriage isn’t sunshine and unicorns, then I’d say Evans really nailed her depiction.
MM was a mammoth of a book and I feel accomplished as hell having finished it, but I won’t miss it. Despite having buckets of melodrama – from love triangles to secrets to suspicions of murder – this book had many plateaus that I struggled to break through. Hence my taking so long to read it. So, so long.
Enter my audiobook. One of my best strategies for breaking through a plateau in a book is to listen to the audiobook while driving. This gets me through whatever part of the book I’m struggling to read so that I can pick it back up without falling asleep. This happened a lot with MM; I’d pick up the book, read a few pages and tah-dah, just like that, I’d be asleep. As you can imagine, this rendered making any kind of significant progress a challenge. How was I supposed to get through 889 pages if I couldn’t read more than 3 without passing out?
Enter the audiobook and my daily commute. Thanks to these 2 things, I was able to get through this classic beast over the period of a few weeks, instead of what had been, up until that point, taking me years.
The highlight of this novel, for me, was the character development. Evans does an incredible job of building rich, interesting, and varied characters to make up the Middlemarch community. Men and women alike are developed in unique, intriguing ways that, while giving a generous nod to the Victorian characters we have come to expect and recognize (the snotty gentry, the rebellious woman, the Jane i.e. genteel virginal flower, the rake…), succeeds in carving out individual identities that make them stand apart.
I also like that she gave her main character, Dorothea, room to grow and change her mind and to be strong as well as flawed. The contradictions in Dorothea throughout the text illustrate how someone can not only change their opinions over time, but also how our values and opinions may change depending on the context of the relationship or situation.
Okay, bed now. Pride and Prejudice is up next, so hopefully you’ll get an update on that from me soon(ish).