Tag Archives: Middlemarch

The more I read of literature, the more I am dissatisfied with it.

Long time, no blog. I know. Unfortunately I seem to be having something of an existential crisis at present. Not on behalf of my own life, thank goodness, but rather on behalf of my blog. ‘In my good books’ I named it, although I have to say I’m beginning to think that ‘In my boring books’ might have been more accurate. I set out to read books that others had hailed as ‘classics’ and have, for the most part, been a little disappointed and a lot uninspired. I love reading, I chose to study English at Uni because of this love. I had anticipated, therefore, that beginning this blog and undertaking to read more ‘classic’ books would be something of a treat, lately, at least, it hasn’t been. I seem to be reading less and less as time passes.

Since the low point of Madame Bovary, I seem to have got rather stuck in a rut. I have not found any new characters, especially heroines to aspire to or admire. I had assumed that there were a few more Elizabeth Bennets out there but am beginning to conceive that perhaps she is, after all, a flower amongst weeds in the garden of literary heroines. One thing that this blog is at least affirming to me is my love of my old favourites. I am gaining a greater insight into what exactly it is I love about the books I have cherished for so many years. Take Pride and Prejudice, for example. Previously I’d thought that it owed a great deal of its charm to the period in which it is set and the manners of the time, although having read Middlemarch I am not so sure. No, I think, where my love affair with Pride and Prejudice is concerned, it is not the period that makes it for me, or even, shock horror, Mr Darcy…it is Elizabeth. If there’s anything I love about that book it has to be her. Sure she has her faults…pride and prejudice are not the reserves of Mr Darcy, but her wit and vivacity (as Mr Collins puts it) are in my reading so far unparalleled.

Now, where the book I am currently dawdling through is concerned…where to begin. The Catcher in the Rye does not seem to be a bad book, although it is, for me, not the holy grail of literature. I haven’t finished it yet, so am aware that I am in no way fit to pass comment, but I have certainly developed a general air of apathy where reading this book is concerned. Thus far my reading of it has only commenced on trains, not a good sign. Instead, in the evening, I find myself drawn to the charms of sweeping….Minesweeping, that is; and can now boast the richest Sim I’ve ever played. Yes, it is that modern trapping, the computer game, that has robbed Salinger of my perusal. The Catcher in the Rye is by no means a doorstop of a book, in fact, compared to the likes of Middlemarch it is but a minnow in the pool. In fact, if I felt so inclined, I could probably sit down and read the whole thing in a couple of hours; and perhaps that is the way I’ll have to go. Maybe the quick short burst, like the ripping off of a plaster, will be my solution for The Catcher in the Rye. Maybe by the end of it I’ll even find I enjoy the sensation. But finishing it is not my main concern at present. It can be done, if I set my mind to it. No, what concerns me is my need to rip off the plaster and read in such a forced fashion. I’ve only encountered this sort of reading when studying academic texts and course books when revising. This is not the way I would choose to read for pleasure, as it confers little pleasure at all.

But how to solve the problem? The answer seems clear, read better books. But how to find them? I am, after all, currently reading my way through texts that have, for years, been ranked amongst the best. The pinnacle of literature. If they are not satisfying then where to turn next evades me. I’m not even so fussed when it comes to plot, all I want, as I’ve said from the start, is a heroine to be proud of. To be honest, even a hero would suffice. The perfect escapism, for me, is to wander into the life of a character I admire, to view the world as they do and to learn of worlds different to my own through their eyes; but where to find these characters? Again, I turn to the wisdom of Elizabeth Bennet, ‘The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense’. Perhaps I just need to be grateful that I have found books that I do love, and be content with the pleasure I have had in reading them.

What about  In my good books…? Well, I will trudge on, turning pages, scouring for that heroine to be proud of. After all, hope flames eternal…perhaps there is another Lizzie out there, skulking amongst the dross of boring characters, waiting to be discovered and truly loved. I just wish my course to find her would run a little  smoother.

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A real test…finishing Middlemarch by George Eliot.

It has taken me two weeks and one day, but I have finally finished Middlemarch. Hooray! I won’t deny that it was hard-going at times and required more than a little perseverance.

It’s described as a classic and I have had it said to me (when I’ve said that I’m reading it) “Oh, now that’s a good book” – and I won’t deny that at points I’ve felt tempted to answer “is it?”. I suppose, as always, that depends on your definition of a good book. With hindsight and careful consideration I think I would go so far as to say that Middlemarch is a good book, but I would not say that it is without fault. Perhaps the style it is written in might have been more easily interpreted in its day, however, I won’t deny that I found Eliot’s style of writing rather ‘exclusive’ and superior – it’s prose for intellectuals. Some might consider this a good thing, but I can’t understand how any mode of writing which prohibits its being understood by all who could be cheered and affected by it can be good. It reminds me in many ways of academic texts which I pored over while at uni, and they too seemed to be written to deliberately exclude the understanding of all.

But, I have been very critical, and Middlemarch does have a great deal to recommend it. The story, or should that be stories, are real moral tales which show a great understanding of human nature and the motives that drive and restrain us. It also provides a very complete and real picture of life in 19th century England – although only, it must be said, for a certain rank of people. Despite touching upon the same sort of society as Austen, Eliot’s novel is – in my opinion – barely comparable. To see what two different female authors can create of a similar setting and period (Middlemarch is set just a little over fifteen years later than Pride and Prejudice’s publication) has interested me whilst reading Middlemarch. It can’t be denied that  Middlemarch does directly address and comment upon the politics of the age in which its story is set, something which Austen has been greatly criticised for ignoring; however, I have to question what exactly this reference to the politics of the time does to enhance Middlemarch. The lives of the characters seem to pass untouched and unaffected by them because of their rank and means. Eliot does provide us with snapshots of the harder lives of Mr Brooke’s tenants and the farm labourers of Lowick, but they are not the characters which her novel is mainly concerned with. Dorothea is imbued with an innate and Christian desire to improve the lives of those around her, however, in Middlemarch‘s ‘Finale’ we are not informed of the conditions of Mr Brooke’s tenants, merely of the futures of the novel’s more wealthy characters. But I have rambled away from my point, which is that though Eliot’s novel is widely held up as being less trivial and introverted than Austen’s (and, therefore, a more serious novel), I can’t say that its referring to politics and the wider world does anything to make the story being told more important or valuable.

The real value of Middlemarch lies, just as in Austen, in its characters and the way they choose to live their lives. Their moral compasses and how they meet the challenges that life throws at them. Middlemarch is a story that teaches you; I’ve heard it said that it’s a ‘book to live your life by’ – and I concede that through seeing the faults and vices of Middlemarch’s inhabitants you are forced to see your own weaknesses rendered ugly in another. A sobering lesson for anyone; and Middlemarch does have so very many characters who have so very many faults that I think it would be a rare reader who did not see something of their own flaws in one of them.

Will I be reading Middlemarch again? No, I don’t think so. Am I glad that I have read it? Yes, undoubtedly. Would I recommend it? Not to everyone, it’s an acquired taste. Middlemarch is a book for those who have an appreciation of moralistic writing, an understanding of high-brow prose, and who find people’s flaws intriguing. You can learn a lot from this book,  but you pay for this knowledge with time and much effort.

As for me? Well, I don’t intend to take on quite such a long book this time. I move on to Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.

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Improving…continuing Middlemarch by George Eliot.

I’m almost half way through Middlemarch now, and am starting to enjoy it a little more; although I’m still of the opinion that it is far from an easy read. It’s taken me until now to have a good grasp of who all the characters are and what their relationships are to each other (not helped by the fact that many of them have quite similar names). Maybe I’m becoming simpler as I read and not more well-informed as one would expect.

This is by no means a book for the idle reader, it takes application and determination to continue reading it. Only now, just shy of the half way point, am I beginning to care about the characters and what befalls them. The social commentary that the novel is concerned with is noteworthy, but, again, not entertaining for any who are not specifically interested in rural England at that time. There are certainly lessons to be learnt from this book, and one gets the impression that, at this stage, they have not been fully taught. Many of the book’s characters are growing in experience, and consequently sense, as the novel develops. It will be interesting, therefore, to see where the story takes Dorothea and Fred before its close – as they seem, to me, to be two people who had the most to learn about themselves at the story’s beginning.

I have gone so far as to say that Middlemarch is beginning to interest me more and is seeming slightly less of a task than it was two days ago, however, I will leave it to you to decide whether or not one should have to read so far into a book before it begins to recommend itself to you in any way. Perhaps, like many before her, Eliot has merely saved the best till last.

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Several cups of tea later, still persevering with Middlemarch by George Eliot.

As promised, I have endeavoured to sit down and give Middlemarch a fair trial this weekend. I must be honest and say that it hasn’t been the easiest of endeavours. I have reached Chapter 15, but am still finding it very slow going. While the characters have become slightly more interesting, the pace of the story and the fact that there are so many different storylines simultaneously at play makes, in my opinion, for a less satisfying read. Perhaps I have been spoilt by the fast pace of modern novels and the quick witticisms of authors like Austen and Woolf, but I still feel as if I am waiting for this novel to really begin, and I’m already well into ‘Book Two’.

I’m happy to say that the storyline has moved away from the overly pious Miss Brooke and her new husband, whose ill-founded and misguided opinions did nothing but irritate me; however, I think this may well have been Eliot’s intention. I can only suppose, and hope, that with a fuller knowledge and understanding of the characters and the connections between them, I will come to find the minutiae of provincial life in 19th century England a little more engaging that I do at present. We shall see. I am by no means done with Middlemarch yet and fully intend to enjoy it more. I have heard it recommended and held-up as a true classic so often that I am determined to see in it what others have done before me, however long that may take (and however many dissatisfied blogs I have to write).

I have a sneaking suspicion that this book is going to require significantly more cups of tea than those I have read already, after all as C. S. Lewis said, ‘You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me’, I think I shall have to make that my motto, whilst reading Middlemarch at least.

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