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Middlemarch, Finally

“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.”
--George Eliot, "Middlemarch"

Upon my word, I have finished “Middlemarch,” finally. This is a long book, 794 pages in my Barnes & Noble edition. I did not only read the hard copy—that I kept on my kitchen table. I also downloaded it onto my Kindle app and read it on my iPhone and iPad... sync sync sync. What would Mary Ann Evans, née George Eliot, have said? I think she would have been pleased. Writing in the 1870’s about the 1830’s, a time of rapid technological change in Victorian England, she would have been fascinated by the internet, for example, or by women politicians.

I read “Middlemarch” exclusively over the winter break holidays. I let the New Yorkers pile up and did not open another book. This is very unusual for me as I am always reading at least two books at the same time: a fiction and nonfiction book. “Middlemarch” is both a character-driven story and a book of ideas, all intertwined and satisfying. Yes, it is polemical at times, but not overly so. Yes, it is flawed, but what novel isn’t?

And I love all the characters, imperfect and troubled as they all are. Ardent Dorothea and sweet observant Celia, her sister, and their kind Uncle, and all the misguided, struggling men, a plethora of those: Lydgate and Ladislaw and Sir James Chettam and deadly dull Casaubon. Into this male-created universe George Eliot, drops corseted, clever, uneducated—or undereducated—women who ask questions and defy convention and expectation, as Eliot did herself. She lived with her partner, Henry Lewes, for more than twenty years—unmarried. She was a free-thinker and a successful author in her own lifetime.

Yes, it was time for me to read “Middlemarch.” I will, undoubtedly, read it again, but I am moving onto “Daniel Deronda,” Eliot’s second master—or should we say mistress—work. I will keep you posted on my progress, dear reader.

Why “Silas Marner” was on the curriculum in my high school, I shall never understand. What –American—adolescent could ever fathom Eliot’s complex sentences? Her thoughts ascend into the stratosphere and back down to earth in loops and swirls. I had to read many of them more than once. And that was both a challenge and a welcome antidote to our sound-byte culture.

As writers we are the custodians of literature and language; it is the foundation of what and how we write today. What is past is not past, nor is it arcane, however difficult to read and interpret.

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