‘Middlemarch’ Stray Observations
George Eliot’s Middlemarch is generally accepted as one of the finest works of literature in the English language. To see how they felt about this distinction, Kate and Corey tackled this classic within a few months of each other and, after having a lot of feelings about it, decided to launched The Ides of Middlemarch, a month of discussion and celebration here on Literary Transgressions. Click here to see all posts in the series.
Corey: Okay, I have a few stray thoughts for this week, but let’s start by tackling the “twisty subplot” aspects of Middlemarch, particularly that Bulstrode/Will/Raffles subplot!
Kate: I just found this to be sort of 19th-century, to be honest. Dickens does this, I think. It’s kind of annoying, but also…people’s lives do intersect in sometimes strange ways? All of these people must be connected somehow, right, because they’re all in the same book?
Corey: I agree that it was absolutely classic 19th-century novel, but it also seemed quite off-base given the rest of the book’s focus on women and their limitations in the society of the time. So Bulstrode turns out to be a jerk and is run out of town. So? What is the broader purpose of the narrative? Just to make Will an ever-more tragic figure who was denied multiple fortunes in Dorothea’s eyes?
Kate: I mean….probably? I feel more and more that this whole novel was a bit disjointed, that Eliot was trying to do a lot and appeal to a lot of people. Maybe she put that in there to appeal to novel-readers in general? Maybe she lost a lot of them during the political bits? This was serialized, right? Also, I think Bulstrode is a comment on the church, so his being involved with something very scandalous and gothic is somehow appropriate. The “so” is that Bulstrode is a hypocrite and the Church of England is generally corrupt, I would say.
Corey: That said, I actually did enjoy the “we’re all connected!” craziness of it. It didn’t make much sense in the context of the rest of the novel, but it was fun to have such a “WHAT?! No way!” subplot about missed connections and lost fortunes and all that gothic good stuff. Along a similar tack, I feel doofy complaining about the political bits, but they just felt dull as tombs!
Kate: And here I was assuming I was just dumb and not understanding their brilliance! I felt sure you’d be fascinated. I guess not every part of this novel withstood the test of time.
Corey: True enough. Although, reading more about Middlemarch over the last month has made me appreciate what is timeless about the book. When I first read it, as you know, I was under some mistaken assumption that the political commentary was what made Middlemarch so highly praised and felt like I was really missing out on what made the book great. But, in the end, it turns out that all the things I loved about it — the interpersonal relationships, the inner struggles, and the story itself — are the very parts that are generally considered “great.” It wasn’t just me — they are what makes the book timeless and special and beloved. So, having survived our little Ides of Middlemarch, I feel a lot better about my Middlemarch experience and like I’m ready to undertake a future re-read in a much better frame of mind. How about you?
Kate: I’m not sure. I think, having read it once, I would feel great about skipping the political parts and focusing on the compelling characterization and the plots that actually appealed to me. At the same time, while I’m glad I completed it…I am not sure how soon I’ll be returning to it! Maybe I’ll feel differently after viewing the miniseries?
Corey: Maybe! I’m definitely eager to give that a watch and see what choices the filmmakers made; I’m sure they must have trimmed some, even in a 5-hour-long miniseries! And, after reading Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch, I’m even more excited to pick the book up a few years down the road and see how Middlemarch has changed — or, really, how changes in my perspective have changed Middlemarch for me.
Thanks for joining us for our Ides of Middlemarch loyal readers! Chime in below with your parting thoughts and feelings about the book, your experience with it, or Eliotiana, as you like!