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.........