I think that I’ve mentioned before that I’m following http://www.dovegreyreader.co.uk/ as she reads through George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
I think that it’s about the third time I’ve read this book. Yes, I know – big book again. I have read it for a course before, and also because I’m a great fan of the BBC version, which is surely the definitive version. Maybe it’s because in those halcyon days they did the adaptation on the big scale, with plenty of time and a great cast.
(Or was I the only person disappointed by the adaption of Birdsong recently? For a book that gave me such a strong visual impression I found the whole first episode weak, inaudible and completely flat).
Anyway, back to Middlemarch. Yes, it’s a long book, but we are reading it this time section by section, which has the effect of making it far more approachable. It was originally published at intervals which meant that its originally audience would have been keenly awaiting the next opportunity of finding out what was happening to their favourite characters. This approach has far more in common with today’s soap operas than you would believe.
The characters, including the idealistic Dorothea, the pretty Rosamond, the easily impressed Lydgate and the rest, linger in the mind as they slowly evolve and change with circumstance. Like many novels, there are moments of frustration when the reader feels like yelling at a character to stop them doing something which can only end badly. The setting, including rural Warwickshire and the splendour of Rome, echoes the characters so exactly, as Dorothea faces disappointment and disillusionment and Fred begins to feel that his life may not always be easy.
My favourite character (being a fan of http://northernvicar.wordpress.com/ obviously) is the vicar, Mr Farebrother. He has to support his bossy mother, timid aunt and elder sister. He tops up his stipend by playing cards and billiards, and has a good idea of what is really going on in the town.
It is the town of Middlemarch, based on Nuneaton, where Eliot was born that provides the backdrop for this early saga. I was born in that area, but the story transcends any particular place as the claustrophobia of a small town will have its effect on various characters, so a working knowledge of midlands towns is not vital.
This is a big book in every way. Big characters in difficult situations, realistic emotions and generally an amazing read. It is different from her other books in that it has the space to develop ridiculous characters and the fact that you can see what is going to happen is still enjoyable and worthwhile. It does seem a daunting book to read so reading it gradually may be an answer. And if you have a kindle, you can download it for free…