Thursday, May 31, 2007


OMG, I don't think it's ever taken me so long to read a book in my life. Five months, people. FIVE. MONTHS! But, it was all worth it. Actually, sometimes when I read a great book and I finish it in a week, I get a little sad, because it's over too fast. So, it's nice, every once in a while, to really sink into a book for long time.

Middlemarch is on a bunch of Top 100 Books (of all time!) lists, which is one of the reasons I wanted to read it, but also I love George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans). What I love about Eliot is the complexity of her characters. My impression of a lot of pre-20th century lit. is that the characters are frequently one dimensional. Evans' not afraid to give her characters flaws. But what I really love is her persistent focus on gender and social issues, which (unfortunately!) remain as relevant today as they were in 1871.

I don't think I'll ruin it for you by discussing the epilogue. Evans includes a clearly self-referential passage at once humorous and a bitter nod toward the necessity of her nom de plum:
But when Mary wrote a little book for her boys, called "Stories of Great Men, taken from Plutarch," and had it printed and published by Gripp & Co., Middlemarch, every one in the town was willing to give the credit of this work to Fred, observing that he had been to the University, "where the ancients were studied," and might have been a clergyman if he had chosen.

In this way it was made clear that Middlemarch had never been deceived, and that there was no need to praise anybody for writing a book, since it was always done by somebody else.

Evans continues to break out of the third person narrative as she does throughout the book, to speak not only of herself, but, surprisingly, beautifully, of the reader. It reminded me of Dave Eggars/Valentino Achak Deng's brilliant What is the What, and this sentence:
How can I pretend that you do not exist? It would be almost as impossible as you pretending that I do not exist.

Evans writes:
Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

This acknowledgement is so generous, drawing the reader (Me! You!) into the trust of the writer, including them in the process of stories being told, and, as a result, change being made, encouraging all of us to strive toward a better world.

No comments: