Middlemarch: First Impressions

Over the last few days I’ve been at home because it’s been raining, and because I’ve been ill. Most of my hours were spent writing papers, but I managed to find some time two nights ago to read a little of Middlemarch. Although I’m keeping a separate pen and paper journal recording my various thoughts, I’ve opted for writing in-between thoughts instead of posting a single ‘polished’ review; otherwise, I’ll just lose my thread of thought because my reading habits are so erratic as of late. I’m still not accustomed to writing my thoughts before I’ve completed a book, so excuse me if I ramble a bit.

This is the third time I’ve attempted Middlemarch, and the previous times I wasn’t too enthralled. I suppose I was in a bad mood those last two times, because this time I came across the sudden realisation that George Eliot’s tone is quite humorous in this novel.

“He has got no good red blood in his body,” said Sir James.

“No, somebody put a drop under a magnifying glass and it was all semi-colons and parantheses.”

Don’t know why or how I missed it before, but suddenly Middlemarch, is as I had hoped: bearable. Much more than bearable, actually. Thus far, it encompasses everything I adore about Victorian literature. The characters are wonderful, the plot incredibly lush and sloth-like –  sleepy and slow in pace, the setting evocative of a bygone era.

I like that the characters all the characters are detestable at first, but they are endearing anyway. Dorothea and Casaubon, for instance. Truth be told, I still haven’t much sympathy towards the latter, but in my mind, Dorothea Brooke has evolved from a pretentious, unreachable figure into a comically tragic, naive  human being. I wonder, though, what Woolf meant by saying that it is “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people”. I suppose I shall soon find out.


26 thoughts on “Middlemarch: First Impressions

  1. I’ve never read this one – I took it with me when I was backpacking around Europe after graduating, figuring it was sufficiently long that it would keep me busy… every time I tried to read it on trains and whatnot, I’d always drift off to sleep!

    1. Ughh I’m like that with Henry James. And once I even took his Portrait of a Lady with me when I went on a month-long trip. Ended up not reading for an entire month. I’m not sure I would have taken Middlemarch travelling with me either. Probably something fun, like Monte Cristo, hahah. Then again, Monte Cristo might be a bit heavy for the backpack. I’m rambling. Sorry. I’ll stop.

  2. I detest Causubon and yet pity him so much–he reminds me of Salieri in Amadeus–always on the outside looking in on fruits of genius, lusting after them, and knowing in his heart that he is pedantic and second rate.

    I love this book, and Dorothea is one of my all-time favorite heroines.

    1. Hmm, pedantic sounds a bit harsh! I’m still in the early stages of the book, though. What’s interesting about this way of writing posts is that I’m able to see more clearly how my perceptions change as I progress throughout the book. Maybe by the time I reach the last page, I’ll call him pedantic, but at the moment he just seems a little stale.

  3. I’ve been doing in-between thoughts, too, instead of a single post. It removes a lot of the pressure from having to properly review a book.

    I’m looking forward to more of your thoughts on this. When I was little, Silas Marner was one of the first few classics I’ve read, along with Little Women and Wuthering Heights, and I really really loved it then (read it about thrice). I don’t know if it’ll hold the same appeal to me now, though, but I would like to try Middlemarch, at least.

    1. After trying it with Les Miserables last October, I vowed I’d never do it again because my posts became really incoherent, but it is a lot more comfortable. I think I stiill would prefer to organise my thoughts into a ‘proper’ review, but I guess I don’t really have a choice.

      ps. I really liked that rainy day meme you did the other day. Sorry I’ve been such a lurker; it’s just that I never use my laptop anymore, so I can’t leave comments :)

  4. I read the first one hundred pages of this 5 years ago and then I gave up. But since then I’ve heard people say it’s well worth reading. I suppose I must start again some day, when I’m in the mood.

    1. I found it hardest to get through the first few chapters (the dullest exposition in the history of mankind) but it’s starting to pick up nicely. It’s funny how mood plays into our reading habits :)

  5. Tuesday, I just recently read The Turn of the Screw by James, and I really enjoyed him, so if you’re feeling averse to him, you might try that. It’s a novella, so it’s a quick read (especially for James!) and therefore might be a great way to get over your mental wall towards him… If only Dickens novels were shorter! ;) I probably should have taken The Count of Monte Cristo with me – I took that on a five-day trip to Miami beach, and it was a great beach read… although five days was not enough time for me to finish it (and I summarily got too busy to really read it when I came home and put it down unfinished… one day I’ll get back to it!).

    1. Steph, thanks for the recommendation, I’ll give it a try if ever I feel like attempting James again. Ah, Dickens. Truth is I don’t think I would enjoy him any more if his works were shorter. It’s just the idea of him, and his way of writing, that gets on my nerves.

  6. Dorothea Brooke seems absurd and shallow to me. I started this book toward the end of last year but have put it down because I needed more inspiration to read through these characters whom I do not (cannot) appreciate.

    As to journaling the thoughts, I find it more helpful to reflect upon segments of them as I read along, while the memories are still raw and refreshing.

    1. I suppose she is absurd, but that doesn’t bother me anymore because Eliot is so adept at capturing the inner minds of the characters. Even though I disagree with the things she so firmly believes in, I think I sort of understand her.
      And yes, I agree wholly about journalling while memories are still raw. Before I used to take cryptic scribbles of notes which would be illegible by the time I completed the book. And I wrote them on scrap paper, so sometimes they’d just disappear (especially if I took a long time to finish reading). Now I find that I”m able to reflect more on what I’m reading :)

  7. Sorry to hear you’ve not been well, hope you get well soon.

    I wasn’t initially impressed when I read Middlemarch, but it grew on me. I think it and Eliot generally reward slow reading. That way you can enjoy the humour and appreciate the language and ideas without worrying about the fact that everything happens so S-L-O-W-L-Y.

    I’d second Steph’s recommendation of starting with some shorter James- The Turn of the Screw, Daisy Miller, Washington Square or The Europeans. The later two are even frequently funny, which isn’t something commonly associated with James.

    1. adevotedreader – I like that Middlemarch is slow. It’s a nice change from the busyness of the world. And I’m glad to hear James can be humorous, though I’m finding it hard to imagine (he seems so incredibly solemn). I think we actually had this conversation about James before, and somebody recommended Daisy Miller and Washington Square, but I still haven’t gotten around to them!

  8. I think what Woolf meant about this novel is that it deals with mature themes–which is why teachers shouldn’t assign it to students too young to understand it. I think the same thing about Death of a Salesman. You just aren’t equipped to get it at 17.

    1. Jeanne – Ah, I still haven’t read Death of a Salesman. In fact, I don’t think I’ve read much American literature at all, apart from the odd Steinbeck and Fitzgerald. As for Woolf’s comment, somehow I don’t think she was merely referring to themes. “One of the few” implies something really out of the ordinary, don’t you think? Unless she just meant it in a demeaning way towards all the other English writers :)

  9. By the way, I’ve got Turn of the Screw, too. I’m waiting until I go on vacation next week.

    I use whatever is handy for quick scribbling of notes when I read. usually the scrap or post-it will also be bookmark. Whatever I write my notes on, I always mark the page number so I can go back and re-read the passages when I’m ready to write the review.

    1. I used to take down page numbers and quotes too but it still didn’t help! Here’s an example of my ‘note-taking’ before I started keeping a proper journal:

      pg 33: an experiment; one’s follies repeated
      like a flower SIGNIFICANT IN TERMS OF PLOT?!!
      Good and bad artists
      pg 49: developed like a flower

  10. Oh, I’m glad to know that it’s taken you several attempts to get into this one, because it gives me hope. I’ve tried to read this a few times over the last five years, and although I got further along the second time than the first, it just wasn’t clicking. I didn’t dislike it at all, but it didn’t call to me, either. I kept picking up other books and forgetting about it. Your thoughts are making me want to pick it up again!

    1. Priscilla – this time I didn’t give myself time to hesitate or think about it; I just picked it up and started reading, and it went surprisingly well. I think sometimes it’s just the mentality – like, we’ve tried it before and failed so we think we won’t like it when we actually could. I hope the next time works for you :)

  11. Tuesday, you have just perfectly summed up my Dickens reading experience to date. I’m sure my failure to love his books is as much a mental failing on my part as it is his writing… and yet, I can’t get over myself and give him a fair shot!

    1. Steph – I’m thinking maybe I’ll give David Copperfield a try this year. It’s funny, because I haven’t actually read it, and yet I “know” the story. Anyway, I’m hoping that since it’s sort of new to me, I won’t feel intimidated or disgusted or whichever of the two it is. Then I think I’ll be okay with Great Expectations and Little Dorrit… Alternatively, I could hate Copperfield and feel doubly disgusted by the build-up of unread Dickens on my shelf. But I shall conquer him someday! Hahah :)

  12. You can keep ‘Middlemarch’, Tuesday! I had to read this at university and I never want to do it again.

    My husband told me that one of his colleagues told someone that he was taking ‘Middlemarch’ with him on a walk in Switzerland. This person replied: “Who’s that? Do I know him?”

    1. Hahah “Do I know him?” That’s hilaaaaaarious!

      Sadly, I haven’t made any progress w/ Middlemarch since this post. And it’ll be difficult to re-connect with, since such a long time has passed (a whole month, lol). I’m sorry to hear that your studies destroyed this book for you – unless you just hated it anyway?

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