If you grew up in the Great Britain , you might think , when stopping to read the headline of the first book review that I am posting , ‘Oh, really , Middlemarch?’. Maybe you have studied it in school, and read it because you had to. Maybe you refused to read it, just because they made you do it. At any cost, I didn’t grow up in Great Britain, and although I read a lot, I am ashamed to say that I have only vaguely heard of George Eliot until recently. Attempting to improve my own writing, I bought a few books of literary theory, including the debutant’s writer Bible, David Lodge’s The Art of Fiction. The thing is, Middlemarch was featured in all of them. One of the most important novels in English literature. Oops, how did I miss that one out?
So I read it. What it is about? Simplifying the action a lot, and trying not to disclose too many details for someone who might wish to read it, I would say that it follows the destinies of three couples, during a few years. It is a story about love and courtship, decisions and disappointments, about conjugal life, with its ups and downs. The lives of the protagonists unfold in a small province town, where the public opinion could almost count as a character on its own, with the capacity to do and undo fates.
To be completely honest, it proved to be a bit of a struggle , in the beginning. George doesn’t have , for instance, Jane Austen’s easy, slightly amusing style. George is serious. And I thought Dorothea, which is the main character, to be quite the prig, in the beginning. Her religious ardour was something that I simply couldn’t relate to. In fact , after reading a quarter of the book, I didn’t feel much engaged, as a reader. I didn’t feel the impulse to engorge the pages by the dozens at a time. However, I thought, ‘Well, it’s supposed to be good, so I should really give it a chance.’ So I persevered. And I was rewarded for it. The characters, at least the main ones, showed a remarkable capacity to evolve, to learn from their mistakes , like Dorothea did. She finally turned into a character I could relate to. Rosamund , perhaps the anti-hero of the book, evolves , too, but in the opposite direction. She began to irritate me , starting from a certain point, with her stubbornness and her very limited views. That’s what makes George Eliot great, I think, her ability to impress a certain spiritual and intellectual flexibility on her characters. They change , they evolve, they grow , as the novel unfolds, and so do the relationships between them.
In the end, I was very glad that I read it . Had I stopped , even half-way through, I would have never understood the greatness of this book. And yes, I devoured the last pages.
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