30 May, 2007


So, I finally finished Middlemarch. The last ten or so chapters were so good that my overall verdict on the book's entertainment merits is greatly improved. I actually read those ten chapters over the course of two nights, and I think that's the strongest observation I can give in their favour, considering my track record with a lot of the rest of the book.

By the last chapters, the focus is finally off the corrupt Bulstrode - who is probably one of the most difficult-to-read-about bad guys in all literature. He's not at all dramatically evil or anything,just corrupt, so that's probably why he's hard to stomach. It still concentrates a little on the Lydgates, but Dorothea is drawn into helping them out by this time, so these scenes hardly seem like such huge digressions. Then by the final few chapters, the narrative comes roundly back to focus on all the original characters once again, somehow without seeming over-late despite their long absence.

17 May, 2007

Bogged Down in Middlemarch

So, I've been working on George Eliot's masterpiece, Middlemarch..... for the past four months. I'm ashamed that this has taken so long - even War and Peace was a quicker read once I got into the story.

I'm not sure why, but the story just hasn't captured my attention enough to make me sit down and read chapter after chapter in a row. Rather, I've been reading one chapter per night before bed. If you didn't know that I'm not especially loving it, you'd think me a model of reading-self-control.

Not that it's not an admirably written book. But in fact, I think it's almost too "well written" for my tastes. None of the exaggerated but enthralling drama which so endears Russian literature to me. None of Jane Austen's dry wit. None of Tolkien's brilliant use of languages and fantasy or Lewis' very Christian philosophical undertones. I've really found very little to keep me interested in the story beyond my own determination to read it. Oh - and the character of Dorothea.

Dorothea is one of the most interesting main characters I've ever encountered. Keenly intelligent, determined to live up to the highest standards, very stubborn and rather quick tempered... she is introduced as one passionately devoted to ideals. The most interesting parts of the book (at least in my own opinion - which is likely literary heresy according to some standards) explore her gradual realization that intellectual ideals can't constitute the entire happiness of life. Almost at the opening of the book, she marries an ancient and very emotionless scholar whom she idolizes for his intellect. I for one, was terribly upset about the marriage (Yes, the talking-aloud-to-the-character-while-I'm-reading type of upset. I am a very theatrical reader at times.)and I'm jolly sure that's the reaction George Eliot was hoping to get from any reader. Dorothea, unfortunately, comes to the reader's perspective only a while later, when she finally begins to understand that living for love of an ideal makes for a far poorer existence than does living for love of an actual person.

Fascinating part of the story. The only problem is that she is not nearly in the book enough. After only a little way through the book, the story drifts off to focus on a menagerie of people who are not nearly so sympathetic or interesting - Dr. Lydgate and his shallow wife Rosamond (their story revolves around money troubles); Fred Vincy (whose story does likewise); etc. The addition of other characters, particularly together with the story of their marriages, does a lot artistically to add to the theme of the book. (The money troubles also add a lot to the book: in Middlemarch society, even in Dorothea's case, money causes much contention between married couples.) But I'm not enough of a detatched reader (and do I want to be?) yet to read voraciously just because the book is artistically well-balanced.

I love to read books that interest me. Middlemarch does that to an extent, but not quite enough to make me read it faster than one or two chapters a night.

I have to say that the copy I found at a used bookstore is exceptionally nice though.........

09 May, 2007

Burnt Norton

So, I've been reading TS Eliot this quarter for school. Am I lucky or not to be getting literature assignments that pretty much constitute bliss on earth?

Anyway, I just started the "Four Quartets" by reading the first section, "Burnt Norton," today. (I really have no idea what the segment titles mean - most likely they have a profound significance that would tear the proverbial scales from my eyes and reveal the entire meaning of the poem to me in an instant. And yes, I'm kidding, for those who wouldn't know.)

The poem is brilliant. I especially like Part II. Now, it's hard writing about poetry, because people tend to disagree about what it means, but I think that TS Eliot was talking about the Incarnation here. And the way he describes it! Just brilliant.

The image he uses repeatedly is that of "the still point of the moving world" around which time and space and all the created world revolve. The poem revolves around the image as creation revolves around the point. And if you're reading it from the Christian perspective of Eliot, this still point can only be God - "neither flesh nor fleshless", a Being outside of time and space, but a Being also made flesh through the Incarnation.

"Except for the point, the still point, / There would be no dance .... / I can only say there we have been: but I cannot say where. / And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time."

Then further into the poem: "...surrounded / By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving" - a light outside of the world, unmoving, and yet Incarnate in the world and moving with it - "...both a new world/ And the old made explicit, understood/ In the completion of its partial ecstasy,/ The resolution of its partial horror." He seems to speak here of the fulfillment of the the Old Covenant in the New - the consummation of salvation through Christ. The coming of Christ does indeed complete the promise of the Old Testament's ecstasy in that He brings redemption to a fallen world and makes possible humanity's salvation. He fulfills the partial horror of the thousands of animal sacrifices necessary to atone for sins in the Old Covenant, by sacrificing Himself in atonement for the world.

"Time past and time future/ Allow but a little consciousness./To be concious is not to be in time".
Our existence on earth is limited by being caught up in time, unaware of what it is to be outside of time, with God. With God, understanding of many things - the conciousness of His plan for salvation, and so forth - are much clearer.

But despite this, God descended into time and space, into the limits of Creation to earth in order to save us.

"But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,/ The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,/ The moment in the draughty church at smoke-fall/ Be remembered; involved with past and future./ Only through time time is conquered."