Lisa's Reviews > Middlemarch

Middlemarch by George Eliot
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 1001-books-to-read-before-you-die

I am leaving Middlemarch!

I can't believe it, after spending so much time with them, I am now done, moving on, moving out, like Lydgate and Bulstrode and Ladislaw and Dorothea. Middlemarch is a state of mind, and you can drop it or it can drop you.

In my case, I feel it dropped me, for I would have clung on to it even after turning that 918th page that was the final one! Does that make me more of a Bulstrode then, rather than a Dorothea? Well, obviously I am quite like the Middlemarch men in general, feeling there can't be anyone comparable to the wonderfully stubborn and idealistic Dorothea!

The gossipers got it all right, of course. Dorothea was not a "nice woman", marrying an illusion first and a passion next. A "nice woman" would have married greed first and ambition next, and she would have been the most respected woman in town, if she kept reasonably stupid and pretty.

I always feel a bit sorry for my immediate environment when I read one of the "big novels" for the first time, for just like Dorothea, I find it hard to play the nice and pretty and detached part that decorum expects of a lady reader. I live and breathe the book, and I get angry and frustrated and annoyed with the course the story takes. I have spent evenings muttering about Bulstrode, and mornings yelling at Rosamond, the female nightmare that the 19th century prided itself in creating as an expensive form of decorative art for conventional society (- all art is quite useless, said a wild and wise man!). I have worried with Fred and scolded with Mary, and felt for Farebrother, and told Lydgate to dump his wife and run.

I have meddled with Mrs Cadwallader, telling her that HER meddling is going in the wrong direction, and that she is setting up people for unhappiness and failure. And I have wondered at the genius of George Eliot, who must have been the most intelligent and perceptive person within the country she called home. And I have wondered how lonely she must have felt as a result of that great mind she carried around in that deeply misogynistic and conventional society.

How must the Rosamunds of her environment have suffocated her! How must the very concept of matrimony and conventionality have struck her as a road to hell? In Dorothea's brave words, her insight shines through:

"Marriage is so unlike everything else. There is something even awful in the nearness it brings."

And as the novel comes to a close, one wonders a bit if Dorothea ever felt a pang of regret that she married twice, nice or not nice as her matches may be called. One wonders if that second marriage wasn't the greatest sacrifice of all, and not because of the lost fortune, but because of the destructive principle she recognised herself. Bound to a man by the disapproval of society, would the passion stay, or would conventional awfulness take its place? Who knows? George Eliot herself only knows why she made Dorothea respectable rather than a free spirit in the end.

For after all, the whole novel is about suppressed sex. An affair (or two) would have cured that nicely...

Best of the best, and that's my blooming rage speaking in rankings!
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Reading Progress

July 6, 2018 – Shelved
July 6, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
July 6, 2018 – Shelved as: 1001-books-to-read-before-you-die
July 7, 2019 – Started Reading
July 17, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-25 of 25 (25 new)

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message 1: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat For after all, the whole novel is about suppressed sex. An affair (or two) would have cured that nicely...
ha, ha, I am tempted to observe that the difference between British and french 19th century novels is that one is about suppression & its consequences, the other about non-suppression & its consequences, but that is probably too narrow minded of me


Lisa Jan-Maat wrote: "For after all, the whole novel is about suppressed sex. An affair (or two) would have cured that nicely...
ha, ha, I am tempted to observe that the difference between British and french 19th centur..."


No, it's spot-on as always, Jan-Maat! May I use that distinction in my teaching? German novel of the 19th century, like Effi Briest - combining the French with the English and watching the soul die in the process...


message 3: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat & if I refuse permission & you use it anyway how would I know? So i might as well allow you free usage thereof


Lisa Jan-Maat wrote: "& if I refuse permission & you use it anyway how would I know? So i might as well allow you free usage thereof"

I thank you kindly! The sad thing is that my students miss out on the whole drama as they are terribly bad at reading between the lines, used as they are to straightforward one-liners supported by emojis...


Plateresca How very true!
Although I don't think Dorothea becomes respectable by her second marriage - she does what she wants to, not what anybody expects of her.


Lisa Plateresca wrote: "How very true!
Although I don't think Dorothea becomes respectable by her second marriage - she does what she wants to, not what anybody expects of her."


Agree. So she might as well have kept the fortune and had an affair with Ladislaw to let the passion run its course, and thrn they could have settled for friendship... In the best of worlds, people wouldn't own each other :-)


Kevin Ansbro A book rich with keen character observations. Wonderful review, Lisa!


message 8: by Plateresca (last edited Jul 17, 2019 11:01PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Plateresca Oh, but isn't this what one thinks after having some experience of married life, but not before? :) I think maybe it's because we feel most what we lack, not what we have; so, when one's young one longs for romance and company, then when one has it one wants to creep behind a curtain with a book, so to speak :)
Apart from that, she might have wanted to have children, though we do not know that for sure (if I remember correctly).

Anyway, I also loved this novel! Did you read 'My Life in Middlemarch' by Rebecca Mead? It's a kind of a brief memoir interspersed with the author's thoughts on the novel. (Good for those who finish 'Middlemarch' but keep thinking about it ;))

And did you find any of George Eliot's other books as good?


message 9: by Lisa (last edited Jul 17, 2019 11:39PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Plateresca wrote: "Oh, but isn't this what one thinks after having some experience of married life, but not before? :) I think maybe it's because we feel most what we lack, not what we have; so, when one's young one ..."

Yes, you are right about longing for what one doesn't have. The bizarre thing about marriage (apart from the quite obsolete traditional roles that go with it) is that it often aims to secure a passion which it then kills by the very structure it creates. Ownership and passion don't mix well.
Thank you for the suggestion - I will pick it up! As for other Eliot novels - so far I have only read Daniel Deronda, and the jury's still out after years of pondering :-)


message 10: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Kevin wrote: "A book rich with keen character observations. Wonderful review, Lisa!"

Thanks, Kevin!


Plateresca So far, I've decided that 'Daniel Deronda' might be too depressing for me to read now, so I'll be happy to know your thoughts, if or when you decide to share them :) I've read 'The Mill on the Floss', and liked parts of it, but not as much as 'Middlemarch', sadly :)


message 12: by Ilse (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ilse I love the intensity in which you engage with the characters, Lisa, and your musings on conventionality and the need for freedom (and I second Plateresca on reading the 'My Life in Middlemarch' book, it is great if you want to dwell for some time longer in Middlemarch, and on Eliot as a person, her far from conventional life choices might delight you).


message 13: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Plateresca wrote: "So far, I've decided that 'Daniel Deronda' might be too depressing for me to read now, so I'll be happy to know your thoughts, if or when you decide to share them :) I've read 'The Mill on the Flos..."

I have Silas Marner at home! Will see where it takes me...


Dolors Magnificent review on a classic I should re-read. I love how you evoke the characters' idiosyncrasy and your enthused tone, Lisa. A review impossible to resist!


message 15: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala Well, obviously I am quite like the Middlemarch men in general, feeling there can't be anyone comparable to the wonderfully stubborn and idealistic Dorothea!

Ah but I think you must be more like Dorothea than the men, Lisa, very like her in fact, except for your wisdom that allows you to see that she could have satisfied her passion while retaining her freedom. I'm thinking that although George Eliot did that herself, she couldn't yet allow a character to choose such a way out. But I'm happy she created Dorothea even if she couldn't write her a more fitting destiny.
Thank you for writing this super passionate review. It was a pleasure to read from beginning to end. I haven't had much goodreads time lately but I'm very glad I popped in today and caught your Dorothea fest.


message 16: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Ilse wrote: "I love the intensity in which you engage with the characters, Lisa, and your musings on conventionality and the need for freedom (and I second Plateresca on reading the 'My Life in Middlemarch' boo..."

I use to tell my students that reading fiction is different from all other activities as it is participating in another life. Yet sometimes, that is quite overwhelming!


message 17: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Fionnuala wrote: "Well, obviously I am quite like the Middlemarch men in general, feeling there can't be anyone comparable to the wonderfully stubborn and idealistic Dorothea!

Ah but I think you must be more like D..."


Yes I guess you are probably right Eliot does not gift Dorothea the escape that she made for herself, but then fiction is mostly believable and this is the story of middlemarch, not exceptionalmarch


message 18: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Jan-Maat wrote: "Fionnuala wrote: "Well, obviously I am quite like the Middlemarch men in general, feeling there can't be anyone comparable to the wonderfully stubborn and idealistic Dorothea!

Ah but I think you m..."


I kind of like that Eliot had to tone down her experience to make it writable. Most people live in Middlemarch and have to make up Exceptionalmarch. How extraordinary to do it the other way round!!


message 19: by Nocturnalux (new) - added it

Nocturnalux Eliot herself lived an exceptional life all around!


message 20: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Dolors wrote: "Magnificent review on a classic I should re-read. I love how you evoke the characters' idiosyncrasy and your enthused tone, Lisa. A review impossible to resist!"

Thanks, Dolors! I think I will remain in Middlemarch in spirit for a while, such a complete world in miniature.


message 21: by Claire (new) - added it

Claire McAlpine Great review and a reminder that this may be the summer I finally indulge in Middlemarch. That comment about British suppression and French non-suppression and their consequences is something I observed in reading two novellas done years ago, only in place of British it was American, Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome versus Irène Némirovsky's Fire in the Blood and their handling of forbidden love. Classic.


message 22: by Claire (new) - added it

Claire McAlpine Great review and a reminder that this may be the summer I finally indulge in Middlemarch. That comment about British suppression and French non-suppression and their consequences is something I observed in reading two novellas done years ago, only in place of British it was American, Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome versus Irène Némirovsky's Fire in the Blood and their handling of forbidden love. Classic.


message 23: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Fionnuala wrote: "Well, obviously I am quite like the Middlemarch men in general, feeling there can't be anyone comparable to the wonderfully stubborn and idealistic Dorothea!

Ah but I think you must be more like D..."


I am very pleased that you joined the Dorothea party, Fionnuala! I guess that you are right about Eliot's dilemma, and I prefer it the way it is: exceptional novel about an ordinary dilemma and an exceptional life solving the dilemma (although I doubt George Eliot took it lightly - hers was a dilemma that will have caused some pain, whichever path she chose!)


message 24: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Nocturnalux wrote: "Eliot herself lived an exceptional life all around!"

Yes, and I am excited to explore it more in detail now ...


message 25: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Claire wrote: "Great review and a reminder that this may be the summer I finally indulge in Middlemarch. That comment about British suppression and French non-suppression and their consequences is something I obs..."

I for some reason didn't like Ethan Frome at all - and you may have shown me why, Claire! Isn't his character just a long tedious suppression of life in general?


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