1:49 PM 1 JANUARY 2017
This was my first reading of George Eliot, but this glorious observation of nineteenth century provincial life is has been an absolute treat. A novel of its time, the language is sumptuously expansive ( I benefited from the in-built Kindle dictionary function) threaded through the eighty seven chapters, which I have imbibed with due relish. In particular, the means by which the central families and community reinforced an established set of common values and commensurate societal norms and behaviours was both intriguing and a fascinating backdrop to the novel. Certainly the sense of what constitutes ‘honourable’ behaviour was calibrated rather differently to the contemporary world and yet the underlying questions of Eliot’s narrative resonate strongly with today’s anguish around the distribution of wealth, power and the ‘right’ by which they are wielded. The ‘elite’ in the case of Middlemarch include those connected by traditional familial ties to the land-owning gentry, the church, a wealthy banker (ever the weak link it seems), professionals and those with business interests. But, while the pivotal positions are occupied largely by men, it is the influence of the strong female characters, which provides the light and shade and confers real texture in this book. The mercurial nature of fate and the accompanying deposit of fortune and none on the guilty and the guileless make for compelling reading. Yet, Eliot also challenges ‘black and white’ judgements of what it means to ‘do the right thing’ and as in the case of Dorothea, the central heroine, the surrender of duty and position for personal happiness seems a very positive trade, with which the reader has every sympathy. It is interesting to speculate on whether the author’s personal experience of public condemnation, for her rejection of the social norms of her day influenced the writing of ‘Middlemarch’ (Mary Ann Evans – her real name – was vilified for openly living with a married man, George Henry Lewes, between 1855 – 78). Still, whatever the truth, among her legacies is this extraordinary Victorian novel, published in 1871, which is rightly revered and cherished.