Dear readers, I have finally got to the halfway mark of Middlemarch! Literally . . . ’tis the middle of the march. 😮 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.