Middlemarch – 3 & 4: Waiting for Death and Three Love Problems

Dear readers, I have finally got to the halfway mark of Middlemarch! Literally . . . ’tis the middle of the march. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ I can’t remember the last time I struggled so much in a Victorian novel. Possibly it was The Heir of Redclyffe, which I don’t recall being even this difficult. In any case, here I am, still reading a book I don’t enjoy that much, yet so far into it, I can’t imagine stopping now.

A fellow YouTuber and book-reading friend, Joseph, recently did a live stream talking about his experience reading Middlemarch as a George Eliot fan and soon-to-be completist (!). Though I’m not finished with the book yet, I believe he hit the nail on the head as far as why some of us struggle with this book . . . it is long and meandering; it is really 3 or 4 novels mashed into 1; and Eliot wrote it as it was being published and under poor health (fascinating context which I learned from his live stream). Dorothea’s dramatic and emotional plight is oft-interrupted by subplots regarding inheritances, politics, medicine, and town gossip, though not in such a way that can hold a candle to the young lady’s struggle. It’s like being informed of a tragedy in your family and then being asked to care about local politics… as a reader, making such a transition is extremely disruptive and dissonant. These are all solid reasons why the pacing and narrative arc are (for me) painful.

And while normally I don’t mind character-focused novels in the least—in fact, I prefer them—Joseph pointed out the lack of scenery and scene-building in general in this novel. It startled me to realize that a Victorian novel of this girth didn’t have sweeping descriptions of places and scenes, even though it includes a trip to Rome and estates in the countryside. How these places look and feel is only lightly touched on, and we are just left with the verbose narrator and a long list of characters and squabbles to keep track of. Joseph also observed that some of the characters mainly exist to react to things that happen; in these moments, it takes on almost the tone of a stage play, but again, not in a way that is very gripping.

In the rest of this post, I will focus on the different subplots and characters instead of reviewing parts 3 & 4 individually.

SPOILERS AHEAD.

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Middlemarch โ€“ 2: Old and Young

NOTE: This is an in-depth book review and CONTAINS SPOILERS.

In the first part, George Eliot introduced us to the young Brooke sisters—sweet, simple-natured Celia and her fervently religious older sister Dorothea. The latter becomes enamored of an elderly scholar, Mr. Casaubon, while evading the advances of Sir James Chettam, a respectable but (to Dorothea) utterly prosaic gentleman. Book 2 continues this drama and fleshes out a range of other Middlemarchers, including the young and ambitious Tertius Lydgate, glamorous Miss Rosamund Vincy, and the banker Bulstrode and his associates, eager to strengthen their influence over the politics and religion of this provincial English town.

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