I am really looking forward to a group reading of George Eliot’s Middlemarch put together by Bex at An Armchair by the Sea. This will be a first read for me and I can’t wait to see why this has been called the greatest British novel of all time/the greatest novel in the English language of all time 🙂 For updates #EliotAlong on Twitter
Bex has divided the book into 6 parts of about 14 chapters each (they’re short!), one group of 14 to be read each week from June 27th – August 7th.
I will make notes on what I read below for each part and then do a proper post on the main blog after we finish. Join in!
Here are the chapter divisions:
June 27th – July 3rd – Chapter 1 – end of 14 (or all of Miss Brooke and the first two chapters of Old and Young)
A wonderful cast of characters dealing with the scandals of marrying beneath your status, gossip and intrigue, age versus youth, men versus women, old money versus new. A nice way to start off a novel!
The main character, Dorothea, is a mix of desire and stamping it out, being smart and deferring to men, especially her husband to be. Even her religious piety slips due to her love of riding horses. Which brings me to the best line so far: “Riding was an indulgence which she allowed herself in spite of conscientious qualms; she felt that she enjoyed it in a pagan, sensuous way, and always looked forward to renouncing it.”
One of the questions Bex asks us is about the place of women in this novel. So far, marriage. That’s it. Your life, from the time you are an infant, is to get ready for that and to make a match, not only suitable to you, but that is best for your family. We’ll see if any other kind of woman shows up 🙂
July 4th – 10th – Chapter 15 – end of 28 (or the rest of Old and Young and six chapters of Waiting for Death)
As we get to know the young Dr. Lydgate, who has trained abroad and wants to bring new methods of medicine to the town and his conflicts with the establishment Middlemarch doctors, I am impressed by how much medical and scientific knowledge Eliot possesses. She knows all the methods and practices the older doctors prefer as well as the new-fangled procedures Lydgate wants to bring in. I wonder at her research methods and how she came to know so much?
This section brought us more characters and more in depth information about them. I found Fred Vincy rather frustrating in the way he handled his debt problem. I was surprised that when it came time for him to pay up, he wrote down another man’s name as the one who would be responsible. Could you just do that without asking the person? In Fred’s case he expected Mr. Garth would do it without asking before he wrote down his name Although, at his conversation with Mrs. Garth, he had a glimmer at how much he inconvenienced the family, he didn’t understand how having to pay his debt changed the course of their lives: Alfred, their son, would not be able to attend school.
I learned one new word “disesteem” (low esteem) and one different spelling of another word, “worreting” (worrying). And I gasped when Eliot used the phrase “old fogies,” shocked that it was invented long before the 1960s 🙂
Dorothea comes home from her honeymoon faced with the reality of married life. And I supposed from here on out we will see how she reconciles her fantasy before marriage with this new realization. Her sister Celia reveals she is to marry James Chettam, who is going on with the cottages Dorothea and he had designed, which pleased Dorothea, and that surprised Celia: “I was afraid you would be getting so learned,” said Celia, regarding Mr. Casaubon’s learning as a kind of damp which might in due time saturate a neighboring body.
July 11th – 17th – Chapter 29 -end of 42 (the rest of Waiting for Death and all of Three Love Problems)
In this section we get to know the inner workings of Casaubon and their effect on his outer life. Concentrating almost solely on his scholarly masterpiece, Keys to All Mythologies, it is not receiving the academic acclaim he would like. And worse, there is the suspicion he is not up to the task. The stress of its possible failure has brought on “melancholy embitterment” and it is easy to see Dorothea’s struggles with him and their marriage in light of this. “It is an uneasy lot at best to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small, hungry, shivering self—never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardour of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dimsighted.” Oh my. I love this….
Ladislaw’s attraction to Dorothea threatens Casaubon, though Dorothea does not see it. Yet? And the impending marriage of Rosamund to Lydgate shows all the signs of another marital disaster. It is interesting to watch these women go through the motions of such an important event in life, so full of fantasy.
Mr. Featherstone’s death was harrowing with Mary Garth refusing to burn one of the wills. I admit to skipping to the reading of them to see how the consequences of two wills and addenda would play out and who got what. Poor Fred!
I have come to like Caleb Garth and I hope his business opportunities pan out. But like with so many other ventures characters in Middlemarch enter in to, I have my doubts.
July 18th – 24th – Chapter 43 – end of 56 (all of The Dead Hand and the first three chapters of The Widow and the Wife)
Dorothea is free!!! And I am not sorry it is because Casaubon died. What a control freak to make such a cryptic request upon his death:
“I have a request to make, Dorothea.”
“What is it?” said Dorothea with dread in her mind.
“It is that you will let me know, deliberately, whether, in case of my death, you will carry out my wishes, whether you will avoid doing what I should deprecate and apply yourself to do what I should desire.”
And yes, that is bad enough, but with no details he expects her to answer, “yes.” She spends the night wrestling, and blessedly, at the hour they are to meet and give her answer, she finds him dead. Sadly for him no one in the town is particularly crushed. And although Dorothea is relieved from making a fateful promise, her husband’s jealously towards Will Ladislaw caused him to make a codicil in his will forbidding her marry him or she would lose her inheritance.
I was struck by the pettiness of the established town doctors against Lydgate and the new hospital. Lydgate prefers not to use drugs and that is basically the first line of defense for the other doctors. Lydgate has had success in treating some of their patients with his newer, modern methods of treatment, but instead of putting their patients first and treating them with the best cure, they have turned their backs on Lydgate to boycott the new hospital. Lydgate has to go elsewhere to find staff, compounding his worry over finances and the debts he has accrued setting up his household with Celia.
I am glad Fred Vincy finally spoke his love to Mary Garth and declared his readiness to grow up and become an independent, hard-working man. My esteem for Caleb Garth only grew higher in this section as he offered to take Fred on as his assistant, so he could grow into the man his daughter would be proud of. Of course, Fred’s first day on the job was a disaster, but let’s hope that was a hiccup!
July 25th – 31st – Chapter 57 – end of 70 (the rest of The Widow and the Wife and eight chapters of Two Temptations)
A few things that caught my eye in this section: I was so very frustrated by Rosamond’s inability to support Lydgate in the quest to downsize due to their debt. She thwarted and undermined him, going as far as asking her father for financial help as well as Lydgate’s own uncle. Her stubbornness made me mad until I realized that for her, the outer accomplishments of her marriage was everything to a woman whose only power is in her material status.
The intrigue with Will Ladislaw’s background was interesting; that he is the son of the daughter of Bulstrode’s first wife of whom he denied her inheritance. Bulstrode tried to make it up to Will, but he wouldn’t take it. Bulstrode also figured in a horrible murder scandal as he allowed Raffles to die. Yes, one could see how convenient this was for Bulstrode, but isn’t the moral lying is never a good idea? If only he lived his life honestly way back when and gave that poor young woman her money….Now, he thinks he can make some of that up by giving Lydgate a loan. Oh how this all sounds like a soap opera!
I was biting my nails when Lydgate went into the gambling hall, especially once he started winning. All kinds of scenarios went through my head, because I just knew his fall would make his situation worse than when he started. But Fred Vincy to the rescue, which sobered up his descent so that he only lost a few pounds.
August 1st – 7th – Chapter 71 – End
This was final the section of the book and I have to admit, I was rather stunned reading the final pages. The last chapter, appropriately called Finale, was basically a wrap up. And some of what was wrapped up disappointed me, but I will tackle that when I write my review.
So for the moment: I absolutely loved chapter 71, because it showed that men gossip just as maliciously as women! They really went at it spreading like wild fire rumor and innuendo about Bulstrode and Lydgate. Happily, Dorothea did not believe what was said and ended up being a staunch defender of Lydgate. Even Rosamond, Lygate’s wife, believed the worst and was determined to save her reputation by asking Lydgate to leave Middlemarch for London. When Dorothea went to speak with her to set her straight, she found Rosamond and Will Ladislaw in their own straights, that fortunately turned out not to be what she thought.
While all the loose ends got tied up, in many cases they proved easy and superficial resolutions. As a matter of fact, the Finale reminded me of a long-running television show that is suddenly canceled and all the characters and their stories have to be brought to a conclusion in one episode. Some of it works, some is disappointing and most people are not satisfied. And that would be me.