George Eliot, (nom de plume of Mary Ann Evans), wrote a literary masterpiece with "Middlemarch." I was forced to read this novel in school at an age when term papers and grades meant more than absorbing the riches this novel contains. I recently gave it another shot, lured to revisit 19th century English literature by rereading Jane Austen and other extraordinary authors.
Ms. Eliot created, with this book, an entire community in England in the mid-1800s and called it Middlemarch. She populated this provincial town with people of every station, local squires and their families, tradespeople, the rising middle class, the poor and destitute, ruthless and honest. She crowded them together, with their ambitions, dreams and foibles, and wove a wonderful web of plots and subplots. Ms. Eliot also used her great wit to include scathing social commentary.
The fortunes of Middlemarch are rising in this new era when machines and trains - fast, available transportation - are changing the world, the economy, the politics. Rigid social codes, the British class system, is in danger of being breached. Folks are out to make a quick shilling - anything to acquire wealth and enhance social position.
Dorothea Brooks lives in Middlemarch. She is an intelligent, sensitive young woman, who wants to dedicate her life to important endeavors. She does not want to settle for a typical marriage and family, but looks toward a more noble cause. As a woman, a professional life is not open to her, nor is the pursuit of intellect, outside of marriage. She weds the elderly Rev. Casaubon, a cold, narcissistic man, thinking that by assisting him with his scholarly research and writing, she will find happiness.
Dr. Lydgate comes to Middlemarch to begin his medical practice there. He is an idealist, who has dreams of finding a cure for cholera and opening a free clinic. He meets blonde and beautiful Rosamund Vincie, who fancies him for a spouse...along with a new house, new furniture, an extensive wardrobe, etc.
A dashing, romantic Will Ladislaw, nephew of Rev. Casaubon, enters the story, as does Rosie's brother Fred, who wants desperately to marry his Mary, but is out of work and in debt. This cast of richly drawn characters continues to grow with the introduction of Mary's family, the Garths, the banker Bulstrode, friends, relations, and an evil villain or two.
"Middlemarch," a complex novel and portrait of the times, is one of the best reading experiences I have had in a long while. I returned to George Eliot's masterwork 30 years after my initial encounter - and it was/is so worth the re-read!