In-between classes today I finished up the last few pages of George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Just in time! It was my second time through this book, and my third 700- to 800-page novel in the last month. On a really basic level, it was nice to get that polished off just as my first assignments for classes come rolling in . . .
But it is also simply a great novel, and I really enjoyed reading it. Eliot is a master of marriages, and I appreciated that as a married woman in a different, but equally awestruck, way than I did as a single college student. Alright, I love marriage plots as much as the next girl, but unlike Jane Austen, marriage is merely the beginning of the story for Eliot, not its ending. For Eliot, marriages are one extremely important window into understanding how people relate to each other.
She spends quite a few pages introducing us to her heroine, Dorothea, at the beginning of the novel. We think we “know” her, austere, severe, self-sacrificing soul that she is, particularly when set next to her jewelry-loving, socialite sister. But when Dorothea marries a cold, middle-aged, work-obsessed academic, she suddenly appears passionate and affectionate by contrast. Throughout their lives, Eliot’s characters change hues, depending on circumstance, personal reflection, and company. Such a subtle movement – very different from the “ah-ha!” moments of change in so many other authors’ books; you know the kind, where it takes a near-death experience for them to change their opinion on appropriate window-dressings.
But now it’s time to get back into the twentieth century. I’m starting a class that is all about E. M. Forster (Room with a View, Howard’s End, Passage to India). I’m getting ready to indulge myself in my area of specialty, rather than racking my brain, trying to remember the differences between rectors and vicars in nineteenth-century England. It’ll be good to be home again!