Friday, March 31, 2006

Lydgate Screed, part 1

(NB: I can't stop spoiling, however hard I try. Doing my best, here, but I am manifestly cursed. If nobody reads or comments on this before finishing the book, I will totally understand.)

I have always liked to say, regarding Middlemarch, that there are Dodo people, and there are Lydgate people. Oh, I suppose there may be folks who identify equally well with both, but I don't know. Frankly, I don't want to know.

I think some of my impatience with Dodo is that she is so thouroughly curtailed by society. She has noble thoughts and genuinely wants to do good, but her social position (as a woman and as gentry) has her hemmed in on all sides. It's not her fault, but it drives me crazy.

Lydgate, on the other hand, is a man. He can go anywhere he wants, do anything he wants, pursue his intellectual passions wherever they might take him. His thoughts are as lofty, in their own way, as Dodo's, his intentions as good.

And, as has already been demonstrated at least twice, a fat lot of good it does him!

Lydgate is railroaded into choosing Tyke over Farebrother (*sob!* Farebrother is like, my serious crush this read-through!). Lydgate ends up engaged to Rosamond almost without understanding how he got there. Both are his own big fat stupid fault -- let's be frank, here! He may be a good doctor with modern methods (she is less clear on whether he is actually a good researcher), and he has social graces but surprisingly little social judgment.

These parallel characters, Dodo and Lydgate, female and male, are one of Eliot's masterful strokes in this novel. It would be so easy and tempting to tell the story of a woman hemmed in by circumstance -- it's much more interesting to be able to demonstrate that men, for all their advantages, do not necessarily find it easier to stay on track to achieve great things.

Do Lydgate's attitudes toward women work to his detriment? Hell, yes! But more on that in Screed #2!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Discuss amongst yourselves

A few days ago, Ella was deliberating over what to say about Book II:
My own post is coming; I think it's going to be on Mr. Farebrother's collection of freaky pickled animals, and the symbolism therein. Or I might run out of steam and post something short, lurid, and grossly italicised like "Can you believe Lydgate's affair with that French actress? What was he thinking?"

Ella chose to write about something else, but I still think these topics merit consideration. Really, what was he thinking?

I loved chapter 15!

It made me laugh:
A great historian, as he insisted on calling himself, who had the happiness to be dead a hundred and twenty years ago, and so to take his place among the colossi whose huge legs our living pettiness is observed to walk under, glories in his copious remarks and digressions as the least imitable part of his work, and especially in those initial chapters to the successive books of his history, where he seems to bring his armchair to the proscenium and chat with us in all the lusty ease of his fine English. But Fielding lived when the days were longer (for time, like money, is measured by our needs), when summer afternoons were spacious, and the clock ticked slowly in the winter evenings. We belated historians must not linger after his example; and if we did so, it is probable that our chat would be thin and eager, as if delivered from a campstool in a parrot-house. I at least have so much to do in unraveling certain human lots, and seeing how they were woven and interwoven, that all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web, and not dispersed over that tempting range of relevancies called the universe.

(Note that this is the first time the narrator uses the first person.)

It made me cry:
For in the multitude of middle-aged men who go about their vocations in a daily course determined for them much in the same way as the tie of their cravats, there is always a good number who once meant to shape their own deeds and alter the world a little The story of their coming to be shapen after the average and fit to be packed by the gross, is hardly ever told even in their consciousness; for perhaps their ardor in generous unpaid toil cooled as imperceptibly as the ardor of other youthful loves, till one day their earlier self walked like a ghost in its old home and made the new furniture ghastly. Nothing in the world more subtle than the process of their gradual change! In the beginning they inhaled it unknowingly: you and I may have sent some of our breath towards infecting them, when we uttered our conforming falsities or drew our silly conclusions: or perhaps it came with the vibrations from a woman's glance.

More great lines from Book II:

"I have not yet been pained by finding any excessive talent in Middlemarch." (Lydgate, ch 13)

"Not of the least use in the world for him to say he could be better. Might, could, would — they are contemptible auxiliaries." (Mary, ch 14)

It had already occurred to him that books were stuff, and that life was stupid. (ch 15)

Knowledge seemed to him a very superficial affair, easily mastered: judging from the conversation of his elders, he had apparently got already more than was necessary for mature life. (ch 15)

And poor Dorothea! — "the light had changed" (ch 20):
How was it that in the weeks since her marriage, Dorothea had not distinctly observed but felt with a stifling depression, that the large vistas and wide fresh air which she had dreamed of finding in her husband's mind were replaced by anterooms and winding passages which seemed to lead nowhither?.... Having once embarked on your marital voyage, it is impossible not to be aware that you make no way and that the sea is not within sight — that, in fact, you are exploring an enclosed basin.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

tiny post

I was falling a little behind in my reading, but I've had a chance to catch up in the last couple of days, and I have to say, I've really been sucked in by the last part of Book Two, and what I've read of Book Three. Dorothea's reactions to Rome were so beautifully put-- I remember my astonishment there at the vibrant, crazy jumble of the ancient and modern (the difference being that I loved it). I was also fascinated by the discussions about painting, but I felt it was a little off topic, so I wrote a long post about that on my own site. If you care to read it, it's at Mad Mutter.

I'm also struck at how perfunctory and businesslike the decision to marry was. I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that these unions were often about financial support for one party or the other, and it also occurs to me that if you can't have sex before marriage (at least if you're a woman) you're a lot more likely to speed up the whole process. I don't think I'm supposed to talk about Book Three yet, so I won't say any more.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

How Many Plots Can We Fit Into One Book?

I am beginning to feel like Eliot has crammed at least three books into one, and I am having trouble keeping it all straight. Not the kind of trouble where you forget who is related to whom, and can’t remember the difference between Ladislaw and Lydgate, but the kind where you find yourself following three or more plot lines without knowing which is the important one.

Plot One: Dorothea’s development from idealistic young girl to jaded woman. Players include Dorothea, Chasaubon and Will Ladislaw; themes are of disappointment, disillusionment and resignation, plus unexpected adoration on the part of poor Ladislaw. Defining moments include arguments, misunderstandings and passionate avowals.

Plot Two: Lydgate’s introduction to Middlemarch society. Here we have Lydgate, of course, and all the other important men in Middlemarch, from Farebrother to Bullstrode to Thesiger. Here the themes involve religion and politics, both of which come heavily spiced with satire. The defining moment of this plot, so far, is the vote on who gets to be the hospital chaplain.
Plot Three: Fred Vincy’s descent into debt and dishonor. (All right, the dishonor hasn’t happened yet, but I’m positive it will). This one centers around Fred’s relations with his father and uncle Featherstone. The theme of this one is weakness, foolishness, and hopelessness, plus greed. And the defining moment of this plot is when Fred hands his mother the money from his uncle and asks her to keep it safe, as he can’t trust himself with it.

I don’t think it really bothers me to find all this jammed into one novel, since the stories and characters are related, but my question is: can there be a singular theme to a work like this? Or is Eliot just making a point about the human difficulties we all share, no matter what our circumstances are?

More yokes

Celia in chapter 1 was labelled a yoked creature.

Now Mr Vincy "felt his neck under Bulstrode's yoke." (ch 13)

Lydgate, young, and refusing to be yoked (ch 15):
He was but seven-and-twenty, an age at which many men are not quite common — at which they are hopeful of achievement, resolute in avoidance, thinking that Mammon shall never put a bit in their mouths and get astride their back, but rather that Mammon, if they have anything to do with him, shall draw their chariot.

Farebrother (ch 17) (on the difficulty of independent thought/opinion):
"But then you must be sure of having the value, and you must keep yourself independent. Very few men can do that. Either you slip our of service altogether, and become good for nothing, or you wear the harness and draw a good deal where your yoke-fellows pull you."

There's an interesting point in SparkNotes related to the idea of being yoked:
The blurred definition of "debt" carries social pitfalls. Bulstrode and Featherstone deliberately keep the matter of "debt" indistinct. They leave the question of "debt" somewhere in between its strict financial meaning and the vaguer notion of personal obligation. In this way, it never really becomes clear when the "debt" is paid.

Just a Quick Thought

I've just started Book 3 (so, I guess I'm right on schedule here) and something has occurred to me. We have Dorothea, who is so young and dreads her naivete and ignorance. She marries dried up (how many times has he been described this way?) old Casaubon with the idea that he is just the man to help her become the woman she should be. But, really, he's the man who would keep her from ever being worldly and/or wise.

However, we meet up with Will Ladislaw again, and find out he's a much better guy than our first impression of him. In Rome, at least when we meet up with them in Rome, Dorothea is miserable. Her honeymoon is figuratively over, before it is even literally over. When I was convinced that Casaubon would only be happy when he succeeded in making her youthful bloom wither on the vine, Ladislaw reappears. He instigates an appreciation and the beginnings of an understanding of art and beauty. I found myself really beginning to like Dorothea and the idea of the woman that she could become. I sure hope he turns up at Lowick very soon.

I could be totally wrong, but, doesn't Ladislaw seem like the catalyst to make Dorothea blossom?

Monday, March 20, 2006

I figured I would weigh in with some observations before we move on to the next book, which is soon (yikes!).

First off, I was struck by how often Eliot makes reference to the social constraints the characters are operating under, the roles they are all expected to play. I think one of the defining characteristics of Dorothea is that she is not temperamentally suited to play out the role she's been assigned by society. My sense of Dorothea is that she is intelligent and intellectually curious. She's also a romantic idealist and very very young. She doesn't know her own mind, and as she is a part of her social context, she can't imagine being the one in charge, even though in an equitable world, she would be. I think that's probably where the martyrdom stuff comes from-- if you can't take action on your own, or play the hero, then you passively keep up with what you were doing until someone gets fed up and kills you. And then oh boy you can be a hero! Or a saint, even. I guess posthumous glory is better than no glory.

When she thinks of marriage, I don't think she's looking for a love match at all, or even for a practical arrangement where she might have some freedom-- I think in that sense Sir James could work out well for her, in that she could probably finagle as much leeway as she wanted:

"Sir James had no idea that he should ever like to put down the predominance of this handsome girl, in whose cleverness he delighted. Why not? A man's mind--what there is of it--has always the advantage of being masculine, as the smallest birch-tree is of a higher kind than the most soaring palm, and even his ignorance is of a sounder quality. Sir James might not have originated this estimate; but a kind of Providence furnishes the limpest personality with a little gum or starch in the form of tradition."

She wants more of a mentor who will give her legitimate entry into the world of knowledge, which has been deemed inappropriate for a young woman such as herself. She says:

"The really delightful marriage must be that where your husband was a sort of father and could teach you even Hebrew if you wished it."

My feeling about that is, well, eeeew. But then, I live in the twenty-first century.

And she meets her match for naivetee in Mr. Casaubon, who has a lot less excuse for it. She's a trophy for him, a sweet young thing to prop up his vanity. He loves the fact that she looks up to him, and he notes that she is at least somewhat intelligent. Which he respects only to the point that it allows her to understand what he's talking about. You get a real feeling for his indifference when he insists on asking Dodo's sister Celia along for their honeymoon. Again, eeew. I think Dorothea's true self mostly shows itself in the flashes of irritation and hurt she feels in this case, and in others where she's slighted for her lack of knowledge, or when she oversteps her social boundaries and is firmly put in her place.

Ummm, and those are some thoughts. A few of many. I'm hoping Dorothea and Casaubon get back soon, though. I'm having a little more trouble getting attached to the new batch of characters. And my new least favorite is Mr. Bulstrode. Ugh.

Catching Up

I had an all day class on Saturday and brought Middlemarch with me to read on the train ride there and back. I tuned my ipod to Beethoven, Schubert, and Mozart and escaped to England. I guess the book has captured me, because I'm already well into Book Three.

What impresses me about Eliot's writing here is that she seems to understand human nature so well. She makes you see through every character in this book. Almost every character in this book has flaws (except perhaps Kitty so far), and yet if we don't have affection for them, we are at the very least sympathetic. Dorothea reminds me of a very dear, idealistic friend of mine when she was younger, and also at times myself at her age. But there's a part of me that sympathizes and slightly identifies with Mr. Casaubon. stuck in his ridiculously broad and outdated research topic, with no hope of catching up with the latest scholarship on the question.

It's like Eliot has this way of piercing through people so we can see them from the inside and outside at the same time. In a similar way, she pierces through the layers of class and politics of Middlemarch. She also has an incredible sense of humor while addressing serious issues. Moreover, the personal and political are intertwined.

So, I'm looking forward to see where she leads us. And I'm going to catch up with all your posts so far tonight if I can, though my daughter threw up and I might be in for a long night.

Who do you identify with?

Piksea puts in her two cents on Miss Brooke (the book and the character)

I've been staying away from the site until now to avoid being swayed by everyone else's thoughts about this book. As soon as I hit the publish button, I will begin a thoughtful study of what all of my fellow Middlemarch readers are thinking. I love how much more you can get from having so many perspectives. First I get my thoughts in order and then I see new ways of looking at the story and consider new aspects. I'm sure what some of the other women are saying will clear some of my questions up, or maybe bring up new ones for me to consider.

I'm not sure how the reader is supposed to feel about Miss Brooke. Dorothea Brooke starts out being described as not as beautiful as her sister and that people actually begin a relationship with her prejudiced against her for this, as though she is somehow physically disagreeable. However, as soon as people talked to her they fell for her personality and discovered that they found her to be their ideal of beauty, personality and cleverness. This would all be fine, except that when we are introduced to Dodo she just doesn't live up to the hype. She was so self-righteous and disagreeable, often just for the sake of being disagreeable. Although we're told how clever she is, she seems to be more of a clueless know-it-all. I know I wasn't crazy about her, because when I went through the notes I took as I was reading, I actually found an entry in my notebook that said, "She hates puppies. Who hates puppies, for goodness sake?" Hardly a damning character flaw, or is it?

Please excuse my pop culture reference point here, but when we start to meet the men and they are falling over themselves for Dorothea, I got a very Meredith Grey impression. You know how on Grey's Anatomy the main character started out pretty messed up emotionally and not really very nice? And, how every man instantly fell in love with her? I didn't get it on the TV show and I'm not getting it here. This changed greatly for both of these characters as their stories progressed, which was a point in their creators' favor, for me at least (feet of clay, and all that).

Now I keep pondering whether Dorothea will be a romantic self-fulfilling prophecy, dooming herself to a life of pious sacrifice, which she certainly seems to want so desperately. Or if she'll wind up miserable in that loveless marriage. Maybe I'm the silly romantic but, if my fiancé told me to bring a friend to keep me company on my honeymoon, I think there would be some warning bells going off. If this should wind up being the union that would be both Dorothea and Casaubon's ideal for happiness, then yippee! for them. Instead, I think Dorothea has found a way to be a martyr without any of the good causes that those martyred saints had going for them.

However, the focus of Book One changes for the last few chapters and I found that sort of telling. First, as we get closer to the wedding it would seem that the only strong feelings about this marriage are expressed by the people who are against it. The couple themselves have very tepid feelings toward the actual union and each other. Sure, Casaubon didn't need to marry and hadn't expected to want to, which should be meaningful. And, Dorothea is in love with the idea of being schooled by this, by all accounts, very dry learned man. By the last two chapters of the book entitled, Miss Brooke, there is no mention at all of the titular character at all. That doesn't seem to bode well, does it?

A Groom With A View

A couple of things I have to say before we move on to Book 2, (and I am well into Book 2), first regarding Edward Casabaun, who is basically described as 'death warmed over', this quote: "She is grace herself, she is perfectly lovely and accomplished. That is what a woman ought to be: she ought to produce the effect of exquisite music. Plain women he regarded as he did the other severe facts of life, to be faced with philosophy and investigated by science." (Ch 11) So basically it sounds like he is looking for an ornament, rather than someone to share a life with. Poor Dorothea, she is looking for so much more than that! Interesting that his cousin, Will, also relates Dorothea to music.

Also from Chapter 11 I liked this quote: "Fred's studies are not very deep," said Rosamond, he is only reading a novel." I'll bet Ms. Eliot enjoyed writing that one! As well, I liked the quotes from Mrs Cadwallader that Kimbofo mentioned.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Two Friendships

One of the things that I enjoyed about “Miss Brooke” was Eliot’s descriptions of the two female friendships of the chapter. Rosamond Vincy and Mary Garth are firm friends, as well as cousins, but their relationship is quite different from sisters Celia and Dorothea Brooke. Yet there are some striking similarities as well.
All four characters are very different. Celia Brooke is described as sensible and practical, the natural counterweight to her sister Dorothea’s impossibly high ideals and passionate devotion to various causes. Later in the book, we meet the other two girls: Rosamond is pretty, bored, and very concerned with the thought that she might be forced to marry some local man, while Mary is described as plain and shrewd, but honest.
The dynamic between Mary and Rosamond seems to be one of good-humor and enjoyment in each other – they are the same age and have known each other all their lives. But Rosamond’s insufferable vanity (which I suppose we must excuse if Lydgate finds her so very attractive) causes a kind of mild bitterness on Mary’s part. For instance, when the two girls stand before a mirror:

“What a brown patch I am beside you, Rosy! You are the most unbecoming companion.”
“Oh, no! No one thinks of your appearance, you are so sensible and useful, Mary. Beauty is of very little consequence in reality,” said Rosamond, turning her head towards Mary, but with eyes swerving towards the new view of her neck in the glass.
“You mean
my beauty,” said Mary, rather sardonically.

On the other hand, Celia and Dorothea are sisters, and see much more of each other than Rosamond and Mary. This closeness leads to a much more interesting relationship, one in which Dorothea takes the lead, bounding ahead with ideas and plans while Celia gently tries to influence her sister’s opinions. Dorothea’s selfishness leads her to believe that her life is an exalted one, that she has been chosen to plan better lives for the local tenants or, later, assist with Casaubon’s noble work. The placid Celia, despite loving her sister and admiring her ideals, is well aware that Dorothea is headed for disaster. Eliot shows this odd mix of tenderness and stubbornness in the scene where Dorothea announced her engagement:

“It is right to tell you, Celia, that I am engaged to marry Mr. Casaubon.” Perhaps Celia had never turned so pale before…When she spoke there was a tear gathering.
“O Dodo, I hope you will be happy.” Her sisterly tenderness could not but surmount other feelings at this moment, and her tears were the tears of affection. Dorothea was still hurt and agitated.

Yet there is real affection in both these relationships, and if Eliot pokes fun at all four characters, she does so with an unsharpened stick.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Mrs Cadwallader

Mrs Cadwallader, the rector's wife, has fast become my firm favourite. She's that kind of gossipy woman we all love to hate. You know the type. She's a little mean with a dash of nastiness thrown in. Perhaps you could call her poisonous.

Put her in a room with Sir James and the delightfully withering bitching about Casaubon begins.

In chapter 6 she describes him as "a great bladder for dried peas to rattle in!"

In chapter 8 she makes fun of his scholarly nature. I laughed out loud at her response to Sir James' comment that Casaubon had no red blood in his body. "No. Somebody put a drop under a magnifying glass, and it was all semicolons and parenthesis," she declares.

Later she adds, "Oh, he dreams footnotes, and they run away with all his brains!"


Does anyone else think her venomous behaviour is a bit out of the ordinary given she's married to the rector!?

More on pacing

I almost wrote this as a comment to Monica's post ("Pacing..." below), but decided that, being a prig in the Fred Vincy sense of the word, I needed a little more space than that.

From Margaret Drabble's introduction to my edition:

The section of the plot that concerns Dorothea Brooke was not part of her original plan: Lydgate was to be her central character, in a "Study of Provincial Life" peopled by Vincys, Featherstones, Garths, and other people in the middle walks of life. The work went slowly: she interrupted the flow to study, with characteristic attention to detail, medical encyclopedias and lives of doctors... and toward the end of 1870 broke off completely to start a completely different project -- a story called "Miss Brooke"...

Which is the beginning of our story now.

I had forgotten how big the block of Dorothea was at the beginning of this, and found myself becoming (absurdly) impatient to get to the rest of them. But I think that's only because I've read it before. Lydgate, Fred, Mary, even Rosamond, were all friends of mine from previously, and I missed them.

However, I think it's an effective beginning in that it places us squarely in Dorothea's very limited world. From her vision, as well as ours, Casaubon and Sir James really are her only two choices -- given that range, I might have chosen Casaubon too. When the world finally opens up to the reader (and even later to Dorothea, for her uncle, not usually overprotective, doesn't think his party of townsfolk is a suitable place for his nieces), then we're forcibly struck by the fact that Dorothea has been making her choices in extreme ignorance.

It's this wider world -- the provincial and yet somehow enormous population of Middlemarch -- that I love best about this book, but I had not appreciated before how the pacing allows Eliot to underscore Dorothea's isolation first. Gender isolates her, as well as class. I'm sure we'll all have a lot more to say about that as the book progresses.

Dodo and Kitty

The initial focus of Book I is, of course, "Miss Brooke" — Dorothea. The prelude sets her up to be a modern-day Theresa, a victim of circumstance, a swan who will always remain among ducklings. Dorothea is our heroine, for whom we should feel sympathy. We're supposed to root for her.

So I was greatly surprised to find, within the space of just a few pages, that I don't particularly like her. (Yet I'm compelled to read more about her.) Her contradictions. Her obliviousness. She has Ideals, but her charity does not seem to extend to her daily relationships. She's proud.

Her case is not helped by the affectionate appellation her sister applies. Dodo. No doubt it's a term of endearment commonly used to refer to the Dorothys of the world. But I wonder if it had the same connotations — silliness, stupidity, extinction — in Eliot's time.

Celia on the other hand: Kitty — sweetness, perhaps ingratiating?

I'm struck by the relationship between these sisters. They bicker. They push each other's buttons, deliberately. (I like that they bicker. It makes them so real.) Of course they love each other, but they express also that cattiness so often attributed to women, found among those who are thrown together by circumstances (family, coworkers) not entirely of their own choosing — the instinct to resist the "yoke" (end of chapter 1) of relationships already predetermined.

Since they could remember, there had been a mixture of criticism and awe in the attitude of Celia's mind towards her elder sister.

I rather think, at this early stage anyway, that this is the attitude most of the characters hold towards Dorothea, and the one that we readers are also expected to take.

Do you like Dorothea? Celia? Do you relate to one or the other, see your relationship with your sisters in them? Is Dorothea also "yoked" into her role of elder sister?

(My own sister is 13 years older than I am. We have the benefit of having not grown up together; we came to know, and like, each other as adults. But there are still yokes.)

There are hints that things will not go so well for Dorothea and Edward Casaubon, and I don't doubt there will come a time when indeed I will feel sympathy for her (but not yet). Do you support Dorothea's choice of Casaubon for a husband? While I don't like the look of him and I think she acted impetuously, I would've chosen the same way — the attraction of heart and/or mind over "a good match."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Edward Casaubon

So that we should know what he looks like:
His manners, she thought, were very dignified; the set of his iron-gray hair and his deep eye-sockets made him resemble the portrait of Locke. He had the spare form and the pale complexion which became a student; as different as possible from the blooming Englishman of the red-whiskered type represented by Sir James Chettam.

From The Victorian Web:

The "portrait of Locke" is most likely to be Kneller's of 1698, of which at least fourteen different engravings exist; see Freeman O'Donoghue, Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1912), III, 79-81. Dorothea might have seen the version by R. Graves (no. 13 in O'Donoghue) which appeared as the frontispiece to Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (London: J. F. Dove, 1828). The Leweses owned a copy of this edition; see Baker, The George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Library, #1311.

Not exactly my type. (I think the words paint a prettier picture than does the portrait in question.)


As a wanna be writer...I am really appreciating the pacing of the book--Eliot manages to pack all sorts of pithy aphorisms, caustic comments on Middlemarch-ians, and plot points into the work, yet it breezes along. I'm reading it online--can't say that's possible with too many classic works.

I appreciated the quick deftness she employed to move Dorothea out of center stage, whisking her off to her honeymoon so that we can spotlight Lydgate and his arrival to Middlemarch. It's all very soapy, in the best possible way.

I Live Too Much With The Dead

I love the dialogue in this book. One of my favourite lines so far:

"I live too much with the dead. My mind is something like the ghost of an ancient, wandering about the world and trying mentally to construct it as it used to be, in spite of ruin and confusing changes."

Monday, March 13, 2006

The slang of prigs

I find Eliot's language is light and easy, while laden with meaning. It's both poignant and funny, and at all times strong and clear. I doubt Eliot would ever sacrifice clarity of meaning to following the prose fashions of the day.

Each page offers up a fresh batch of the quotable, be they pithy aphorisms or more detailed observations.

My favourite lines thus far are from an exchange in chapter 11:
"...All choice of words is slang. It marks a class."
"There is correct English: that is not slang."
"I beg your pardon: correct English is the slang of prigs who write history and essays. And the strongest slang of all is the slang of poets."

What's your favourite line?

Friday, March 10, 2006

George Eliot Country

I've never had any interest in visiting Nuneaton or Coventry, but now that I know this part of England is called 'George Eliot Country' I am a little tempted.

Apparantly both towns are filled with Eliot memorials. There's a local hospital sporting her name (where the wards are supposedly named after the characters that filled her books - how charming), a giant statue of her hulking over Nuneaton's pedestrianised shopping mall and - something that really tickled my fancy - a pub where you can down a pint in her honour!

If you want to find out more, I highly recommend this website, which provides a wealth of information, including photographs of real life locations that were important to Eliot and featured in many of the books she wrote. And, if you're really keen and fancy a trip to the UK, Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council is organising special guided coach tours in the summer.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Oh, I am so tempted!

I just came across this, a Trojan War blog written by Eurylochus, one of Odysseus' men (via Orange Crate Art) and it looks like a fun read.

I am so tempted to try something like this with Middlemarch, maybe a blog by Dorothea! Like I need another blog project, but on the other hand it would help me to summarize each chapter, right?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

UPDATED: So let us begin

with Book 1 (chapters 1 through 12), posting thereon to begin Wednesday, March 15. Let's try to follow the natural breaks and aim for a book a week, with discussions opening on Wednesdays (yes, I changed my mind).

Dates have been listed in the sidebar.

(as opposed to, as previously suggested:)

with chapters 1 through 10, posting thereon to begin Tuesday, March 14.

Subsequent blocks of 10 chapters will be tabled for discussion each Tuesday to follow. Once tabled, material will remain open, all posts, comments, questions welcome; that is, not limited to the chapters of the week but can (should!) include all chapters to that point.

If you're reading ahead, please refrain from posting on, or referring to, those chapters until the set date. (I'll try to list dates in the side bar.) If you're behind, please look to post titles and headings and your own best judgment to ensure the book's not spoiled for you.

Let's give it a couple weeks, see if it's easy reading or hard slogging, if there are more natural breaks to work by, if we develop a group rhythm, etc.

In the meantime, and at any time, feel free to post on topics of a more general nature: quotations, background material, related articles...

Does anyone have an uglier edition than this?

Before we get into anything important about "Middlemarch", I am curious about what editions we are all reading. When I signed on here, I was positive that "Middlemarch" was included in my beautiful Modern Library Eliot Omnibus ("Best-Known Novels of George Eliot"), but, alas, it is not. So off I went to the local public library, where I found the hideous copy above, the Harcourt Brace & World edition from 1962. I've ordered the Modern Library edition (I think it's 1950? 51?) from Alibris but I'll be reading this one until the ML arrives, and I'm interested to see how the two books compare. How about you, fellow Marchers? Have you already bought your "Middlemarch"? Where did you get it? What are your thoughts on your copy's typeface, illustrations, footnotes, etc. so far?

So far, I am underwhelmed by this edition. Aside from the ugly cover, it is printed on thin paper, so the type bleeds through. There are no illustrations or footnotes, unless you count the penciled ones in the margins, and the sole piece of prefacing information is : "George Eliot. Born at Nuneaton November 22nd 1819. Died in London December 2nd 1880. 'Middlemarch' was first published in 1872." which seems to be leaving a great deal of information out.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Pace and schedule

It wasn't my intention to set a pace or schedule for reading Middlemarch. Mostly because I'm not very good at keeping to them. I can set them though.

The fact is: I've read 8 whole chapters, and I'm loving it, and I'm bursting with things to say already, and as much as I hate to put the book down, I have little opportunity even to pick it up this week or next (pesky paying work is keeping me busy), let alone post my thoughts in a coherent fashion.

Also, I realize some of you are still waiting on copies or finishing up other projects.

So I'm asking for a show of hands, majority rules.

Do you want a schedule? It may serve as motivation for some. (Given that's it's 86 chapters, I think 5 (to 10?) would be reasonable, certainly forgiving — anyone who lags behind one week can probably make it up the next. Make no mistake: I will read ahead, but I can refrain from posting on the matter. We could set dates on which chapters would be opened up for discussion.)

Or would you prefer an anarchic free-for-all?


Monday, March 06, 2006

Spoil me once, shame on me...


Since everybody is going to be reading at different rates (and some have read it before!) can we have a bit of policy-hashing here regarding spoilers?

I don't want to be giving things away in advance, obviously. We could put the word "spoilers" in the title (which strikes me as somewhat inelegant...). We could put "Chapter Whatever" in the title, so folks would know not to read the post if they hadn't read up to that chapter. We could put the body of the post under the fold (can you do that in Blogger? I haven't figured out how yet). We could just not sweat it, and know that we're reading other people's posts and comments at our own risk.

Preferences? Suggestions?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The gender question

Is Middlemarch a women's book?

Big question, I know, about which we may have plenty to say later, but I had to ask because: 1. It scores high as "women's watershed fiction" but less well if at all on general, male-dominated "best novels" lists, and 2. It seems we're all women here.

For the time-being, I am seriously interested in a show of hands on a more specific question: Do you know any men who've read Middlemarch (other than my friend David)? Do they like it or are they indifferent? Do they find it all "influential" as many women readers seem to?

Friday, March 03, 2006


I can already tell I don't know everyone who will be blogging here. Could we all just take a minute to introduce ourselves? And anyone who's planning to lurk but not post, please introduce yourselves as well. Tell us as much or as little as you like -- I just want some kind of handle so I can tell everyone apart!

I'm Rachel, a cartoonist and trying-to-be writer, living in Vancouver, BC, with my personal physicist and our two-year-old. I've read Middlemarch before, and consider it one of my top ten favourite/influential novels. I'm rereading it because it's been twelve years and I think I need a refresher.

Who else is here? Don't be shy!


We're here to read George Eliot's Middlemarch. No pressure! No reading schedules! No commitments! If you're not enjoying yourself, read something else!

I've wanted to read it for rather a long time but simply haven't gotten round to it. Till now.

Weirdly, Middlemarch doesn't appear on many of the top 100 lists floating about (according to my quick and dirty research), but it did rank in the top 10 of BBC's "Women's Watershed Fiction," and its opening ("Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.") is number 58 on the recent list of 100 Best First Lines of Novels.

But it's the prelude that sold me:
That Spanish woman who lived three hundred years ago, was certainly not the last of her kind. Many Theresas have been born who found for themselves no epic life wherein there was a constant unfolding of far-resonant action; perhaps only a life of mistakes, the offspring of a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness of opportunity; perhaps a tragic failure which found no sacred poet and sank unwept into oblivion. With dim lights and tangled circumstance they tried to shape their thought and deed in noble agreement; but after all, to common eyes their struggles seemed mere inconsistency and formlessness; for these later-born Theresas were helped by no coherent social faith and order which could perform the function of knowledge for the ardently willing soul. Their ardor alternated between a vague ideal and the common yearning of womanhood; so that the one was disapproved as extravagance, and the other condemned as a lapse.

Am I a Theresa? Are you?

At this point, I expect I'll be posting my thoughts as they occur to me, perhaps as I digest chapter by chapter. Feel free to respond, ask questions, summarize your own readings, post links to background material — whatever works for you.

All encouragement, questions, comments, clarifications, insight, and theses welcome!

(Email me, or leave a comment below, for group-blog membership allowing you to post your own entries.)