Discover more from Your Reading Life
Middlemarch in the Middle of May
What we read
Middlemarch by George Eliot, the subtitle is A Study of Provincial Life. It’s a novel by the English author Mary Anne Evans, who wrote as George Eliot. It first appeared in eight installments (volumes) in 1871 and 1872. Set in Middlemarch, a fictional English Midland town, in 1829 to 1832, it follows distinct, intersecting stories with many characters. Issues include the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism, self-interest, religion, hypocrisy, political reform, and education. (Wikipedia)
Where we met
The Spaniard in the West Village in NYC owned by Scot, Mikey McFerran. Unfortunately, we didn't get to sit in the booth on the other side of the bar where we first met to read Don Quixote several years ago now. 🙃
What we talked about
Economics and marriage
In stories like this and Pride and Prejudice, a book we’ve read and dialogued previously, marriage is about money. Money, of course, is also about class(ism) and sex(ism) in these stories. What we didn’t talk about but would have been great is to ask how true it is contemporaneously. My hunch is that we have a superiority complex to the overt classism in these Victorian novels, but I think we feel falsely superior. I bet the same dynamics are just a bit less overt.
Why we liked it more the last time we read it
For me, the first time, I was enchanted with the romance tale. Are they going to get together? Are they going to be kept apart by the evil, self-center machinations of life, heartlessness and circumstance? This time around, maybe because I recalled how it ended, I was less entertained by this tension. I also had so much less respect for Will Ladislaw. The first time around I thought he was so cool. This time read him as a listless dullard that was a very poor match for protagonist, and Saint Theresa model, Dorothea. But for reasons of character, not merely class and pride.
Insiders v Outsiders
We decided that those who were tried and true insiders like Mary and Fred were treated and ended the most favorably. These, the true salt of the earth. We realized that many if not most of the rest of the cast of characters were, in fact not originally from Middlemarch and therefore in the outsiders category. These, in some cases, Lydgate and Bulstrode were treated and fare less well. What I hadn’t realized is the extent to which Dorothea and her sister were truly outsiders. What does this all mean? One of us pointed out how at this time in history lots of people were coming and going in a more vigorous way and disrupting the quiet agrarian life and society of this provincial life. This was true not just within the cast of characters, but also major movers like the railroads.
What I'd have missed if we hadn't met to dialogue
Diving deeper into the insider v outside motif
When on a reading retreat deep diving into the book months previous I spent a lot of time mapping out who was a foil to whom. No one at first agreed with me that Rosamond was the cleanest and clearest foil to protagonist Dorothea. Most fun along these lines, however, was thinking of Middlemarch, the town itself, as the protagonist and asking what its foil might have been. Taking the title as prompt, so many books of the time carried the name of the protagonist. Mansfield Park being an interesting exception to this trend. Jane Eyre, David Copperfield, Emma all being examples.
In a previous session, when dialoguing about Anna Karenina we talked about how parallel the two major storylines were. In this session I brought up how true that felt in this work as well. We discussed a bit about how Evans’/Eliot’s book was actually two separate projects (maybe not well) smashed together. Is there a point in how disparate the vignettes are? Is that a miss on the author’s part?
I wouldn’t have spent as much time thinking about the subtitle, A Study of Provincial Live, either. The subtitle, along with the last line, tip me off to the guts of Evans’/Eliot’s project. What’s your take? What’s Evans’/Eliot’s big project point?