Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Precie's Celebrate Reading Pick: MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot

Today, we welcome Precie as our Celebrate Reading Guest Blogger.

About the Guest Blogger: Precie...is.

Destiny stands by sarcastic with our dramatis personae folded in her hand.
--Middlemarch, George Eliot

Selecting a book for this was MUCH more difficult than I expected. Reading what other guests have written made it even more difficult...Should I write about THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, which made me weep for days and which tacitly granted me permission to write freely? Should I choose THE LOLITA EFFECT, which I think should be required reading for everyone?

Ultimately, I chose what might seem to be a no-brainer if you know me: MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot (Marian Evans).

I hear the groans and sighs. But wait. Don't go. My personal history with MIDDLEMARCH isn't like other guests' experiences with their books. I didn't like MIDDLEMARCH the first time I read it either. It was a class assignment, and it was dull. I didn't finish it. Truth be told, I probably didn't even read 1/3rd of it...but I managed to fake my way through the class well. I didn't like it the second time I read it either. Again, boring and far too long. I'm pretty sure I did slog through the whole thing that second time.

And here is why I chose to write about MIDDLEMARCH. Because by the time I finished graduate school, it was, by far, my favorite novel. Like a couple who moves slowly from casual acquaintance to abiding devotion, my reading of MIDDLEMARCH has been an evolving, ever-deepening relationship. At first, I simply didn't connect with the words or the characters. NOW the ascetic, self-effacing, idealistic Dorothea, who comes to realize in the end that she is, after all, human with her own needs and desires, is perhaps my most favorite literary heroine. NOW I sympathize with Dr. Lydgate, whose own professional idealism gets dragged down by his personal affections, his pretty wife's materialism, his own weaknesses. But my mention of these characters is a little misleading...one of the most magnificent aspects of MIDDLEMARCH is its intricate and expert depiction not just of individuals but o! f a social community as a living organism. The characters are interrelated in ways that aren't always clear, and yet that subtle interconnection is part of the point.

Moreover, MIDDLEMARCH grapples with many issues close to my heart: the intertwining of the personal and political, the role of women in society, social responsibility, some of the pitfalls of capitalism, the struggle between love and duty. (I saw that yawn! I'll stop. I'm almost done anyway.}

So, no, MIDDLEMARCH isn't exciting. There's no adventure, only a little intrigue, and, if I remember correctly, just one death. But there is brilliantly fine attention to the web of character within society. And delicate beauty. And love.

And an end that I kind of hope might someday be a fitting epigram on my tombstone (it's already on my Facebook profile):

Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.


Bernita said...

Fascinating, Precie. Thank you.
Some books resonate according to mood; some, to our experience or maturity.

JES said...

Hi, Precie -- yes, when I saw "George Eliot" in the post's title I almost fled the canyon. The only one of hers I ever read (like your first exposure to MIDDLEMARCH) was in school: SILAS MARNER. Which was sufficiently deadly to convince me that Eliot might have had many reasons to adopt a pseudonym, besides the stated one.

That said, I think your review would have thrilled her. Loved the quotation at the end, especially; "incalculably diffusive" is one of those great phrases that bring me up short, make me ponder them, and then (when they've been sufficiently pondered) make me wonder if I'll ever come up with something half so good.

pacatrue said...

Thanks, precie. What I mostly contemplated reading your review is the relationship between book and reader as well as simply the concept that things "grow" on you. Or you grow into them. I have nothing more coherent to say about that.

Merry Monteleone said...

I love this revue, Precie. I left you a more specific comment at your place, but I think I'll try middlemarch again - I hated it the first time, but maybe from a new place in life (read not 18 and easily annoyed) I'll like it better.

I had the same experience with Moby Dick, by the way... Hated it when I first tried it and picked it up a few years back and fell right into it.

ChrisEldin said...

My literary ignorance grows with each of these posts...

Is this similar to Madam Bovary? I loved that book. Middlemarch sounds much more intense though.

Moonie, I just ready your diary post. Thanks for the smile! Are you writing a YA? Sounds like fantastic material!
And the conversation with Momrat-glad I didn't miss that one!

Linda said...

Okay, okay, you convinced me - I'll give ole Georgie another try. Really, Silas Marner did me in years ago, but here's another to add to the growing stack.. sigh... (great review - thanks!). Peace, Linda

Froog said...

Ah, the English and the French - Middlemarch is Madame Bovary without the sex.

Both good, but Bovary way better, in my opinion (and not just for the sex).

Precie said...

Bovary definitely ranks up there. But my sense of Bovary is that it's much more intimate...a study of individuals rather than of a community. Where Bovary is sensory and sensual, Middlemarch is intellectual and conceptual.

(Well, that's my CliffNotes version.) :)