Our book club today is co-hosted by our friend GSL of The Lion's Den, who I would like to thank for suggesting the book as well as co-hosting. GSL has his own comments which include an author biography relevant to our reading (and which will put the novel in context with other books you may have read). G listened to an audio version of the book while I only managed to read a third of the novel (or I should say re-read, I first read this book at age 15 but I have retained almost nothing).
In light of this I am going to suggest that we re-visit Middlemarch after the winter. I am finding that I am more interested in the story the more I read (it may be one of those slow-going books) and I also have a couple of strategies I am planning to employ to improve my reading experience, namely sketching out a diagram of characters and relationships, but there are a few other tips which I picked up on a helpful website, the tips and website links are detailed below.
I've started here with my own comments to be followed by GSL. As usual all thoughts and observations are welcome and encouraged!
In attempting to read Middlemarch once more something started coming back to me: it was the glimpse of a theory that I had a small idea of the first time I read the book (though I didn't have a name for it at the time): Soft Determinism. This is a theory I'm quite drawn to and it's one of the reasons I enjoy the writings of Spinoza. Spinoza (who I would call a Soft Determinist, others wouldn't, that's a whole other kettle) would say that we have freedom in our own determination, but in acknowledging that our choices were bound to happen (based on a myriad of other surrounding events/factors in the web of life) our anxiety is lifted: there is no need for fear, or the dreaded "what-if". Our lives spin out from causes, or decisions we have made, reactions we have had, and we can never leave our past behind us because it is in fact already caught up in our future.
I found an excellent site titled "Middlemarch for Book Clubs" which acknowledges the difficulties of processing this book for both individuals and groups. The author in fact suggests studying Middlemarch as a book club over a series of months to break it up.
In particular I enjoyed the author's take on Determinism in Middlemarch, and it made me think of my pal Spinoza's Soft Determinism. She begins her short essay on the subject with this quote from the book:
Our deeds still travel with us from afar,
And what we have been makes us what we are. (Chapter 70)
Please read the essay, it explains in short detail the reliance on past events and analysis in the novel.
Another helpful essay on the site discusses The Big Picture. As I continue to read the novel I'm going to keep some of these things in mind, in particular the Lydgate/Dorothea parallel, the web imagery and the use of the words ardent and petty.
Something else I picked up when I was preparing this post was the fact that George Eliot actually merged two stories to write this novel. She had been writing a story about "Miss Brooke" and another about a provincial doctor (and was well in with both story lines). She decided to merge them, creating a complex work in which parallels could be drawn (perhaps to further illustrate her points) but in doing so I wonder if she created a novel that was at times a bit jumpy and difficult to follow?
In consideration of the fact that I have only re-read a third of the novel I wouldn't mind visiting this book club discussion again in the early spring. Giving myself the entire winter to do the reading seems more realistic. Let me know if any of you would like to do the same. xoxDani
Now we'll hear from GSL:
George Eliot, the nom de plume of Mary Anne Evans, was born in 1819 the same year as Queen Victoria, John Ruskin, Walt Whitman and Herman Melville and two years after Jane Austen died at age 41. The Austen-Eliot comparison is inevitable but they did inhabit different worlds with pen and in the lives they lived. The Industrial Revolution, advent of train travel, and Darwin’s On The Origin of Species and their effects on social mobility and intellectual life dramatically changed the societal landscape of even provincial England by the time Eliot serialized Middlemarch in 1871-1872.
In comparing Middlemarch to that other great 19th Century novel, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, you immediately become aware that while both are set in provincial England with young, strong-willed, intelligent, and comfortably situated female protagonists, the differences are quickly made apparent. Middlemarch is not a novel of manners but rather a more sober story of greater philosophical and psychological depth than Pride and Prejudice. Middlemarch was said by Virginia Woolf “to be one of the few English novels written for grown up people” as it doesn’t leave off with the “happily ever after” comfort of Pride and Prejudice.
Middlemarch is a more serious work of greater depth and you are immediately aware you are in the company of a supremely gifted writer with a first rate intellect, but the rhythms and melody don’t quite attain the heights that Austen does with Pride and Prejudice. With her protagonist Dorothea Brooke, Eliot has introduced a fascinating young woman who I’d have eagerly joined in a sequel. GSL