Middlemarch is a huge book. I’m not only talking about the sheer size of the physical book. The cast is huge and yet, each of them, the major ones anyway, are fleshed out in such a way that you think that the characters are real and that you’ve been transported to their century to take a part in their provincial lives. The themes are huge. I don’t think that a 500-word blog post will suffice to tackle each of them but I will try to point out a few.
I suppose it might have been seen as an ambitious novel during the time of its first release in serial form. As modern readers, we have the advantage, or the disadvantage, of having the book in its singular form. I’m at the side of feeling the advantage because one does not have to wait for weeks for the next installment. The plot rolls well enough without sacrificing other elements, and this lets the reader keep turning the pages while gleaning the insights of people from a 19th century society.
The people who voted for Middlemarch as one of the ten greatest books of all time have given it justice, if not reverence, for how can one ignore the accomplishments of this Victorian classic? How can one forget the virtuous Dorothea Brooke, a woman who thrusts upon herself tasks that she thinks will help realize her ideals? The people of her times find this an exercise in folly because she’s a woman who is supposed to make the best marriage instead of pushing through with her plans.
But as it is with a sprawling novel, there are more characters that we will care about, such as the unfortunate Will Ladislaw, a tempestuous yet determined young man with a promising career as a politician. There is also Tertius Lydgate, a young physician with unconventional yet effective methods of treating patients. And there are the members of the Garth family, the poor yet kind family that I believe is the hope in this novel.
The novel is propped with this singular and overarching theme: expectations in its different forms. Marital expectations are different from what the characters have imagined it to be. They marry for different purposes and they find themselves struggling as the vision of marital bliss fades with the shedding of time. Social expectations are rigid in this novel. Veering away from what one is expected to do is sure to create a scandal, but some characters strive to transcend from the norm to achieve their passions and their ideals.
A lot of characters are also concerned with social status. They will do everything, even close to murdering, to make sure that their reputations are untarnished, and it sometimes seems like status is what fuels life in Middlemarch. People would rather die than face disgrace, but then, there are some who can keep their heads with pride despite coming from low and ugly births. But in this novel, pride has a more important role:
We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, “Oh, nothing!” Pride helps; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our hurts— not to hurt others.
It is understandable if one is daunted by the length of this book, but I recommend you to conquer that fear for this is one of the most worthwhile reads ever. The writing is good and accessible for a classic novel. There’s enough plot and character intrigue to keep the curiosity piqued. The characters will stay with you. One just needs to take a leap of faith and take part in the life at Middlemarch.
[Read in March 2015.]
[5 out of 5 stars.]
[826 pages. Trade paperback. Used.]