Middlemarch by George Eliot
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This author astounded me. Her style of highbrow understatement produces complex sentences each of which is like a stained glass window, and so often I found myself stopping to study the light passing through the artful mosaic. Dazzling linguistic expression.
Because she has so much to say on provincial life, political reform, and on the role of women in the early to mid 19th century, she wields her pen like a weapon of mass destruction... but in the most polite fashion. George Eliot is the pen name used by Mary Ann Evans and one does not get far into the book before coming to grips with her distinctly feminist voice. Unlike most Victorian writers (and surely all female Victorian writers) the author does not care for cute alliances and happily-ever-after marriages. Her feet are firmly planted in the pragmatic soil of real life with flawed humans. So, this author has omnipotent talent AND she is very brave.
As she directed me over 800 pages and through the lives of her characters and the consequences of their humanity (some might say stupidity), it is the heroine, Dorothea, who commanded the most attention. Like the author of this considerable volume, Dorothea wants to live a life of the mind more than anything else. She marries foolishly to accomplish this. Consider this quote (from the man Dorothea adored) in a "love" letter he wrote to her: "I have discerned in you an elevation of thought and a capability of devotedness, which I had hitherto not conceived to be compatible either with the early bloom of youth or with those graces of sex that may be said at once to win and to confer distinction when combined, as they notably are in you, with the mental qualities above indicated." Good grief. In her quest for knowledge, learning and wisdom, Dorothea marries this nincompoop. (This occurs rather early on in the book so do not despair.) One might expect by the end of this expansive tale to find Dorothea where she deserves to be - on top of the world! Well, George Eliot is not Jane Austen. Frankly, I think Austen is utterly dwarfed by Eliot's almighty competence and foresight. Dorothea is exactly where she wants to be at the end of the story, revealing the wisdom of the author.
Every now and then I like to read a book which is all sizzle and no steak - brain candy - for the tranquilizing effect. This is decidedly NOT brain candy. Middlemarch can best be described as all steak. I hope you read it. It has made me a better thinker. This quote impressed me most as the best reflection of the author's spirit in the writing of this tome:
“If youth is the season of hope, it is often so only in the sense that our elders are hopeful about us; for no age is so apt as youth to think its emotions, partings, and resolves are the last of their kind. Each crisis seems final, simply because it is new. We are told that the oldest inhabitants in Peru do not cease to be agitated by the earthquakes, but they probably see beyond each shock, and reflect that there are plenty more to come.”
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