This is such a beautiful book and the first George Eliot work that I enjoyed. I’ve read her before, and although I appreciated their merit, I cannot say that I enjoyed them. In Middlemarch, I found a work of Eliot that I truly enjoyed.
The original title of this work is Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life. True to the title, the work portrays the lives of people in a provincial town. Their conventions, their social, political, and religious ideologies, their values, their social status, their pride, their vanities, their jealousies, their suspicions, the way of living, the inter-human relationships, all are discussed at length in the work. The author’s observing nature is well displayed throughout the book whereby the ideas, values, and human nature are truthfully and genuinely portrayed.
Although many areas are discussed through this lengthy work, it can be narrowed down thematically to three distinct categories: social status, conventions, and relationships. These three themes are interwoven and are brought to light through the numerous characters employed in the story. Victorian Era is well known for its conventional rigidity and the judgmental and opinionated society. Eliot brings them to light brilliantly, all the time subtly satirizing them.
There are three love stories here. The first and foremost is the one between the female protagonist, Dorothea, and Will Ladislaw. When young Dorothea’s elderly husband dies being suspicious of hers and Will’s friendship, he puts a codicil in his will preventing a future union between them. Will is of a questionable parentage although being related to Dorothea’s husband. This codicil and the conventional view of her friends that she will fall from social rank by marrying a man beneath him work as a yoke on Dorothea. But her willful, strong and just nature defies convention, dares poverty, and follows her heart. The steady and strong attachment between Fred and Mary despite the difference in their social status (according to Fred’s family) is another. The educated yet unstable Fred has no proper vocation, nor has he any wealth. But despite all obstacles, they remain faithful to each other, Mary and her father, slowly helping him to stand on his own feet – Mary through encouraging and Mr. Garth through aiding. The more rigid and artificial relationship is the one between pretty Rosamond and Dr. Lydgate. Both being entered into matrimony through a mistaken conception of each other, they find the marital bond to be rather too heavy. These three love stories were quite interesting. And I was quite surprised at the author’s willingness to create happy ending love stories, for I have always associated her with tragedies.
The characters, be it main or supporting, were an interesting lot. Eliot has chosen them with care. I couldn’t find a male protagonist, but the female protagonist, Dorothea grew on me. She was introduced as an ignorant, naive, and high minded young girl for whom I didn’t care much. Her character is developed through her trials and she becomes a strong, willful yet kind, sympathetic as well as an empathetic young woman. Eliot tends to create strong female characters and it is quite appealing. This story has two strong women. One is the above mentioned Dorothea. The second is Mary Garth who with her influence and love helps Fred become stable in life. Despite her love to have strong female characters, she uses a good number of strong male characters as well here. And through the balance Eliot has been able to portray the true conditions and relations between the two opposing sex during the Victorian time.
Eliot’s writing is bold and commanding. She doesn’t concentrate on poetic beauty but is concerned more with the power with which she tells her story. I have always liked her tone of voice. The story is a mixture of Austenian social criticism and Dostoevskian human psychology and her bold and graceful writing blended well with the story.
Middlemarch really is one beautiful work I read in a while. It is quite a complete work which gives immense enjoyment and satisfaction for those who read it. I never thought that I’ll be ever able to enthusiastically praise George Eliot, and I’m happy to have been able to do so. Now I can say with my whole heart that she is a great author.