A great reading experience can be like a love affair or a journey—it lives on in memory and in our lives, it touches the way we understand our own decisions, how we fall in love, and the way we approach our work.
I'm sorry our summer of Middlemarch is ending. It's been wonderful. It does feel right, somehow, that Dorothea and Lydgate both leave Middlemarch, both because of their spouses.
Thank you so much. How was Idalia? (I've lost track of Hurricane names. I had to make an earlier-than-expected departure from Mississippi to get home before LA's hurricane -- was it Hilary?)
Thank you so much for this nuanced note. I love the idea of analyzing the first and second marriages here...I'll ask Aaron Matz if he will share his paper.
ps -- I agree! Let's throw out all the rules
I agree. It's immature on Will's part. He had participated in the friendship and probably had some sense of Rosamund's feelings. It's his colossal bad luck (and a bit of extended plotting on Eliot's part) to have been walked in on twice by Dorothea, but it's unkind to take it out on Rosamund. Although his raw, cruel explosion allows Eliot to begin to reconcile Rosamund to Lydgate, who shines in comparison and gives her what she needs.
Ann, your insights have been invaluable. This whole group has been great.
True of course, Ann, but the Farebrother women are, we remember, generally ancient.
Yes, Sir James does NOT get better with age.
VERY true to life.
This, my dear, is left to our imaginations. Will does play a bit close to fire.
Mona has said a few times out in the world that she has struggled to get people in her life to read Middlemarch. I wonder what she was anxious for them to learn … Perhaps most urgently how catastrophically people who love each other—even ardently—can fail to see or hear each other.
I fell behind by two weeks, but boy, I'm glad I caught up!
And whatever piecemeal reading I'd done of this book as a student has been put to shame. I feel more grown, in that Virginia Woolf-this-novel's-for-grownups kind of way. Great thanks to Ann and Mona for really helping us (me) see things. You're like docents at the Met.
Some feeling of "provincial lives" has been echoing in my head since I turned the last page. Eliot's voice, how it seems to cover the whole town in this gentle protective way, makes such a Christian argument for seeing the worth, especially the wild complexity, of lives that will never be enshrined in, you know, Westminster Abbey. A month ago I mentioned how Dorothea's very specific-seeming ardor was exactly the sort of hopefulness many of us studious seminarians felt at divinity school, trying (and usually failing) to articulate a personal ethics that came down to Dorothea Brooke pleading, Good lord, weren't we put here to help each other? And if we fail to do just that much, haven't we shirked our simplest responsibility, as human beings? Somewhere Marilynne Robinson speaks about Christianity in similar terms, how every individual is somehow worthy, deep down, housing a spark of divinity that comes out most vividly when we make the effort to not be selfish.
Of course, there is always a caveat. We try to be our best, least selfish selves with people who cannot or will not see us clearly, our own Casaubons and Rosamonds. And yet, maybe the effort remains worth it.
I grew up in a small town and remember how much constricting pressure my mom and dad could feel, from time to time, since everyone in a small town knows just enough about you to form some kind of opinion, however faulty or half-assed, and much of your path in life is bent by those neighborly forces. Provincial lives, maybe, are the lives that almost inevitably end up shaped by public pressures, expectations, and the enduring power of gossip. Right? At seminary I was asked by a theologian what could shake my faith, such as it was: having grown up in a small town, I said: a mob. It's the inverse of what a community should be. This might be dopey or projecting, but I continue to believe that George Eliot had to have felt the same way. Pressures on her life, her ardor and loves. It's Dorothea's vision of community that feels like the truest religion, a philosophy of being generous, whenever we have the opportunity, before these little lives of ours end.
I mean, good gravy. Lydgate died at fifty!
Speaking of unvisited tombs, I went to Highgate Cemetery in London last Christmas and fought through some brambles to Eliot's grave. The lettering on the obelisk is soft and faded, and most visitors that day went to see Marx instead, but I sensed she didn't mind.
Thanks again, Bookpost--
Mona was an invaluable guide for this book. I last tried to read it about 30 years ago, and only made it about 50 or so pages before giving up. She was especially good in pulling me through the Fred-Mary bits, which I initially considered a one way ticket to snoozeville.
[I am back from a forced Hurricane Idalia evacuation to Miami. The water came up to our back door but never went inside, thank goodness.]
Mona took this novel from something I never would have read, to a book that will forever be a part of my psyche. I had such hungry anticipation waiting in the hours leading up to Mona's summary and comments to be published each week. After the first couple of posts, it became a supreme exercise in self control not read past the assigned portion before proceeding further. When we reached Book Six, however, I could no longer control myself. I sped ahead to the end, and then to the introduction we were advised to read last, which brought even more insights. (The affect of chroniclizing the changes in religious views being chief among the items that added yet another layer of understanding to what George Eliot achieved with Middlemarch.)
I had thought by the later part of the 800-page tome that its backbone was a contrast between Dorothea and Rosamond (each very beautiful and sheltered), and in a large sense this was true as the novel delineated the lives of almost everyone else who was caught in their orbits, and by the end, both ladies went on to second marriages that were more attuned to their true selves. We saw in detail how the men in their first marriages were destroyed by a clear mismatch of personalities (Casaubon by his short-comings as an author and clergyman; pettiness; jealousy; and pride - Lydgate by his attraction to the flesh, devotion to the best practices of marriage, and pride). But the camera lens clearly left Rosamond in the end and we only learned of her fate in the epilogue. Did Eliot not think her worthy enough to carry on within the backbone of the book, or did this mirror Book Seven when Dorothea disappeared? It would be wonderful if Mona could convince Aaron Matz to share his paper on the disappearance and reappearance of Dorothea. Many of us would appreciate his insights.
There is so much to say about this book. I am sure that Mona, Ann, Dan, Amanda, Janis, all of us, could expound for pages and never find an end to the rich meanings, understated humour, human insight, metaphor, historical importance, passions aroused, etc. Fascinating. Exhilarating. To be able to capture the words and commit them to print. What a gift.... but the party is over. Damn.
It's Monday morning and I sit at my desk in a house stuffed full of things we removed from outside, so much so that I can barely get to the backdoor and there are only two places to sit. But I wanted to weigh in before my wife and I leave on a three-week trip to Europe. This thread, so carefully tended by Mona Simpson, was one of the great joys of my 65 years. She took us on an amazing journey and never let the candle be blown out as we walked in the footsteps of a gifted female writer during Victorian times. It's meant so much to me that I took my copy of Middlemarch, inscribed with my own introduction and the URL where Mona's posts about it first began, and sent it to my daughter so she can read and follow along with Mona, too (so I can't post a picture of it here, Ann, but maybe my daughter will some day). I must say it again: Thank you Mona. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!
(The University of Iowa's Writers Workshop advised not to use exclamation points, but after reading this book, the hell with "rules." Eliot showed us that you can tell readers at great length what characters are thinking; you don't always have to minimize "telling" by "showing." So many "rules" were skillfully broken by Eliot, that I was forced to question many of my "lessons" from Iowa City.)
My sincere hope is for Ann Kjellberg to preserve this URL for as long as possible, perhaps with some kind of endowment for all time, so that future readers can always find Mona's words about Middlemarch and derive all the powerful benefits that her insights and efforts provide.
Forgive me for the cliche, but it fits so well and must be said in the spirit of Eliot's liberal use of quotations: "Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight until it be morrow."
It went slow .. and then too fast! The summer of Middlemarch. I cried reading the Finale yesterday. And again reading Mona's post!
If we feel dazed at being forgiven, is it because we are too used to being judged, and sometimes, often? wrongly?
Marriage - "the beginning of the home epic" - had it ever been dealt with as honestly and humanely before this book?
Thank you, Mona, for your wonderful commentary. You kept me engaged and eager to continue reading each week. I did a slapdash reading of Middlemarch 35-some years ago and have been delighted to read it with not only greater attention but in the company of others and your guiding words. The novel’s last paragraph, which I am sure I barely took notice of the first reading, brought tears to my eyes this time as fortifying and ultimately comforting wisdom.
"Exiles notoriously feed much on hopes. . ." -- my favorite line in the book. GE quotes Aeschylus to reunite Will and Dorothea without a silly plot twist. The major characters flee Middlemarch to pursue their dreams. Celia puts her foot down and Mr. Brooke extends an invitation to build a bridge. How timely is the theme and the book.
Thank you so much Mona, Ann and the group. I'm looking forward to many more reading adventures.
I was telling a friend about the ending, the way Rosamond plays this surprising role, changing herself, and becoming a conduit for Dorothea’s happiness with Will, and she said, “it’s about sisterhood.”