Thursday, July 9, 2015

"Middlemarch" by George Eliot

I finished reading this book a week ago, and I keep putting off blogging about it because I have so many things to say, and yet everything I want to say seems so inadequate when it comes to talking about such a massive, magnificent book.  

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!!!

31 comments:

  1. Yay! for you. This is s chunkster! I've not read it, yet, and I am encouraged by your final thoughts on her writing. What was the other book you read by Eliot?

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    1. Thanks! It's very hefty, but so worth it. The other book I read was Silas Marner, which I read between 8 and 12 years ago. I remember very little about it, and want to read it again now that I'm much more acquainted with her style.

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  2. Lizzie and I have the BBC adaptation of this just sitting around, waiting for us to watch it. We really need to, and then we should read the book too I guess! It certainly sounds like the sort of thing I would enjoy. :) Nice review!

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    1. The adaptation is splendid! And Rufus Sewell is delightful in it, all frustrated glances full of longing, alternating with outbursts of passionate annoyance at the world around him. Since you like Sewell, I think you'll be pleased by his work here.

      One of the coolest things about reading the book was how I could see that the minseries is absolutely perfectly cast. Every character, as I read, worked so perfectly with what I'd seen -- best I've come across, to be honest!

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    2. Oh my goodness. Yep, I'm watching this asap. :D The only problem is that Lizzie's opinion of Sewell is the exact opposite of mine... :P She'll just have to deal with it.

      That sounds great -- I love it when that happens with books and adaptations I like! Thanks a bunch for the recommendation!

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    3. Well, Sewell's an acquired taste, I think. Did you see Hercules? He was great in that too! So snarky and reeeeally yummy.

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    4. I haven't, no... I actually forgot he was in that... hmm. I'll have to keep that in mind for if I have an opportunity to watch that now. Another he's in I've been meaning to see is Tristan & Isolde. Seen that by chance?

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    5. Nope, haven't seen Tristan & Isolde. Love him in "Amazing Grace," though! I love it when he pops up in the Branagh "Hamlet" as Fortinbras too :-)

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    6. To chime in... I quite loved Rufus in Tristan & Isolde. But he also kind of broke my heart in that one.

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    7. I was wondering if you'd pop in here! You've see rather more Rufus movies than I.

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    8. I'll have to prioritize T&I then too. Thanks DKoren! And I don't remember him from Amazing Grace! But it's been a while since I've seen it. It was before I knew who Benedict Cumberbatch was too. :)

      Have you guys seen this new trailer for an Amazon series called "The Man in the High Castle"? It's a Phillip K. Dick adaptation about what the world would be like if the Nazis won WWII. And apparently Sewell is a Nazi. :D

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    9. I haven't seen the trailer, but I did see it mentioned in Entertainment Weekly last week, and they had a pic of Rufus in a Nazi uniform. Stunning! Those Nazis sure did have snappy uniforms.

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  3. I loved your extremely warm review and thanks for the shout-out :) Is this your favourite book that you've read for The Classics Club so far?

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    1. I would say it ties with The Mark of Zorro for my favorite new read for the Classics Club, yes.

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  4. I read Silas Marner a few years ago and thought it was great. I've yet to hear anyone say anything bad about Middlemarch. I have The Mill on the Floss on my shelf. I need to make time for both of these novels.

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    1. I really need to reread Silas Marner, because I didn't like it at the time, but I think I just didn't know what to expect. I'd seen Eliot compared to Austen, and they do have some things in common, but they're mostly different. Now... I'm prepared :-)

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  5. I'm ashamed to say that I've never read any Eliot, although I've always meant to and I saw a movie once about her relationship with the pianist Chopin, which was very interesting. You've convinced me to start one soon! Middlemarch is one of those books that everyone tells you to read but no one ever tells you what it's about, so thanks for actually giving some detail!

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    1. You know, that's so true -- until I saw the miniseries, I had no idea what it was about at all. It's often touted as one of the greatest British novels ever, but nobody talks much about what happens in it.

      A book came out a couple years ago called "My Life in Middlemarch" that's a memoir of a person who reads this over and over, and how it has shaped her life. I want to read that now.

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    2. I saw that when it came out! Figured I should read the novel first, though. It's an interesting premise, especially since so many of us in this circle do that...re-read favorite books several times over.

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    3. Ditto! I love reading about how books affect people, since they affect me so deeply.

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  6. You persevered and finished it, congratulations! ;-) Thanks for the shout out, I'm thinking of doing another watch-along this autumn (any particular book you really want to read which has a good adaptation ;-) ?)

    I really love how you describe Eliot's style!

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    1. YES! I started this in September -- I grabbed it on the way out the door to go to the ER for what turned out to be the gall bladder attack, and it kept me faithful company through my couple days at the hospital and my recovery at home. But then it kept getting pushed aside for other things, and I'd start to feel guilty about not finishing it, and so I actually felt a great sense of relief and unburdening when I finished it up over the long July 4th weekend. Ten months, but it was worth it! And now I'll be able to read My Life in Middlemarch, which really intrigues me.

      Hmm. So many good adaptations! I'm overdue for a re-read of Jane Eyre. Would you like me to tell you all the adaptations on my to-watch list, see if that sparks any ideas? Or, here's a thought: I'm hosting a read-along of Hamlet starting on October 1st. Maybe you could do a watch-along of some version of Hamlet in tandem with the read-along?

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    2. Ah, Jane Eyre sounds like a good idea actually. The 2006 version then, because I would like it to be a multi-episode series for a watch-along. I myself was thinking about the Dickens adaptation of Our Mutual Friend, as I just read that book.

      I'm sorry, but I don't think I'd participate in a Hamlet watch-along. Shakespeare is not (yet?) my thing really (don't hate me!)

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    3. Maybe I'll do a poll on my blog about the watch-along

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    4. I am watching the 2006 JE right now for the first time -- have about an hour left. I really love Ruth Wilson in it, but Toby Keith is taking some getting used to. I would rewatch it with you, totally. I've never seen or read Our Mutual Friend, so that would be new territory for me. A poll would be a great idea!

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    5. I've been keeping tabs on this post and when I saw that you'd gone on to discuss 'Jane Eyre' I couldn't resist butting in :D Have you ever thought about doing a read-along for it someday, Hamlette? I can't think of anyone better qualified to do it than you!

      Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on the 2006 version when you eventually finish it. I must admit I'm not a huge fan of that one which kind of sucks because I know a lot of people who love it and I do really love all of the other Sandy Welch adaptations that I've seen. It makes me wonder what I'm missing.

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    6. YES! I would LOVE to host a read-along of Jane Eyre. It's only my favorite book. In fact, I have simply been waiting for someone to ask if I would host one... so now it's been bumped from the list of "prospective" read-alongs to "planned" read-alongs. We will do this next year! Because I've realized more than 2 read-alongs a year makes me cranky, and I've already scheduled Hamlet for this fall.

      I will be blogging about the 2006 version over on my Soliloquy next week some time, when I've finished it over the weekend. I so far can say I like it better than the Ciaran Hinds version, but not nearly so well as the Timothy Dalton, so about on par with the Michael Fassbinder so far. Also, in my head I think of it as the Ruth Wilson version, not the Toby Keith version, which you can see from the aforementioned versions is an anomaly. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

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    7. Just added a poll at my blog!

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    8. YESSS! Thank you Hamlette! *high five* :D

      I've seen five JE adaptations so far: the 1983 version, the 1996 version, the 2006 version, the 2011 version and a modern-day web series. The Timothy Dalton version is definitely my overall favourite but I think the Fassbender version does a superb job at capturing the spirit of the book in its running time and I love the Dario Marianelli soundtrack. The worst adaptation that I've seen is the 1996 film with Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt. Hurt's acting is a block of wood. They might as well have cast a wardrobe to play Rochester!

      I've also answered your questions on my "Ask Me Anything" answer post if you wanted to take a look at them.

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    9. Hee, you're welcome. I haven't seen the 1996 or web series -- I keep hearing that the 1996 is pretty awful, so I haven't bothered.

      Off to check out your post :-)

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    10. I've only seen a couple versions of Jane Eyre and have always loved the Timothy Dalton version best. The others didn't really stand out in my mind; I don't remember which they were. Now I'm thinking I should go through and watch them all to compare. This is such a good idea!

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