As it was March we read Middlemarch by George Elliot this month for book club. George Elliot was the pen name for Mary Ann or Marian Evans who was born in 1819 in Nuneaton, and died at the age of sixty-one. She was quite a controversial character at the time, for her views on religion and the fact that she openly lived a man she called her husband but who was actually married to someone else. When he died she actually married a man twenty years younger than herself. She died in 1880 having published seven novels, most of which I’ve read. I had already read Middlemarch but I started it again for book club.
Her novels are Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner, Romola, Felix Holt the Radical, Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda. To be honest they are weighty tomes, and I’m sure many people would struggle reading them just because of their length and the amount of detail. I confess that I didn’t manage to finish Middlemarch, but as I mentioned, I have read it before. It’s the story of Middlemarch, a small fictional town in the Midlands. Evans/Elliot was born in Nuneaton and went to school in Coventry so it was a location well known to her. The novel, set in 1829-30, follows the lives a couple of dozen characters and covers a variety of themes, social, political, religious as well as the interweaving stories of the different characters and their relationships – family, parent and child, lovers, husbands and wives. friends and enemies. It is a marvellous book and has been named by some as the greatest novel in the English language.
As I mentioned, I didn’t manage to finish it in time, and only two out of our group did – although others have read it before. We certainly had plenty to talk about and exchanged all sorts of views. A couple of people felt utterly overwhelmed by the amount of characters and the full and very long descriptions, and I think they were somewhat bored. Others, like me tried their best and then there was one person who had the most marvellous explanation of where it all went wrong for her.
She had started reading the novel, and in the way it can happen to anyone, she’d somehow got it in her head it was a different novel by a different author; she was reading it as an e-book and she began to wonder after a while when the farm was going to be mentioned and when Bathsheba and Sargent Troy would appear… somehow she had thought she was reading Far From the Madding Crowd!
I read and enjoyed the first part which is about Dorothea Brooke who is a very naive and immature young nineteen year-old who is deeply religious and develops what amounts to a massive crush on a middle-aged clergyman. who is an academic perpetually researching for a book he intends but never will write. He is unable to relate to others, and is unconsciously selfish and obsessed with his research. Dorothea ignores her sister, her uncle and guardian, and others who try to persuade he to think again, and marries her dull, dry and selfish fiancé. I could relate to Dorothea’s misguided affection, and appreciate that the clergyman is not a bad or nasty person but just rather bewildered by it all. I found the characters of her uncle and sister, and her friends and acquaintances realistic and believable. However, as I began to read the second and then subsequent parts which are about these other characters and their relationships as Dorothea and new husband are on their honeymoon in Italy, I did not feel so engaged with them and gradually, as time ran out leading up to the book club, I began to fail as a reader… and i gave up.
As usual we had a most enjoyable meeting, and we moved on to talk about other books we’ve read, are reading, and want to read. As we meet in a bookshop, there’s always plenty of interest! next month we are reading The Humans by Matt Craig.
MY featured image is from Coventry – Mary must have seen this old building when she was there!