Madeline's Reviews > Middlemarch

Middlemarch by George Eliot
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Dec 27, 09

bookshelves: the-list, ugh
Read in December, 2009

Page 97:

I'm trying, guys, I really am. But right now I'm about 100 pages into this book, and the thought of getting through the next 700 is making me want to throw myself under a train. And I almost never leave a book unread, so this is serious. However, since it's on The List, I feel I should at least try to give it another chance. But it's not going to be easy.

Here, in simplified list form, are the reasons I really, really want to abandon this book:
-It's everything I hate about Austen - boring dialogue and background information, endless nattering on about who's marrying whom - with none of the dry wit that makes her stories enjoyable.
-Dorothea is an insufferable, stuck-up know-it-all and I hate her. Also, her sister calls her "Dodo" in a horribly misguided attempt at affection, and every time I have to read it it's like a cheese grater to the forehead.
-She's nineteen years old and is marrying a forty-seven year old. I...I just can't. I know it's going to end badly which makes it slightly better but come on, Eliot.
-Simply put, I don't care. I don't care about these characters. I don't care about their boring lives. I don't care who marries whom and who is happy or not happy, and I really don't care about Dorothea's stupid cottage designs.
-I get the sense that none of the things I listed are going to change. I'm strongly sensing that the next 700 pages of this book are going to be the same exact stuff about marriage and unhappiness and Dodo and blah blah blaaaaahhhhh. Unless something really interesting is going to happen, I don't think I can keep going. At this point, it would take a zombie uprising at Middlemarch to make me invested in these characters and their lack of struggle.

Page 190:
Okay, I need to get to Part 5 before I can reasonably stop reading. Hopefully something resembling a plot will happen soon.

Page 300:
Nope. Nothin' yet.

Page 370:

Page 409:
Okay. I tried. No one can say I didn't give this book a fair chance. But I'm halfway through and NOTHING HAS HAPPENED. I just read 400 pages of some boring people going about their boring everyday business, and I'm DONE. Maybe I'm just not sophisticated enough to understand this book's genius. Maybe I can only be happy with a book if the characters are likeable and doing interesting things besides sitting around and thinking about how fucking miserable they all are. Maybe it's just my fault for having a bad attitude about this book from the beginning.

Who knows. But what I know for sure is this: I got to my designated halfway point on the flight back from vacation, and when we landed I made sure to leave Middlemarch on the plane. Hopefully it's adopted by someone who will love it more than I did.

I just consulted The List to check this book off, and I decided to see if there were any other George Eliot books on it. Including Middlemarch, there are five Eliot books I'm supposed to read before I die. FIVE.
Goddamn it.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 57) (57 new)

message 1: by Kelly (last edited Dec 17, 2009 10:56AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kelly I also found it really difficult to get through this book. I will say that I did it with the help of a class I had to read it for and a paper I had to write, so there's that. However. There are some other things.

Dorothea is an insufferable, stuck-up know-it-all and I hate her... She's nineteen years old and is marrying a forty-seven year old. I...I just can't. I know it's going to end badly which makes it slightly better but come on, Eliot.

She gets better, and learns how VERY VERY misguided she was at the beginning. Also, her personality is explained to very sympathetic effect, I think- a function of repressed women, etc. Also, Dorothea is deeply insecure, and wants to be more, and her whole marrying the guy is just such a painful expression of that it gets me through any insufferability about it. She is going to pay dearly for this choice she's making- even though she's making it to try to find a way towards "improving herself" in the very limited ways open to women. It's awful and terribly sad. I don't know, maybe I just identify with her in some ways, though. Also, (SPOILER) there's... something better in the romance department coming for her.

Eliot's depiction of the various lives of the women in these novels (and the men in their relationships and feelings towards the women) and why they are who they are and choose to be who they become is the reason to read this book, for me. And Mary Garth! Mary Garth is great. I love her, despite wanting to shake her most of the time. Have you met her yet? She's got a great (and heartbreaking as well) story coming up.

Maybe you should talk to Elizabeth. I know she had trouble reading this one as well, but ultimately finished. EDIT: In fact, I direct you to her review:

Sorry that all I've really got is: Hang in there for the sisterhood!

Madeline Okay, I guess I should give the book another try. (and no, I have not met Mary Garth yet.) My new plan is to get at least halfway through it, and then re-evaluate whether I want to keep going or not.

Wish me luck!

message 3: by Kelly (last edited Dec 18, 2009 09:23AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kelly That seems more than fair, definitely. It's a good damn written and brilliant slog, but still a slog. Understandable if you've got other things to do with your time.

Maybe try reading it in smaller chunks along with something faster moving? Maybe that would help with the impatience?

Anyways, good luck on surviving this beast!

Daniel I won't try to convince you to finish it. If you hate it, you hate it; what can you do? But I will say that if one of your chief complaints is that you can't stand Dorothea, you should know that she's just one of a large cast of characters, and she disappears from the scene for huge chunks of the novel. I don't know if that's enough to convince you to carry on.

Moira Russell I love Middlemarch, BUT I first read it for school, and only because it was assigned (and a discussion class, so it was hard to duck out of -- St John's College), and found it very hard going for quite a while. I don't think you should give yourself a hard time if you don't read it right now, or ever. Eliot is as difficult as she is rewarding, I think.

Madeline From what I've read of other reviews, the last 300-odd pages of this book are amazing. So I guess it gets better, but I honestly didn't have the patience to get to that point.

Moira Russell Madeline wrote: "From what I've read of other reviews, the last 300-odd pages of this book are amazing. So I guess it gets better, but I honestly didn't have the patience to get to that point."

Well, one of my favourite passages which I wrote most of an essay about in school happens on (checks Penguin edition) p. 846, so, yeah. A great deal of Eliot is setup -- I think that's partly why her books are so hard on the modern reader.

message 8: by Kelly (last edited Dec 27, 2009 09:04AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kelly You gave it your best shot. George Eliot couldn't ask anything more! Also, life is too short to read books you hate! Hope you're onto one you like better.

message 9: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El The irony of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list are the books on there that may just kill you. I haven't tackled Middlemarch yet, so I can't say about that one. But Henry James is also on The List and the cumulative effect of all of them may do me in.

Madeline God, I know. I read through it and I'm like, do we really need ten Ian McEwan books? They can't all be that good.

Daniel Only 1,001 books, and among them are ten Ian McEwan books? What is this stupid list, and who came up with it?

message 12: by Clif (new) - rated it 3 stars

Clif Hostetler Daniel wrote:
...What is this stupid list, and who came up with it?"

It is based on this book.

Moira Russell Madeline wrote: "God, I know. I read through it and I'm like, do we really need ten Ian McEwan books? They can't all be that good. "

....Oh fuck no. In my case it well might be '991 Books You Need To Read Before You Are Returned To the Great Library in the Sky,' then. And I _like_ McEwan.

Madeline Agreed. One of the big criticisms of The List is that it's very, very British. Apparently they put out of new version a couple years ago that included a wider range of authors, but I'm sticking with the original because God knows when they'll decide to switch things up again, and I can't keep up.

There are at least twenty books on The List that I simply will not read. James Joyce and the Bronte sisters come to mind.

Daniel Why follow someone else's list at all? Why not just read what you want to read?

message 16: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Daniel wrote: "Why follow someone else's list at all? Why not just read what you want to read?"
Because, Madeline, like her sicko Mother (me) has a few obsessive tendencies. We read other stuff too, but that list is such a challenge, we must at least attempt it!

Madeline Also, it makes me sound smart when I tell people what I'm reading.

message 18: by Clif (new) - rated it 3 stars

Clif Hostetler If you read one book per week, it will take over 19 years to read 1,001 books.

message 19: by Daniel (last edited Dec 30, 2009 12:56PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Daniel I remain somewhat confused, I have to admit. I definitely understand the appeal of making lists -- your own favorite books, favorite movies, favorite bands, etc. -- and I'd understand wanting to read great books recommended by a friend, author or academic you personally respect, but why would you want to make a point of reading 1,001 books recommended by a panel of self-appointed experts you likely next heard of before "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die" was published -- especially when reading all the books on the list, as Clif points out, will take up a huge chunk of your life? I just don't understand the appeal. I'm sure I'll read many of the books on this list by happenstance (and already have), but why would I want to follow this list, rather than just reading whatever books I think worthwhile based on recommendations from friends, authors, individual reviews, etc.?

message 20: by Clif (new) - rated it 3 stars

Clif Hostetler For the same reason people check the "Best of 2009" lists that are published by various critics, newspapers and magazines. Supposedly these lists are put together by people who know more, and read more, than the rest of us. The list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die was put together by a team of twenty-four international critics and literary luminaries. So who are we to question it. Hmm, I wonder how many of these luminaries have read all 1001 books.

Daniel We are the ones to question it, I guess, Clif. Ten Ian McEwan books, yet nothing by Chaucer, Dawn Powell, Charles Bukowski, Richard Ford, Raymond Carver or Dorothy Parker (as just a handful of examples)? Seems like a pretty ridiculous list to me.

Daniel Actually, looking back at the list -- at least a copy of the list I found on the Internet -- I see only nine Ian McEwan books. Still, nine! My point still stands, I think.

Madeline If you read one book per week, it will take over 19 years to read 1,001 books.


message 24: by John (new)

John Speaking of long novels & throwing oneself under a train -- why not read the superb & very long ANNA KARENIN?

Madeline Don't worry John, I've already been there. I liked it better than Middlemarch, but it's still not my favorite.

message 26: by John (new)

John Well, "favorite," that's a well-nigh impossible pick. But ANNA K offers a mighty satisfying immersion.

message 27: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Ha...this review is awesome.

Traveller Heheh Liked your review. May I gloat: I'm more brave than you are; I read more of it; in fact, I read almost all of it. Nah nah nah.

Well, only because I had to. :(

...and I might have skimmed some paragraphs here and there.

Ok, a lot of paragraphs. :P

message 29: by Nina (new) - rated it 2 stars

Nina I feel your pain. I read The Mill on the Floss about a year after I read Middlemarch, and believe me, Middlemarch is the better of the two. Five Eliot novels is just cruel!

message 30: by John (new)

John "To read before you die" loses much of its intimidating power if you're old enough to realize you couldn't possibly accomplish it (particularly when many of the titles are slogs like "Middlemarch," which I abandoned at about page 40.) This is actually a comfort: I've almost reached 70 without reading "Clarissa" and I can look forward happily to a "Clarissa"-free future.

message 31: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Me too, John. I can see my life stretching out before me, and it might have sorrow and illness and maybe an earthquake in it, but it will never include Samuel Richardson. It's a comfort.

Man, did I hate Pamela.

Madeline I know! Even considering that I'm only 22, it would take me something like twenty years to finish The List even if I read one book every day.

Luckily, I'm not as fixated on finishing The List as I was when I started, so I've accepted that I will never technically finish because I refuse to read many of the books. Clarissa and Pamela are both included in that, because I've heard nothing but awful things about them.

message 33: by John (new)

John When I first saw Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin a few years ago I was surprised by the way reading novels by Richardson is a mark of Tatiana's dreamy romanticism. Odd that these large, famously indigestible books should have signified, in the context of Pushkin's poem, a tender, easily enchanted heart.

message 34: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Huh! Interesting. I loved Onegin. Can't remember whether the original poem mentions Pamela. 18th century people had some weird taste in books. Everything from that period except Defoe is insane.

message 35: by Robert (new) - added it

Robert Delikat Thank you, thank you. I'm almost half-way through and I had to turn to my GR friends to try and find what I was missing. Alas, I have probably found it: NOTHING am I missing. If I had to read this for a class, I would probably drop the class. This is too long, life is too short and there are too many books on my To Read list that which will probably more ring my chimes. I also almost never give up on a book and especially one as this held in such high esteem. Esteem, shmisteem... I quit.

message 36: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Robert, just to make your life more difficult: I think Middlemarch is one of the best books ever written, and I also think it takes about 400 pages to get going. Personally, I think it's worth it to stick with it.

'Course, I told that to my uncle and he still hasn't forgiven me for convincing him not to give it up. So you might be justified in ignoring my advice.

message 37: by Robert (new) - added it

Robert Delikat Dang, I hate when this happens. You know, Alex, I'm here not yet having dropped the thread and if I'm going to continue reading it, now would be the time. I don't always agree with Madeline and other of my friends too have said as you that this is one of the best books ever written. So, per your very nice comment, I will not quit just yet. There is no doubt that there is some very good writing here. I will grant that. It just hasn't been that interesting to me. There is some Jane Austen writing that I love to read and more that I would rather watch a rendition of on PBS. This seemed to be more of the latter. But, I will shut up now and get back to the book. Thanks, Alex. (and Madeline, sheesh)

message 38: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex And there's something to be said for bulling through just so you're sure of your opinion, now that you're around halfway anyway. If you quit halfway through a lengthy book you're not enjoying, there's certainly no chance you'll decide to just try again later, so this is literally your only chance in life to become a person who's read Middlemarch. (Did I make that sound dramatic enough?)

Good luck to you; fingers crossed that you come out on my side instead of Madeline's, although Madeline's review is way funnier than mine.

message 39: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant great bilious review, I'm a fan of heartfelt one star reviews, this is going in my hall of horror

message 40: by Mish (new)

Mish Great review and I concur - dull, tedious and a pointless box ticking exercise. Life is too short to be wasted on things that don't interest you. I got to the end of page 1 with this book before metaphorically throwing it across the room. At least you showed some perseverance. I will try my damnedest with a book club book and there are some horrors that some "authors" have got away with.

Farfished9 --"It's everything I hate about Austen..."

Hehehehe *snickers*...yeeeah...

Conni (AKA Book Goddess) Wrightsman I agree, I don't care about the characters. Life is too short, I'm not finishing this one!

message 43: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Read what you enjoy, if you don't like a book put it down and start another...unless you have to read it for class...reading should be for pleasure and we all have different man's meat is another man's poison and all that...

Sarah Listen to it instead...plot lines do get more exciting.

Madeline I'm sure the story does get more exciting (I've heard that the last 200-some pages are amazing), but if a book fails to capture my interest after 400 pages, I put it away and don't feel bad about it. I might give this one another chance some day, but right now there are too many other books that interest me more.

message 46: by Angie (new)

Angie Yeah, those are my issues with Austen in the first place . . .

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Austen, however, is never anywhere near as long as Middlemarch.

message 48: by Suanne (new) - added it

Suanne Laqueur Oh my God, help me. I have to read this book for a book club and I can't deal. It is so excruciatingly boring. Another reviewer said every page advances the plot. Um, no. I've read the last TWENTY pages and nothing new has happened. In fact I've forgotten the entire point of those twenty pages. Was there a point? Does this book have a point? It's like 18th century Seinfeld, only boring.

message 49: by Sunny (new) - added it

Sunny Hahahaha!

message 50: by Josh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Josh Collins The book is certainly dense, and a lot of these comments stop there. The book is hard to read, and thus I will not read it. However, the book was written in a different time. You have to consider that George Eliot knew a lot more about previous literature than most any of us today. She knew Milton like we know the current pop stars (try as we might to ignore them). As such, this novel is littered with references that I (being lucky enough to read this in a college class wth an excellent professor) did not at first but now do recognize.

It's hard to get through the first half, but the biggest suggestion I have is to read each sentence slowly and carefully. Eliot was a master; each word is chosen for a reason and each sentence serves a purpose (even when it doesn't seem like it!). So make it a game. This is not a rush to the end type novel. We don't complain that tv shows are 9 seasons long. Think about this the same way. You read this book over the course of a few months, not all at once, so you can live in the world of these characters.

And just think; if we think this is boring, imagine this book universe being YOUR life. What that would do to your thought process on what is important and what is trivial. It's an interesting experiment in putting yourself in another's shoes.

So give it a chance.

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