A while back one of my students from Tampa days (Cindy? Alicia?) posted an article on Facebook that referenced George Eliot's Middlemarch in a positive way. My memory of reading this novel is right there with my memory of Silas Marner -- which is to say, I hated it.
But that was a long time ago and Middlemarch is one of those works that always turns up on lists like 100 Books You Really Should Have Read.
As most of you know, I read a lot. But it's generally for pleasure. So I decided I should challenge myself and
fight my way through give Middlemarch another chance.
The opening was a little discouraging with the author asking (at some length) who among us, interested in the history of man, "has not dwelt, at least briefly, on the life of Saint Theresa, has not smiled with some gentleness at the thought of the little girl. walking forth one morning hand-in-hand with her still smaller brother, to go a seek martyrdom in the country of the Moors?"
Well, me, for one, I thought and closed the book, reconsidering my plan of challenging myself.
A week later, having beguiled the time with (among others) The Graveyard Book and a review copy of a book by another student, I almost picked up an Elmore Leonard paperback that's been on my bedside table for some time. But my conscience pricked me and I decided to give Middlemarch another chance.
The opening (Prelude) was still annoying but I forged on.
Chapter 1 was more interesting, delineating Dorothea's character as a religious enthusiast "enamoured of intensity and greatness, and rash in embracing whatever seemed to her to have those aspects; likely to seek martyrdom, to make retractions, and then to incur martyrdom after all in quarter where she had not sought it."
Okay, even though the editor in my head was shouting, Show, don't tell. However, the editor in my head wasn't being fair, as this is a 19th Century novel and Tell is usual. From what I remember of the story, the ensuing pages will show how this prophecy is fulfilled.
But then I came to this delightful description of Dorothea:
"Riding was an indulgence which she allowed herself in spite of conscientious qualms; she felt that she enjoyed it in a pagan sensuous way and always looked forward to renouncing it."
Well, I thought to myself, wry wit! We're in Jane Austen territory now. And I love Jane Austen. Read on!
And later, this exchange between Dorothea's sister and a neighbor:
"I am so sorry for Dorothea."
"Sorry! It is her doing, I suppose."
"Yes, she says Mr. Causabon has a great soul."
"With all my heart."
"Oh, Mrs. Cadwallader. I don't think it can be nice to marry a man with a great soul."
"Well,my dear, take warning. You know the look of one now; when the next comes and wants to marry you, don't you accept him."
"I'm sure I never should."
I can absolutely see this on stage. On in a movie -- of which I believe there is one. So strange, I have no memory of finding this book anything but tedious, much less humorous. Now I'm hooked.
I'll let you know how it goes.