Middlemarch: a Study of Provincial Life, is as the subtitle states, a study in provincial life – in the fictitious town of Middlemarch, somewhere outside but not very distant from London, early 1830s. You may read it described as several interconnected stories regarding the principals of Middlemarch – which I suppose is accurate; However, for me the main character is Miss Brooke and it is her coming-of-age tale, with several related subplots. Dorothea Brooke is a young woman, orphaned, living with her uncle, and younger sister Celia. The uncle is a wealthy and established person of Middlemarch. He is kindly, but somewhat simple. Dorothea and Celia will receive a comfortable income, but no great fortune on coming of age. And as you might expect – there are suitors.
Dorothea is kind and compassionate and hopes for little more in life than to be useful to her fellow humans, and perhaps to marry a worthy man and assist in his life’s noble cause. She is an idealist and admirable, but also painfully naïve. But as I stated, it is a coming-of-age tale; life gives Dorothea some hard lessons, but she learns them well and they have significant import to those other subplots in the doings of Middlemarch.
The novel starts very slowly. The first 500 pages or so developing the characters with nothing very compelling happening. It is only the last several hundred pages where things get interesting. I was a little disappointed in the ending, not because I wasn’t relieved at the outcome, but because I thought the resolution to the conflicts was too easy, not very clever. It didn’t stun me. I didn’t want to stand and cheer. It just felt like – “Oh good; that’s nice.”
But in the end, the very end, I have to concede that I think the un-momentousness, was very likely Eliot’s intention. She writes (yes She, more on that in a moment) – she writes of Dorothea in the book’s final paragraph:
Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on un-historic acts; and the things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
And for that, I bow to Mary Anne Evans, author of Middlemarch who wrote under the pen name George Eliot.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This novel satisfies – Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 – Category: a classic with a single word title.
Epilogue to my thoughts on Middlemarch. Author Henry James described Ladislaw [a lead male character] as the hero of the novel. Really!? Not Dorothea, but Ladislaw? Really? I understand the historical context of mid-19th century attitudes towards women, but Really!?
Mr. Brooke wondered, and felt that women were an inexhaustible subject of study, since even he at his age was not in a perfect state of scientific prediction about them.One must be poor to know the luxury of giving!The troublesome ones in a family are usually either the wits or the idiots.If youth is the season of hope, it is often so only in the sense that our elders are hopeful about us.
SPOILER ALERT: The following quotation contains a spoiler. It is a poignant epitaph of Dorothea, and her reputation in Middlemarch:
…she was spoke of to a younger generation as a fine girl who married a sickly clergyman, old enough to be her father, and in little more than a year after his death gave up her estate to marry his cousin – young enough to have been his son, with no property, and not well-born. Those who had not seen anything of Dorothea usually observed that she could not have been “a nice woman,” else she would not have married either the one or the other.