Victorian Readalong Q4: Middlemarch by George Eliot

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Victorian Readalong Q4: Middlemarch by George Eliot

Editado: Out 6, 2022, 1:30 pm

The last of the female authors for our Victorian year will be George Eliot with her most recognizable novel Middlemarch.

Originally published in 8 installments in 1871 and 1872, it is set ~40 years earlier (in 1829-1832) and as with some of our other reads this year, it deals with the life in the countryside at this time and how it was influenced by what was happening in England at the time (it even has a subtitle of "A Study of Provincial Life").

It straddles the boundary between a historical novel and a contemporary one (depending on how you define the terms) but it is usually considered a historical one despite the only 40 years gap between the now and the story-time.

Had you read it before? If you had or if you plan to read it now, tell us what you think!:)

Out 6, 2022, 1:33 pm

I’m 8 chapters in. All new to me. It’s both terrific and slow. So I’m reading in in small pieces for now - ten or so pages a sitting. I think i like every character so far.

Out 6, 2022, 3:48 pm

I wrote my final thesis on Middlemarch and I absolutely loved it. My topic was the depiction of education in Middlemarch, Shirley and Agnes Grey. On the other hand, I read so many Victorian novels in that time (more than a decade ago) that the details are all blurred and I forgot many aspects. I will follow this thread, though, and will be interested in everyone's thoughts!

Out 6, 2022, 4:20 pm

I haven’t read it since before I joined LibraryThing, I’d guess the last time was about twenty years ago(*), so a re-read is overdue. When I first read it I thought of it as the most fascinating and complicated (in good ways) Victorian novel that I’d come across, and I haven’t had to change that opinion yet.

(*) Oddly I have a very clear memory of where I was when I started to read it that time — Sedbergh in Cumbria — but I can’t quite work out which year it was that I had a holiday there.

Out 6, 2022, 4:48 pm

According to my notes, I've read it 3 times: 1987 (loved it), 2008 (so-so) and on audiobook in 2015 (re-kindled the love). I'll be listening again, as I found that an excellent experience (read by Juliet Stevenson). I'll probably start in November.

Once I'm done, I hope to read Rebecca Mead's memoir My Life in Middlemarch, which I've had on the shelf for quite some time.

Out 6, 2022, 6:12 pm

I think I've read this three times, once pre-LT, once in 2012, and then on audiobook read by Juliet Stevenson (which was fantastic).

Middlemarch is one of my favorite books. I do have a new Folio Society edition that I've not yet read, so I might join in. But if I don't reread it with everyone, I will be here anyway for the discussion.

Out 7, 2022, 9:26 am

This will be my first time reading it since LT, have read it three times in the past. I haven't yet started it again this time around, but will. Like >5 kac522:, I'll be reading Mead when I'm finished (on my shelf also for a long time, but I wanted to reread the actual book first - now I have the impetus).

Out 9, 2022, 8:11 pm

I have been experiencing some work and life stress lately, and I suddenly realized tonight that rereading Middlemarch is exactly what I want in this situation. So I began my reread tonight. I'll probably read it slowly, amongst other books, especially because I'm reading a gorgeous but massive Folio Society hard cover edition. It has beautiful illustrations. But it is not at all portable, so I will only read it when I'm at home in a comfortable spot.

>5 kac522: I read My Life in Middlemarch in 2014. I don't remember much about it except that I enjoyed it. I looked up my review and it starts with this
"I'm still not sure exactly what this books was - memoir, literary analysis, biography of George Eliot? - but in the end it really didn't matter. This book was like having a conversation with a good friend about a book you both love."

Editado: Out 9, 2022, 10:34 pm

>8 japaul22: Well, that sounds good. I've been waiting to re-read Middlemarch before I read Mead's book, so I swear it's happening this time!

Out 9, 2022, 10:49 pm

I finished Book 1 yesterday, working on book 2.

Some 1st impressions:

First, I love the phrase “since prayer heightened yearning but not instruction” - to capture Dorothea Brooke’s cluelessness. I think it says a lot about humanity.

As I mentioned above, the prose is slow but it’s a terrific prose - always smart. There are tons of references I’m not picking up. A really large number of characters are introduced, and Sand has fun with them all. I’m enjoying that. No one is unscathed. I found the sudden 1st person narrative, Sand apparently talking to us, in chapter X really interesting.

It bothers me that Casaubon is described as having one foot in the grave in his 40’s(!).

Out 9, 2022, 10:49 pm

>8 japaul22: glad you’re joining!

Out 9, 2022, 10:52 pm

My edition is a 1960’s mass market paperback with no notes. So I have to google a lot. One thing that caught my attention was Sappho’s apple. In chapter 6 we’re told Sir James “was not one of those gentlemen who languish after the unattainable Sappho’s apple that laughs from the topmost bough.” I found this:

Out 10, 2022, 12:14 am

Esta mensagem foi removida pelo seu autor.

Out 11, 2022, 11:29 am

I read this for the first time in a university class on the Victorian Novel, and for the second time about 30 years ago. Time for a reread! (But not sure how successful I'll be. I thought I had kept my college copy (with notes inscribed) but all I could find on my shelves was a 1962 edition from the Harcourt Library of English and America Classics passed on from my in-laws.

Out 15, 2022, 2:00 pm

Just finished Book II, OLD AND YOUNG. I got a little tired of Lydgate, and was happy to reach Rome and Dorothea’s singular way of not taking to the arts.

Out 21, 2022, 2:50 pm

I'm up to Chapter 14 (close to the beginning of book 2). I really love the way Eliot sets up complex characters and develops their relationships through the book. I did forget how many obscure (at least to me!) references there are though. I also do not have footnotes, but I think it's ok to just not get all of them.

I like the observations that Eliot slips in from her authorial point of view. Like in Chapter 11 when Dorothea and Lydgate are introduced to each other
"But any one watching keenly the stealthy convergence of human lots, sees a slow preparation of effects from one life on another, which tells like a calculated irony on the indifference or the frozen stare with which we look at our unintroduced neighbor. Destiny stands by sarcastic with our dramatis personae folded in her hand."

And how she observes her own characters, like when Rosamund teases Mary about a possible marriage offer and Eliot observes "A certain change in Mary's face was chiefly determined by the resolve not to show any change."

Glad to be reading this for the third time. Since I know what will happen, it's interesting to really delve into how Eliot sets it all up.

Out 21, 2022, 3:32 pm

One more thing - the epigraphs. Do you all read these and do they add anything to the book for you? I tend to skip them because when I do read them, I don't find them to be closely connected enough to the chapter to mean anything to me.

Editado: Out 21, 2022, 4:42 pm

>17 japaul22: it’s always a puzzle for me to connect the epigraphs to the chapter. Usually, when I get it, it’s a playful commentary on the chapter. But also usually it’s only after I finish the chapter, i get the connection. But…since I don’t recognize the literary references, i miss a lot without knowing what I’m missing.

Out 21, 2022, 4:56 pm

>17 japaul22: >18 dchaikin: I like chapter epigraphs. They may not make sense on first reading them, but often there is something in the chapter containing just a couple of words from it that you can recognize. If it isn't that obvious, I go back after I've finished the chapter to see if it makes sense, like Dan does. Sometimes there is a real foreshadowing in them, and I'm not so keen on those ones, as I like to go into the chapter without a sense of dread.


I plan to start my Middlemarch reread this weekend. Last night I finished Rickshaw Boy, which I intentionally read first as a break from Victorians, so now I'm ready. I have to add that my reading for the past couple of weeks has been completely derailed by the Liz Truss show, but now that I think of it, that's just another LT. I suspect the coming week will be taken up by much of the same, only next iteration.

Out 21, 2022, 5:11 pm

>17 japaul22: >18 dchaikin: >19 SassyLassy:

I usually read them at the start of the chapter, read the chapter and then sometimes reread them again after the chapter. That way they are on the back burner while I am reading the chapter in case something connects but I revisit them once I know what the chapter does contain to see if that helps at the end. Some end up too obscure or too literary for me (which does not bother me much so I just shrug and continue with my book, some are a nice surprise when they click.

Out 24, 2022, 9:59 am

Finished book iii this morning, chapter 33 (a day or two behind my schedule). I feel only now I’m beginning to have enough background to appreciate these characters within the plot.

Back to epigrams, I’m paying closer attention now and really enjoyed chapter 31’s epigram about a bell, which says everything in the chapter without revealing anything. And I like the Shakespeare epigrams, since, while I certainly don’t remember the exact lines, i can look them up and remember the circumstances.

Out 25, 2022, 5:07 pm

I've just finished Book I. After reading the discussion above, I started paying attention to the epigrams. I liked the one for Chapter 10: "...he had no other clothes to wear than the skin of a bear not yet killed."

Editado: Nov 2, 2022, 7:07 pm

I've just started listening on audiobook, so not very far. It will certainly take up the majority of the next two months to complete.

As it is a re-read for me, I picked up a little book I own: Is Heathcliff a Murderer? Great Puzzles in Nineteenth Century Literature by John Sutherland. This is a collection of 30+ essays on literary questions/problems/situations that might not be clear to the reader.

The Middlemarch essay is entitled "Is Will Ladislaw Legitimate?" Here Sutherland goes into meticulous detail of Ladislaw's family history and further explains how most of the characters in Middlemarch are related to most everyone else, either by blood or by marriage. He even includes a genealogy chart!--which I have now copied and tucked into my print copy of Middlemarch, should I need to refer to it.

Warning: this little essay and the chart are loaded with spoilers, so new readers beware.

Some other essays in Sutherland's book include:
"Is Heathcliff a Murderer?" (Wuthering Heights);
"How does Victor make his monster?" (Frankenstein);
"What is Jo sweeping?" (Bleak House);
"What does Edward Hyde look like?" (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde);
"Rochester's celestial telegram" (Jane Eyre)
"Does Becky kill Jos?" (Vanity Fair)
"Why does the Count come to England?" (Dracula)

Nov 2, 2022, 7:10 pm

>23 kac522: A few years ago (well... a couple of decades ago actually), I used a book of essays like this one to get a list of "Classics" to read in English. Not sure if it was this one or not but it was a nice experiment - I like picking up books about books or anthologies with excerpts and reading the books they talk about/excerpt from (before or after I read the book I started with). :)

Nov 3, 2022, 12:13 am

>23 kac522: I like Sutherland. That book sounds terrific.

Nov 12, 2022, 5:49 pm

I finished my reread today. I really love how Eliot sets up the different couples and their relationships: Fred and Mary, Lydgate and Rosamund, Dorothea and Casaubon/Will, Celia and Sir James. And then the older couples as well - you can see who has had good relationship examples through their parents!

I think Eliot does a remarkable job at placing her characters away from each other and drawing them together at key moments (I especially noticed this with Dorothea and Rosamund during this reading).

I also noticed how well the characters are revealed through not just their dialogue and internal thoughts but through their mannerisms. Eliot does this particularly well with Rosamund, the most maddening character to me (even more than Dorothea!).

Are others still reading this?

Nov 12, 2022, 6:58 pm

>27 japaul22: i am. Finished book IV a few days ago. Started Book V today. I found Book IV slow and so far Book V feels faster. I’m admiring how she builds and adds to characters, and captures their nuance too.

Nov 12, 2022, 8:52 pm

I am listening, but haven't gotten very far. Hope to make better progress this week.

Nov 15, 2022, 8:26 am

Personal update: I finished book V (The Dead Hand) and enjoyed it a lot. I might finally be feeling a little reading traction here.

Nov 27, 2022, 12:40 am

I finished yesterday. Books V-VIII were easier reading. I like thinking about this, but I sadly never fully took to the reading experience.

Dez 2, 2022, 8:59 am

Just started my reread yesterday. Only about 50 pages in, but I'm somewhat surprised to be finding more humour in it than I remembered.

>23 kac522: Great book! I'll wait until I'm finished my reread to reread the essay on Middlemarch.

Editado: Dez 2, 2022, 9:49 am

I'm just about done with Book IV; it's slow-going on audiobook, but well worth it. Dorothea's gradual realizations about her marriage are so poignant and heart-breaking.

I'd forgotten the scenes with multiple townspeople discussing/gossiping, and am finding these so interesting on this reading. (These were the types of scenes in The Mill on the Floss that I liked the best; the rest of that book I found almost tedious.)

>32 SassyLassy: Good to hear...I've had it here for years, waiting for me to re-read Middlemarch.

Dez 2, 2022, 10:46 am

>33 kac522: there’s another gossiping scene/chapter late on the book that caught my attention. I found book iv very slow reading. Not sure how that impacts the audio. But the rest of the book was faster for me.

Dez 19, 2022, 1:57 pm

I have just started Book VIII and I feel very sad that my listening is finally coming to an end. I've been slowly making my way with the audiobook since early November, but I must admit these last several hundred pages have been going by very quickly.