by George Eliot
(pen name, Mary Anne Evans)
My path to Middlemarch was circuitous. I read a review of another book, My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead and although Ms. Mead's book sounded interesting, I couldn't read it. How could I read a book written by someone who had spent her entire life obsessed by Middlemarch when I had not actually read Middlemarch myself? So I purchased both books, then jumped into George Eliot's nineteenth century, eight hundred page tome.
My reaction to Middlemarch was one of delighted surprise. I was entertained and above all, I was enchanted. Set in the Midlands of England, the same magical countryside that housed the rabbit warrens of Watership Down, Middlemarch is a country town that is at once bucolic and busy. Inhabited by a fascinating assortment of characters, both working class and landed gentry, the inhabitants of Middlemarch never fail to behave in interesting and surprising ways.
And whether you are hoping against hope that Dorothea does not marry the much older Mr. Casaubon, which she unfortunately and unhappily does, or you are cheering for young Will Ladislaw to win Dorothea's heart once she finally becomes a widow, there is not a single page that does not draw you into their dramatic lives.
I'll warn you that reading Middlemarch is addictive. It is also fun. Each page pulls the reader willingly along on a carefully crafted ride. Eliot's storytelling skill compels you to turn to the next page, plunge into the next chapter, and complete the next section, and there are eight sections in all.
Immersed joyfully in Eliot's plot lines, I especially enjoyed Book I: Miss Brooke, which introduces Dorothea, a serious-minded innocent, Book V: The Dead Hand in which you hope and pray for Mr. Casaubon to hurry up and die, for goodness sake and Book VIII: Sunset and Sunrise where loose ends are finally tied up, the book provides everything a reader needs for a delightful literary experience. Eliot creates sympathy where there should not be any, offers forgiveness where there should be regret and judgement, and even inserts sardonic humor into every chapter. By the last page, I was so invested in the fates of Dorothea, Will Ladislaw, Dr. Lydgate and Mary Garth that I was ready to scream if the story lines were not concluded to my satisfaction.
Middlemarch has become one of my favorite books and I am already anticipating reading it again.
I freely admit to being obsessed by the foolishness, the innocence and the wisdom that is Middlemarch.
As much as Mead insists that she has always been obsessed with Middlemarch, I find that claim hard to believe. Her observations and analysis lack joy. Wouldn't a literary work that was central to your emotional life bring you joy? And wouldn't that joy shine through in your description of the book's characters? I did not see even a glimmer of that joy.
I did, however, enjoy the biographical aspects of My Life in Middlemarch, and if this book had been advertised as a biography, I would have been satisfied. I suggest that you read Rebecca Mead's book on Middlemarch only if you are interested in reading a reference book, as My Life in Middlemarch is at the very least that.