So I finally finished it. It took almost an entire month, but I did it. It actually wasn’t a bad read, but it was such a long read that it was painful at times. Thankfully it counts for my 2013 Tea and Books and Mount TBR Challenges and for The Classics Club.
Looking back, I’ve realized that this novel is sort of like a proto-‘Love Actually’ – in that it is a network of love stories with interconnecting people who are only revealed slowly throughout the book. I felt the author did a great job at this even if it did cause me no end of frustration for the first couple hundred pages. I kept asking myself where this book was going and why the sisters from the beginning of the novel just disappeared, but they eventually reappeared and tied the story together.
Although the book clocks in at over 880 pages, it didn’t feel as if it were 880 pages. I believe this is a credit to the story and the language the author used. Her writing was not difficult to read and there were many beautiful passages and great descriptions, just look at how many quotes there are in my Additional Quotes section below. The one line that just made me laugh and think oh wow that’s me was
“When a conversation has taken a wrong turn for us, we only get farther and farther into the swamp of awkwardness.” (146)
It is just the perfect description of what happens when I pretty much ever open my mouth. I mentally thought ‘honey I’m mired in the swamp of awkwardness and am like the swamp lights (will-o’-the-wisps) that trick you into the swamp and then you die because you get lost, but without the death and lots of awkwardness.’
Aside from the language and the amazing characters what I enjoyed most about this novel was the variety of characters and social standings. The novel wasn’t just about the working class (à la Dickens) or just the upper class (à la Austen), but somewhere in the middle of the blue-collar/white-collar divide with smatterings of both and the aristocracy. And although the majority of the novel seemed to revolve around one extended family, as many towns did, it really was about the town. From politics to love stories and monetary affairs to foreign visits everything was included and it provided a better cross-cut of society than any of the other Classics I’ve read (that I actually enjoyed/paid attention to).
There was very little I didn’t like about the book. There were characters that annoyed me and characters I hated, but that’s just the sign of a good writer. There were a few points where things seemed to slow down, but they picked up again pretty quickly. The number of pages was definitely overwhelming when I started, but as I said at the beginning it didn’t feel like that many pages, except that it took me just over three weeks to read.
Recommendation: Definitely worth the read, but as with most of the longer Classics and anything of Dickens, I recommend that you break it up probably into two or more parts. I read about 600 pages and then had to take a break to read Cujo for book group and it made the last 300 pages go by really fast.
Opening Line: “Who that cares much to know the history of man, and how the mysterious mixture behaves under the varying experiments of Time, 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 and seek martyrdom in the country of the Moors?”
Closing Line: “Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from Middlemarch
“Women were expected to have weak opinions; but the great safeguard of society and of domestic life was, that opinions were not acted on. Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.” (8)
“We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, “Oh, nothing!” Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts–not to hurt others.” (64)
“Genius, he held, is necessarily intolerant of fetters: on the one hand it must have the utmost play for its spontaneity; on the other, it may confidently await those messages from the universe which summon it to its peculiar work, only placing itself in an attitude of receptivity towards all sublime chances.” (87)
“There is no question of liking at present. My liking always wants some little kindness to kindle it. I am not magnanimous enough to like people who speak to me without seeming to see me.” (120)
“The difficult task of knowing another soul is not for young gentlemen whose consciousness is chiefly made up of their own wishes.” (126)
“One must be poor to know the luxury of giving!” (180)
“That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity. ” (207)
“But that intimacy of mutual embarrassment, in which each feels that the other is feeling something, having once existed, its effect is not to be done away with. Talk about the weather and other well-bred topics is apt to seem a hollow device, and behavior can hardly become easy unless it frankly recognizes a mutual fascination–which of course need not mean anything deep or serious.” (284)
“That by desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don’t quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are part of the divine power against evil–widening the skirts of light and making the struggle with darkness narrower.” (418)
“Will not a tiny speck very close to our vision blot out the glory of the world, and leave only a margin by which we see the blot? I know no speck so troublesome as self.” (446)
“‘Very fine! You talk as if young women were tied up to be chosen, like poultry at market; as if I had only to ask and everybody would have me,’ said the Vicar, not caring to specify.” (543)
“If youth is the season of hope, it is often so only in the sense that our elders are hopeful about us; for no age is so apt as youth to think its emotions, partings, and resolves are the last of their kind. Each crisis seems final, simply because it is new.” (579)
“For religion can only change when the emotions which fill it are changed; and the religion of personal fear remains nearly at the level of the savage.” (660)