While it deals with many different characters who live in and around the fictitious British town of Middlemarch, the book mostly follows two idealistic young people, Dorothea Brooke and Dr. Tertius Lydgate, and what happens when they try to live out their ideals and eventually fail.
Dorothea is an orphan, and she had her sisters have been raised by their vague and nattering uncle. She has a great yearning to do good in the world, to help in some important work. When she meets Dr. Casaubon, a much older scholar who is trying to write a guide to all mythology, she convinces herself that marrying him will allow her to assist in his writing and do something good, useful, and important.
Dr. Lydgate moves to Middlemarch to help create an experimental hospital, where he will be able to study fevers and different ways of treating them. He's sure this will enable him to crack many medical mysteries and make a name for himself, as well as helping so many disease-stricken people. He soon meets vivacious Rosamond Vincy and can't stop himself from marrying her even though he had been determined not to marry anyone ever until he had a thriving medical practice established.
Both Dorothea and Lydgate marry people they barely know, filled with imaginings of how wonderful their lives will be. Both of them have their idealistic daydreams shattered by reality. The bulk of the novel delves into just how they react to this disillusionment. Who will be made stronger by this, and who will be broken by it?
There are oodles of other fascinating characters in the story, of course. My favorite -- well, tied with Dorothea for my favorite character of all -- is Will Ladislaw, Dr. Casaubon's indigent cousin. He's an artist, sorta. He's a writer, sorta. He's mostly not at all sure what he wants out of life, other than to be able to talk to Dorothea and have long, deep discussions with her. He's not so much shiftless as simply searching for his place in the world, and oh, he's so sweet and sad!
This is only the second thing I've ever read by George Eliot, but it will definitely not be the last. I liked her writing extremely well. As I said to Hannah not long ago, I feel like her writing has Jane Austen's biting social commentary mixed with Charles Dickens' concern for the downtrodden and with Charlotte Bronte's insight into restricted female identity. I have Birdie to thank for getting me to read this book -- I joined her watch-along of the BBC adaptation last summer and liked the miniseries so well I had to read the book. Took me months and months, thanks to various interruptions, but it was a happy, fulfilling journey.
If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG. Clean, but sometimes intense.
This is my 22nd book read and reviewed for The Classics Club. Almost half way done with that challenge!!!