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Slow March

I've been plugging away at reading George Eliot's Middlemarch. It's very slow going and I'm not sure I'm going to make it all the way through. It's celebrated as a great novel for several reasons, including its portrayal of English rural and urban life at a time of change, with the Reform Bill and the arrival of the railways. It interweaves two main stories, plus subsidiary tales, and it shows the fine distinctions of class at the time it is set.

It's also, for pages at a time, interminably dull. The author interrupts things for a few pages of long-winded philosophising, and adds paragraphs elsewhere like this one:

We are all of us born in moral stupidity, taking the world as an udder to feed our supreme selves: Dorothea had early begun to emerge from that stupidity, but yet it had been easier to her to imagine how she would devote herself to Mr Casaubon, and become wise and strong in his strength and wisdom, than to concieve with that distinctness, which is no longer reflection but feeling - an idea wrought back to the directness of sense, like the solidity of objects - that he had an equicanlent centre of self, whence the lights and shadows must always fall with a certain difference,

I can put up with a certain amount of that kind of thing, but there's far more than I like in Middlemarch.

Few of the characters are particularly likeable - they tend towards the self-obsessed. and are generally lacking much in the way of a sense of humour. There's a theme of finding one's vocation in life, which in practical terms means a bunch of unseasy and dissatisfied characters outnumbering the contented ones, and adding to the general air of gloom that haunts the book.. It is interesting when the characters actually start to get on with things, and the characters are well-drawn, even though I don't care much about many of them.

The writer of the preface thinks that the interwoven storylines is one of the great things about the novel. It is very well done, especially  for something that was not published as a whole, but in bi-monthly parts over a period of a couple of years. But I don't think it was anything new in literature - I think Bleak House does the same, and almost certainly other earlier books do too. It hardly seems a worthy reason for praising the book so wholeheartedly.
  I can name at least two pony books (The Horse Sale and The Heronsbrook Gymkhana) which are written as interwoven stories, covering a range of social backgrounds and with characters facing challenges that some respond to better than others. Both are about one sixth the length of Middlemarch, if that, and are a lot more fun to read. And if I want depictions of village and town life, I can pick up Miss Read's novels, which cover a wider social strata than Middlemarch does, and again, are a heck of a lot more entertaining to read.

I've looked up Middlemarch on Wikipedia, so I know what happens to the main characters. Whether I can be bothered to plough through Eliot's often tedious text to find out the details remains to be seen.



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
2nd May, 2009 12:15 (UTC)
Try Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. Same story...would be captivating if only there wasn't so much twaddle in between! 'She entered the room and it reminded him of a time when...'(yawn!). Do you think they were paid by the word?
2nd May, 2009 16:51 (UTC)
I believe some writers of the period, especially those whose work was first published in magazine installments, were paid by the word. I believe Dickens was for some of his work.

I've read Portrait of a Lady three or four times. It is long-winded, but I quite like it. Would be even better at two-thirds the length though. And the characters are more likable than those in Middlemarch. I can't stand Henry James' later works though. We did Turn of the Screw as well as 'Lady' for A level and I didn't like it: didn't find it creepy either. The sheer verbiage of his later books is dreadful. He starts a sentence with half a clause but by the time you get to the end, because he spends the middle of the sentence on a related topic that could be a sentence on its own and doesn't need to be included in this one but he likes to write like that, you've forgotten how it started.

Edited at 2009-05-02 16:51 (UTC)
2nd May, 2009 18:32 (UTC)
I once worked for Oxford Uni reading the theology books and others for the blind students. I swear these authors never actually read what they had written, if they had the books would have been half their length!
2nd May, 2009 22:09 (UTC)
Not read the book, but we watched the television adaptation and I have to admit, it wasn't exactly captivating...
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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