Rating: 3.5 stars
This is the 4th book from my Summer Challenge List that I’ve finished already. It’s a novel that I’ve started reading back in February but only got to 17 pages before abandoning it for a long time. Now I’ve fought my way through it in about 4 days.
I can’t give the book a higher rating than 3.5 stars, though it started out quite entertaining. Somehow the ironic tone got lost by the middle and I was weary of the various calamities that befell Mr. Lydgate, the doctor with the most egoistic and stupid wife I had the ‘pleasure’ to read about. Rosamund is an appalling character and she does nothing, absolutely nothing that does not benefit her or her own ego. I started to hope he’d give her a thorough verbal lashing and stick to his decisions, but that was not to come true. He was just not firm enough or smart enough to wait a year or more before marrying her. She would have found another victim eventually.
The entire region of Middlemarch is populated with stupid, prejudiced and small-minded people. There are few exceptions, but that makes little difference all in all. I liked Mr. Garth, though the romance between his daughter Mary and Fred Vincy left me cold. I’m sorry, but they were some of the least interesting couples in the novel. Fred needed firm handling for his debts and Mary never struck me as in love with him. In fact, I thought she saw him only as a friend. Perhaps I missed something? The abundance of details and the rambling writing style certainly made it easy to miss a vital piece of information; especially in the middle part.
The heroine, Dorothea, left me with mixed feelings. She behaved quite stupidly at times – the marriage to old, stuffy and egoistical Casaubon was just too much for me and I lost almost all respect for her. It was with something like ‘shadenfreude’ that I looked forward to her eventual bitter disappointment. It served her right for rushing into marriage blindly. A wedding after a few weeks of courtship and with a man twice her age? Madness. I know it happened back then and my modern self shudders at it, yet I can’t believe she did it, against the wishes and caution of her friends and family too. Ladislaw was a better match for her, but she did not pay him any attention until she was utterly disilusionised by her husband. And then the old man cottoned up that the young man could become a rival and did everything in his power to leave him destitute. Charming.
Every character in this novel made or said a thing or two that made me recoil in disgust, incredulity, or pity. Perhaps that could be seen as a positive aspect – a way of avoiding stock characterisation and clichés – somehow, I don’t think it is a case of balanced characterisation. It just made me angry that there was nobody I could 100% root for. I pitied Lydgate but I could hardly say he’s my favourite. I hoped Celia, Dorothea’s sister, might prove a better character, then she got her baby and turned into one of those infuriating women who are completely besotted with their children and who think the world revolves around their ‘cherub’. I’m sorry, that kind of brainless behaviour just turns my stomach. Moderation in everything, ok?
I suppose I could read this entire novel as a critical portrayal of the role and education of women in Victorian times, and then the various stories of married life and women’s lot would appear to serve a higher purpose, but somehow I’m not inclined to treat this mammoth of a novel as a strictly feminist work. That is not who George Eliot was, though she tackles the subject often enough. I think it is a portrayal of the times and people’s attitudes. Something had to change – the situation in society was too bad for status quo to be maintained any longer. Of course, the latter days of the Victorian age saw the brutal expansion of the empire, exploitation of urban as well as agrarian workers, pollution, disease and abject poverty. In effect, things got only worse; the people just thought they knew better than their forefathers. What I like to think is that they became bigger hypocrites. I won’t start a rant about Victorian morals; suffice it to say that I was not charmed by the portrayal of the early Victorian society here nor in any other novel of the period.