Book Review: Middlemarch

It may be nearly 800 pages long and taken me most of the academic year to get round to reading it but I have finally finished the novel that is Middlemarch. With this book being roughly four times the size of the last novel that I reviewed for this module, it is no surprise that Middlemarch is described as an intricate web of plots and relationships. This blog post is just going to focus on the ideas of marriage and relationships but could cover much more such as social class, politics, the society of Middlemarch, the concept of reality vs. expectations, money outsiders and lots, lots more. (I just guessed that you had better things to do than read a blog about Middlemarch for the rest of the day…)

There are five significant relationships that develop within the novel and these will all now be briefly explained. They are in order from what I believe is the worst match to the best.

5) Dorothea and Casaubon – This marriage is doomed from the start as neither marry for love. It does not function properly at all, it is not approved of by their friends and family and most of all it affects Dorothea’s real relationship with Will Ladislaw later in the novel.

4) Rosamond and Lydgate – Lydgate never wants to marry but Rosamond forces him to. Rosamond repeatedly disobeys Lydgate’s wishes and they definitely lack respect for one another. Neither of them knew much about the other and they basically live in two separate worlds.

3) Celia and James Chettam – Surprising that this doesn’t rate higher but when I thought about it Celia began as second best in the eyes of James Chettam. He preferred Dorothea to start with but when she refused him he settled with Celia. Aside from this, their relationship does improve after the beginning.

2) Dorothea and Will – Already having one failed relationship, Dorothea finally discovers the true meaning of being in love. She learns from her mistakes and grows from her naive ways into a woman that is willing to sacrifice everything to be with him.

1) Mary and Fred – The only real relationship that functions throughout the entire novel. Even though Fred makes mistakes, these two characters are always aware of what they want and because they believe in each other and are willing to express what they want and follow it, Eliot ultimately grants their wishes for them.

In Middlemarch, it seems that marriage is a tool that acts in a dual functioning way. If the characters give up their hopes and desires to settle with something other than love, their marriage is affected heavily and this is demonstrated especially through Dorothea’s marriage to Casaubon and Lydgate’s marriage to Rosamond. Dorothea gives up her plans as a substitute for knowledge and learning with Casaubon whereas Lydgate goes back on his word on never marrying. It seems that Eliot is trying to get across the idea that no matter what happens, you should stick to your own principles and marriage therefore should be for love and is not something that should be used for anything else. This is supported both by Dorothea’s acceptance of Will’s proposal, even though they lose wealth and the estate, and Fred doing everything he can to win his true love Mary.

Once you pick up this book, the opening chapters draw you in and make it impossible to put down. It was a book that had a lot of hype surrounding it and originally I didn’t think I would like it but since reading it my opinion has completely changed and it gets a well deserved 9/10. If you have a week with nothing to do…pick it up, give it a read and let me know what you thought :)

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: Middlemarch

  1. I’ve just started reading Middlemarch as a task I set myself, being one of those things I have intended to do at some point in my life but have not got around to until now (in my fifties). I’ve only got as far as the end of Book 1 and I’m finding the relationships between all the different characters difficult to work out. Hence when Google threw up your blog I found your comments very interesting and helpful. I also feel inspired to read more. Any tips for quicker reading and comprehension?

      • Thanks, that link is really helpful and I’ve printed it out so that I can refer to it as I go. I’m determined to get through Middlemarch, so together with Spark Notes (which is where I might have found your blog!) I can hopefully gain a lot more understanding of the novel than I would have done from straight reading.

  2. It is a truly great novel, full of trenchant wit. Indeed, I suspect that one of my favourite Woody Allen quips (something like “Marriage is an important decision: who are you going to drive crazy for the rest of their lives.”) was likely borrowed from it, and there are many even more memorable observations and asides. Noting and writing down some of these really helped me get through this magnificent novel. They really add a whole other dimension to what superficially seems to be a romantic novel and only a little more deeply a social one.

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