I just completed reading Edith Wharton's novella, "Ethan Frome" in a two week group read and discussion in the "Readers Review" group on Goodreads. PeI just completed reading Edith Wharton's novella, "Ethan Frome" in a two week group read and discussion in the "Readers Review" group on Goodreads. Personally, this is not one of my favorite Wharton works. It is important though, and it makes you think about the choices that we make in our lives and the potential consequences associated with them. This is a grim and wintry story, and one that at times can be extraordinarily painful to read; which is probably precisely what Edith Wharton intended when she wrote it.
I will continue to add to this review as I read the other novellas and stories in this collection of Wharton's works....more
If you love Dickinson's poetry, or are interested in approaching her poetry, then this is a 'must have' volume. Dr. Vendler takes you on an intimate aIf you love Dickinson's poetry, or are interested in approaching her poetry, then this is a 'must have' volume. Dr. Vendler takes you on an intimate and in-depth tour of 150 poems by Emily Dickinson. Vendler invites you to view each poem as a window into the mind, soul, and heart of the 'Belle of Amherst' and oh what a marvelous experience it is. I learned so much about Dickinson, the poet and the person, as well as the technical and emotional merits of her substantial body of work. I come away from Vendler's amazing book about Emily's poetry realizing that she really is not only a great American poet, but one of the greatest poets of all time....more
Update--May 7, 2011: I took Hardy's The Woodlanders with me on a recent week-long camping trip to Yosemite National Park, and re-read it while there.Update--May 7, 2011: I took Hardy's The Woodlanders with me on a recent week-long camping trip to Yosemite National Park, and re-read it while there. It was truly wonderful to sit in some of the most idyllic natural locations in all of the world and read this most amazing novel. If anything, I got even more from the novel this second time through, and highly recommend The Woodlanders to fans of the fiction and poetry of Thomas Hardy.
I am continuing on with my summer of reading the written works of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. I just finished reading Thomas Hardy's beautiful novel The Woodlanders last night. I have been reading Hardy's novels in the order in which he wrote them, and The Woodlanders, first published in 1887, follows closely on the heels of The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886). In all honesty, I very much enjoyed this novel much, much more than the relentlessly tragic tale told in The Mayor of Casterbridge.
Hardy has an amazing knack for thoroughly placing his reader into the environment of his novel. Interesting to me too, is that each of Hardy's novels tends to focus on a different environment and ecology found within the fictional Wessex region of southwestern England. For example, in A Pair of Blue Eyes, the reader becomes fully immersed in the beauty of the vales, forests, and sea-cliffs along the Cornwall coastline; in The Return of the Native, Hardy brings vividly to life the peoples and environment of the Egdon Heath; and in Far From the Madding Crowd we are treated to the rolling hills and pastoral landscape of small rural English farms and pastures used by the sheep herders and their flocks; and, finally, The Mayor of Casterbridge largely takes place in the urban environment of his fictional town, Casterbridge.
In The Woodlanders the reader is introduced to the shaded and leafy world of the forest of Blackmoor Vale and the hamlet of Little Hintock. The novel's characters live in the midst of this forested world and make a living with and among the trees. They are involved in lumbering, forestry, and management of orchards. It is a beautiful environment, and lovingly described and re-described by Hardy as the course of the novel moves through the seasons of the year.
I love how Hardy integrates the 'mood' of his environment into the plot of the novel. The sounds, sights, and smells of the forest and bridle paths are as much a part of The Woodlanders as are the dialog, thoughts and actions of the characters themselves. In fact, I have come to realize that Hardy intentionally develops the environment in each of his novels to become a fully empowered character in the same sense as his human players. Also, this novel seems to have been one of Hardy's favorites as it was based upon the area where his mother had grown up, a location that he was apparently quite fond of.
The novel revolves around Grace Melbury, a young woman who returns to her father's and stepmother's home in Little Hintock, after some years away becoming educated and more socially refined. Unlike Clym Yeobright, in The Return of the Native, Grace is not quite sure that she really wants to remain in the forest of Little Hintock surrounded by the peasant class of her childhood. Her father sent her off to school and has always encouraged her to aspire to a 'grander' lifestyle. She returns to find the young man that still loves her, Giles Winterborne, is still there, and working for her father's timber business, and operating a traveling apple cider press during the harvest season. At first blush it would seem that all looks well for the future of Grace and Giles.
As is typical in a Hardy novel, Fate and Irony have a curious way of inserting themselves, generally quite tragically, into the lives of the plot's characters. Quickly the reader is also introduced to the novel's other players: the steadfast and loyal young peasant woman, Marty South; the newly arrived gentlemanly young doctor, Edred Fitzpiers; and the local landowner, the widowed Mrs. Felice Charmond. While Giles and Marty are relatively contented and happy folk of the forest, Dr. Fitzpiers and Mrs. Charmond are clearly out of their element in the Blackmoor Vale, and Grace Melbury is betwixt and between as she endeavors to determine the course of her future.
I really do not want to give anything of the plot away at all, but suffice it to say that the novel is quite seductive in that while the reader becomes completely enthralled with the pastoral scenes and life in the forest around Little Hintock, there is at the same time an incredibly epic and pathos-driven tragic drama that is unfolding and spiraling out of control that is of almost Shakespearean proportions. It really is vintage Hardy! I honestly couldn't put the book down for several days.
I loved the characters of Giles Winterborne and Marty South. These are two people who are completely in touch with the natural world around them in Blackmoor Vale. Hardy describes a scene deep in the forest with Marty helping Giles plant new seedling trees to replace those harvested by the foresters,
"Winterborne's fingers were endowed with a gentle conjurer's touch in spreading the roots of each little tree, resulting in a sort of caress under which the delicate fibres all laid themselves out in in their proper directions for growth. He put most of these roots towards the south-west; for, he said, in forty years' time, when some great gale is blowing from that quarter, the trees will require the strongest holdfast on that side to stand against it and not fall.
'How they sigh directly when we put 'em upright, though while they are lying down they don't sigh at all,' said Marty.
'Do they?' said Giles. 'I've never noticed it.'
She erected one of the young pines into its hole, and held up her finger; the soft musical breathing instantly set in which was not to cease night or day till the grown tree should be felled--probably long after the two planters had been felled themselves."
Now that's just some great prose! I found myself, time and again, reading a section like this, and then re-reading it and just reveling in the lilting lyricism of Hardy's sentences and paragraphs.
A couple of final thoughts--
As you read the novel, periodically refer to the single stanza of poetry, written by Hardy, that serves as the novel's epigraph, and give it some thought,
"Not boskiest bow'r, When hearts are ill affin'd, Hath tree of pow'r To shelter from the wind!"
Secondly, the reader will encounter the term "man-trap" periodically. These were large, metal traps that game-keepers and land-managers used to try and prevent poaching and other illegal activities on the gentry's lands and estates. Hardy's use of allusion and metaphor is wonderful.
This was a beautiful novel to read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I highly recommend The Woodlanders. It is Thomas Hardy at his best. Five out of Five Stars, and a Personal Favorite for me!...more
Well, I am sad to say, but I am slowly winding up my summer of reading the literary works of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. I recently finished ThomasWell, I am sad to say, but I am slowly winding up my summer of reading the literary works of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. I recently finished Thomas Hardy's Two on a Tower, one of his more obscure novels. Two on a Tower was first serialized in the Atlantic Monthly and then published in book-form in 1882, and was categorized by Hardy as a novel of "Romance and Fantasies." I had the devil of a time finding a copy of this novel, and short of ordering a brand-new copy from an on-line source, I continued to diligently search the shelves of every used bookstore I encountered. On a recent business trip to Arizona, I finally found a nearly new copy for six dollars!
In my opinion, Hardy has crafted an incredibly fascinating plot for the novel, and at times it reminded me of the plotting of Wilkie Collins. Also, the novel pivots almost entirely around just two characters, versus the more normal Hardyan plot with a larger number of country rustics intermingled with the protagonists. In Two on a Tower, much of the plot is solely focused on young Swithin St. Cleeve and the older Lady Constantine. St. Cleeve is a twenty-year old consumed with becoming a famous professional astronomer, who has been surreptitiously using an old tower on a hill in an isolated portion of Lady Constantine's absent husband's estate. Lady Viviette Constantine is a beautiful dark-haired woman, nearly ten years older than Swithin, who has been left alone for several years by her husband who is off adventuring on safari in Africa.
Over time the two meet and young St. Cleeve introduces Lady Constantine to the majesty and awe of the night sky above the rural Wessex countryside. Hardy's portrayal of the stars and planets, through Swithin's descriptions and patient tutelage of Lady Constantine as they huddle on top of the tower with his telescope, is one of the truly unique and particularly beautiful elements of this novel. It really illustrates Hardy's fascination and reverence for the natural world around him. Hardy obviously spent a lot of time researching the astronomical portions of his plot, as these sections are extremely well written and factually correct; both the descriptions of the night sky, and techniques that they use to view it, as well as the equipment Swithin constructs in the tower observatory. Fundamentally then, it seems to me, the novel is a story of the relationship of the human species with the universe in which we reside, and a relationship at its most elemental level--the Love between two humans.
Ah, but it is a plot written by Hardy; therefore this growing love between Swithin and Lady Constantine must of necessity become complicated, doesn't it? Well, yes it does, and here's where the similarities to Collins crop up. There are mysterious reports concerning Lady Constantine's missing husband; Lady Constantine's scheming older brother, Louis, shows up; and the pompous Bishop of Melchester, Lord Helmsdale, begins meddling in everyone's affairs. Oh, it gets good now, real good! I couldn't put it down at all from about the novel's mid-point on. I also found myself becoming quite attached to the characters, what few there are; and because there aren't that many, Hardy does a superb job of fleshing them out and bringing them to life on the page.
I want to share just a bit of Hardy's beautiful prose from the novel with you. This is from a scene, late at night at the height of a violent windstorm that catches Lady Constantine and Swithin atop the old tower attempting to perform some astronomical observations
"Under any other circumstances Lady Constantine might have felt a nameless fear in thus sitting aloft on a lonely column, with a forest groaning under her feet, and paleolithic dead men feeding its roots; but the passionate decision stirred her pulses to an intensity beside which the ordinary tremors of feminine existence asserted themselves in vain. The apocalyptic effect of the scene surrounding her was, indeed, not inharmonious, and afforded an appropriate background to her intentions.
After what seemed to her an interminable space of time, quick steps in the staircase became audible above the roar of the firs, and in a few instants St. Cleeve again stood by her."
Wow! Was that not just awesome? In just a few sentences, Hardy has managed to establish a connection between the raw power of Nature, the hundreds of generations of humans that have occupied this ancient landscape, and the genuine and palpable love that these two beings on the tower share for one another. Great stuff, and vintage Thomas Hardy! Find yourself a copy of this wonderful novel, and put it on your shelf and wait for a rainy day with no interruptions. You'll soon find yourself completely swept away and engrossed in the lives of Swithin St. Cleeve and his love, the beautiful Lady Constantine. This was a terrific novel, and I would give it 4.5 stars out of 5 stars.
Post Script--I actually found two copies of the novel, and presented one to my elderly father. He has been a quite serious amateur astronomer most of his life. He began reading it the day I gave it to him. I can't wait to hear his reaction when he's finished....more
Every once in a great while you read a novel that just knocks you back onto your keister. Well, for me, this was just one of those novels. I finishedEvery once in a great while you read a novel that just knocks you back onto your keister. Well, for me, this was just one of those novels. I finished reading Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native several days ago, and it made such an impression upon me that I turned to page one, and began it all over again! The first impression? Wow! Upon finishing it for the second time? I concur with the first impression.
This is the fourth in Hardy's series of eight 'Wessex' novels, all being set in his native countryside of southwestern England. Originally, The Return of the Native was serialized in twelve monthly installments in Belgravia magazine in 1878. Interestingly, Belgravia magazine was edited by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (of Lady Audley's Secret fame) and her husband, John Maxwell.
The Return of the Native takes place over the course of a year and one-day, and the setting of the novel is entirely on the fictional Egdon Heath of Hardy's Wessex. In fact, Egdon Heath with its rolling hills and dense warrens of scrubby, spiny, and brown furze should absolutely be considered one of the main characters listed in the novel's Dramatis Personae.
The novel, as Hardy originally intended and envisioned, is a tragedy in five parts; however, he was persuaded by the editors, for serialization purposes, to add a final sixth book (Aftercourses). Hardy even includes a disclaimer at the start of this sixth book suggesting that the reader choose the ending for the novel that he or she deems appropriate. Hardy was not a fan of adding the sixth book to the novel.
The first fifty pages, or so, of the novel feels like something out of the Britain of the Druids. Hardy's description of the Egdon Heath, the late fall weather, and the magical, almost pagan, customs of the people surrounding their bonfires next to the ancient Celtic barrows on the night of November Fifth was simply spell-binding. And it just gets better!
Early on we are introduced to the novel's primary protagonists. There's the seemingly-Mephistophelean Diggory Venn, the Reddleman, covered in red, from head-to-toe in the ochre he uses to mark the flocks of sheep; the beautiful and good-hearted Thomasin Yeobright; the 'failed' engineer, now inn-owner, Damon Wildeve; the solid and steady matron of the heath, Mrs. Yeobright; the 'Queen of Night,' the darkly beautiful 'wayward and erring heroine,' Eustacia Vye ("to be loved to madness, was her great desire"); and, finally, the 'Native,' who has returned to the heath, the only child of Mrs. Yeobright, Clym Yeobright. These six characters are locked together in a tale of passion, drama, pathos, and tragedy where, in typical Hardyan fashion, only Fate, Chance, and Irony exert any control whatsoever. Like a moth is drawn to a flame, the reader is inexorably drawn into the tale, and recognizes with a growing horror that a full release can only be attained through reaching and experiencing the novel's shocking climax.
The novel contains more than a superficial nod to the great choric scenes of the Greek Tragedies, and includes the gatherings of commoners like many of Shakespeare's dramas. Hardy's characters' dialog is spare and clipped, but each word is chosen carefully and packs an emotional wallop. The descriptions of the environment, the role of the humans in it, and the interactions between the characters reminds me of the great modern American novelist, Cormac McCarthy. The Return of the Native is Hardy's Naturalism at its finest; and becomes an almost poetic homage to the interaction of the human species with one another as well as with the Earth Mother herself.
Hardy chose an ode from Keats's epic Endymion as an epigraph to lead off the novel. Nothing could describe this novel better--
"To sorrow I bade good morrow, And thought to leave her far away behind; But cheerly, cheerly, She loves me dearly; She is so constant to me, and so kind. I would deceive her, And so leave her, But ah! she is so constant and so kind."
I have been waiting to read this since it was first released a few months ago. I loved every page of this sophisticated 'beach read.' It is pretty mucI have been waiting to read this since it was first released a few months ago. I loved every page of this sophisticated 'beach read.' It is pretty much a 'pulse-pounder' from start to finish. This is a post-apocalyptic novel somewhat in the vein of Stephen King's masterpiece, The Stand, but not up to King's quality of writing in that book. Be aware that this is the first book of a planned three-part series. The ending of the first book is still quite satisfying and leaves one with a desire to read the next installment. Cronin is, in my opinion, a decent writer, and the plot that he has concocted is a real doozy. The horror is palpable and the characters come across as people we can identify with. I'd give this novel 3.5 stars if I could, and if you're in the mood for some 'amped-up' vampires in an end-of-the-world setting then Justin Cronin's The Passage will neatly fill the bill....more
This was an excellent novel! I enjoyed this book from the very first page to the very last. This book was really great fun to read, and I could hardlyThis was an excellent novel! I enjoyed this book from the very first page to the very last. This book was really great fun to read, and I could hardly put it down once started. It seems very timely too, as it could very easily describe the hubris, arrogance, and greed of the Wall Street crowd today in the United States (i.e., the "too big to fail" mentality). Trollope paints a devastating portrait of London society and the financial and political conditions of his time, and amazingly enough that time isn't that much different than that we live in today.
Simply put, this novel is a literary 'soap-opera', and a book that I unhesitatingly recommend as a great beach-read! It is big and fat, and you'll find yourself completely caught up in the plot and characters. Trollope can write a tale, that's for sure!...more
A few days ago I finished Thomas Hardy's last novel, Jude the Obscure. I was completely overwhelmed and truly needed a few days to reflect upon the exA few days ago I finished Thomas Hardy's last novel, Jude the Obscure. I was completely overwhelmed and truly needed a few days to reflect upon the experience and collect my thoughts before attempting a review. Bear in mind too, that this is the first time that I have read Jude, and I sincerely believe that this novel may require a lifetime of reading and study in order to fully tease out and understand the import of Hardy's message.
First, a little background about the novel. This novel took Hardy sometime to write. He started with an outline in 1890, and did not complete the book until 1894. It was first published serially in Harper's New Monthly Magazine from December 1894 to November 1895, and then it was published in book form. Hardy took a lot of heat for the novel from reviewers and critics, other authors, as well as the general public. It developed a reputation as Jude the Obscene. The relentlessness and vitriol of the negative criticism caused Hardy to forsake ever writing another novel of fiction; and he spent the remaining thirty some odd years of his life concentrating on his poetry.
I also want to include, at this point, a strong 'Spoiler Warning.' In crafting this review, and discussing Hardy's authorial intent, I am finding it quite impossible not to discuss some relatively important plot points and elements. Therefore, continue reading at your own peril. All I can observe is that regardless of what I can say, or what you may have heard about this novel, it is a monumentally huge novel that simply must be read by any and all students of great literature. Okay, consider yourself forewarned.
In some respects, Jude the Obscure can be looked upon as the coming-of-age story of Jude Fawley. Others have postulated that it is also an anti-bildungsroman as it documents, as we shall see, the slow and torturous destruction of Jude and his ideals. Interestingly, this is the only Hardy novel, that I am aware of, that starts with the protagonist as a child and follows him through his life.
In Jude the Obscure, Hardy addresses the prevailing Victorian attitudes associated with social class and standing, educational opportunities, religion, the institution of marriage, and the influence of Darwinism on modern thought. Throughout the novel, Jude, Sue Bridehead, and Arabella Donn are used by Hardy to explore and develop the all-encompassing portrait; and to some degree, indictment; of the society and time that Jude and Hardy reside in. It seems that the novel sets up an examination of the contrasts between the idealistic romanticism of the second generation poets, John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley (Hardy truly admired Shelley!), and the more modern cultural movement of social Darwinism.
First and foremost, this is a novel of ideas and ideals. Jude is a sensitive young fellow, always concerned with the lot of the animals and people around him. As a child he is even dismayed at seeing trees cut down, and can't bring himself to scare away the 'rooks' (crows) that are eating the seed from a newly planted field that he's been paid to protect. Later, as an adult he is compelled to leave his bed late at night and find the rabbit, screaming with pain, that has been caught in a trap and dispatch it as an act of mercy. These are some of the first signs of Jude-the-romantic, and Jude-the-dreamer. The ideals he has formed are something really quite different from that of the world around him, and this can't bode well for him.
The first third of the novel focuses on Jude's desire to become an educated man and become admitted to the great colleges of 'Christminster' (loosely modeled on Oxford) in Hardy's 'Wessex' countryside. Jude, like Hardy, is an autodidact and teaches himself Greek and Latin, and views Christminster as the "city of lights" and "where the tree of knowledge grows." Jude's romantic visions and ideals suffer a terrible blow when he is denied admittance to the colleges and is advised that "remaining in your own sphere and sticking to your trade..." is his best course of action. Idealism aside, Jude now begins to understand that his social class and standing will continue to strongly influence his future.
Issues associated with Love and Marriage also dominate much of the novel's landscape, and can be quite painful to read and consider. Early on, Jude is essentially trapped into a truly disastrous marriage with the attractive, but coarse young woman, Arabella Donn, the daughter of a pig-farmer. Trust me, she can slaughter the animals that Jude cannot. Arabella's 'unique' method of introducing herself to Jude is to throw a bloody pig's penis at him as he walks by while she is cleaning and sorting the offal of a slaughtered hog! Simply put, Arabella is the 'Delilah' to Jude's 'Samson.'
Jude's young cousin, Sue Bridehead, on the other hand, is at times, one of the most erudite and intellectual women of the fiction of the late-Victorian. Ethereal and fairy-like, Sue is an idealist too, but her idealism tends towards a more modern view; even though some its roots reflect that of the second generation Romantics too. For example, Sue quotes to Jude, several lines from Shelley's great poem, Epipsychidion (Three Sermons on Free Love). At first blush, it seems easy to assume that Sue endorses the Shelleyan view of 'Free Love' and not binding oneself contractually and exclusively to only one other. While Shelley meant this from the perspective of sexual gratification, Sue has developed her own brand of romantic idealism that leads her to believe that it is only the iron-clad contract (marriage) that dooms the relationship.
I had to spend some time thinking about Sue and her beliefs, but I have come to the preliminary conclusion that neither she, nor Hardy, are anti-marriage, but that it is the nature of the contract of marriage in the Victorian age (i.e., with all of its trappings of submission, subjugation, and so forth) that doom its likelihood of long-term success in her view. In fact, in support of this notion, Hardy made a notebook entry in 1889, in which he writes, "Love lives on propinquity, but dies of contact."
It seems that Hardy's development of the character of Sue Bridehead and the novel's storyline may reflect a portion of his own troubled relationship with his wife Emma and her increasing religious beliefs through the years of their own marriage. Also, it may well be that Sue's character reflects a bit of Hardy's cousin, Tryphena Sparks, a woman that he is rumored to have had an affair with in 1868, and who later died in 1890. Hardy, in the Preface to the 1895 edition of Jude, stated that the novel was partly inspired "by the death of a woman" in 1890.
Even though Sue Bridehead bears children with Jude, sexual relations and intimacy remains a very difficult proposition for her. For example, when married to her first husband, Richard Phillotson, she is startled awake by him entering her bedroom absentmindedly (they slept in separate rooms), and she leaps from a second story window into the night rather than sleep with him! Again, much of the time she is with Jude, they also sleep in separate bedrooms, which has the effect of keeping Jude's passions for her quite 'hot'. This is not, however, the romantic ideal of the loving wife and life-mate that Jude has envisioned for his dear Sue though. It is also not the picture of romantic idealism for Sue either, as she is truly looking for a partner through which she can fully experience Love's spiritual and intellectual bonds, and not just the contractual or the sexual.
Toward the end of the novel there occurs such a shocking event that finally and irrevocably alters the lives of Jude and Sue, and largely severs their tenuous emotional and spiritual bonds to one another. The romantic ideals of both are smashed hopelessly and simply cannot be reassembled.
Modernization has come and displaced the old world romanticism of Jude Fawley and Thomas Hardy. Jude-the-Dreamer and Jude-the-Idealist have no place in this new order, because to transcend to his ideals means that he must die as Keats and Shelley so eloquently discovered. Unfortunately for Jude, even Arabella is present to witness his final suffering and agony. Jude's story has become, in a very real sense Hardy's modern retelling of the 'Book of Job.' [Note the word play too -- the "J" from 'Jude' and the "Ob" from 'Obscure':]
As I said above, I have a sense that I have probably only just scratched the surface of this titanic novel, and that there is much, much more to glean. It is full of allusion and metaphor, and rife with biblical references and nods to Hardy's literary ancestors, Milton, Wordsworth, and Shelley. Before I tackle Jude again, or re-read any of his other novels for that matter, I want to first read Claire Tomalin's recent biography, Thomas Hardy (2006); Rosemarie Morgan's Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy (1988); and also delve into Thomas Hardy: The Complete Poems (1981), edited by James Gibson.
Read this novel! When you are through, let me know; for I'd love to discuss it with you and see what you think too. Five out of five stars for me....more
I have just finished reading Middlemarch, and this pretty much completes my reading of George Eliot's major works. Middlemarch truly is quite the sublI have just finished reading Middlemarch, and this pretty much completes my reading of George Eliot's major works. Middlemarch truly is quite the sublime novel from start to finish. At first blush one has this sense of simply being immersed in a rather quiet and pastoral story, but there's really very much more going on here as one turns the pages.It is a story of rural England during the period of great reforms in politics, religion, agriculture, manufacturing, medicine, and even transportation. Mostly though, it is the story of human beings, and what it means to be human.
Eliot gives us a wonderful cast of characters in Middlemarch, and they cut across all class lines from the landed gentry, tradesmen and women, and the simple country rustics that work the land and work in the manor houses. While perhaps Dickensian in cast, the peoples that populate the novel are not laden with the satire or comedy of a Dickens or Thackeray novel. No, these are all people that we can relate to even in this modern age. These are your neighbors, some rich, some poor; these are your physicians; your pastors; your shopkeepers, and so forth. The people of Middlemarch are your family, friends, and acquaintances and become even more so as the novel moves along.
As much as I truly enjoyed the plots in Eliot's Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and Silas Marner, I'd have to say that Eliot "kicked it up a notch" in Middlemarch. This is a stately, sedate, sophisticated, and complexly elegant novel. It really does demand the reader's full dedication and attention as it is read too, much like I found when I read her last novel Daniel Deronda. Boy, is it worth the extra effort, and one can't help but find oneself savoring the pacing and structure of the novel as Eliot lays out the tale.
Eliot herself compares one of her primary characters, Dorothea Brooke, to St. Theresa de Avila. She is a genuinely decent human being who very much cares for the welfare of all of those around her, including even the man she marries early in the novel--Edward Casaubon. Interestingly, at least to me, that through the novel there was an almost tidal 'ebb and flow' of how the reader viewed many of the characters. The one exception was Dorothea, as she always stayed above the fray and maintains her 'saintliness'. I suppose that some could say that maybe Dorothea's saintliness was laid on a bit thick, but I think the character of Dorothea and her actions are important in helping to bring home the novel's overall message and moral impact. I think that this was also true in different degrees with some of the other characters, such as Tertius Lydgate, Rev. Farebrother, Caleb Garth, his wife, and their daughter Mary Garth. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the novel though is Eliot's ability to make her readers empathize and even sympathize with the characters that are not so likeable, e.g., Bulstrode or Casaubon.
Finally, I have to again say that somehow I really think that George Eliot had to have been some sort of inspiration for, or influence upon, the later works of Thomas Hardy. I really do see a somewhat similar approach to realism and naturalism in the works of these two important authors. While Eliot's novels don't showcase the impact of Fate or Chance perhaps as prominently as Hardy, they both inject a big dose of reality in the day-to-day lives of their characters. Bad things do happen to good and bad people alike, just like Life. The beauty of Middlemarch is that it depicts the indomitable Human spirit at its finest (and, dare I say, at its worst at times too). Those who wish to do good can; and for those who don't, well they get caught out.
Great book! I highly recommend reading this novel. I have to be honest and fess up that I tried to read this book off and on for 20+ years, and it just never took with me. I was finally able to sink my teeth (and brain) into it and just let myself become immersed in the peoples and landscape of Middlemarch, and what a profoundly satisfying and enriching experience it has been. In all reality, I think that I am at a point in my reading and comprehension these days that I was finally ready for what Virginia Woolf described as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people." I do look forward to re-reading it again at some point and thinking about the messages and lessons of this rich novel that George Eliot has crafted and left us....more
This was a compelling and absorbing novel from the get-go! One that I simply could not put down. I felt like I just wanted to bundle little Jane up anThis was a compelling and absorbing novel from the get-go! One that I simply could not put down. I felt like I just wanted to bundle little Jane up and take good care of her throughout her time at Lowood School (God, what a hellish institution!). This book makes you laugh, and it makes you cry; but it always makes you think. I really enjoyed Charlotte Bronte's expression of, in my opinion, modern feminism throughout the telling of this tale. I am stunned that I have waited this long to read this most beautiful novel; and highly recommend this book. I believe that Jane Eyre, Villette, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are my three favorite Bronte sisters novels. Also, I went out and rented two versions of Jane Eyre film adaptations through Netflix, including the recent BBC production. The earlier William Hurt/Charlotte Gainsborough version was priceless too....more