My goodreads group is reading Middlemarch for our May/June monthly read, and I am moderating the discussion, which officially began on May 6. George Eliot divided Middlemarch into 8 books – this post will discusses Book I: Miss Brooke and Book II: Old and Young.
Like many big Victorian novels, Middlemarch is character driven rather than plot driven. In Book I, we are introduced to much of the genteel Middlemarch society – from Dorothea Brooke, who is, at least at this point, one of the novel’s main characters, to Rosamunde Vincy. The bulk of Book I is taken up with Dorothea and her blossoming infatuation with the intellectual and ascetic Mr. Casaubon. By the end of Book I, Dorothea and Mr. Casaubon are married.
As I read about the engagement of the stubborn and intelligent Dorothea to Mr. Casaubon a feeling of foreboding developed. I can’t help but think that this decision is going to turn out badly for, at least, Dorothea, if not both of them. Dorothea is looking for something in Mr. Casaubon that he has no idea how to provide – she seeks an intellectual partner. Casaubon, on the other hand, seems to be looking for a worshipful, unpaid servant. Certainly he doesn’t seem capable of the kind of relationship that Dorothea is desires, and it seems highly unlikely that he will be satisfied with what Dorothea has to offer.
Book II brings us out into wider Middlemarch society, and focuses on the political and economic machinations of the men. Dr. Lydgate’s desire to improve medical science and the delivery of medicine is discussed, Fred Vincy behaves like a wastrel, Mr. Bulstrode bullies everyone with his money, and we catch up with Will Ladislaw in Italy toward the end of Book II, where he is spending someone else’s money on aesthetic idleness. By the end of Book II, the cracks in the brand-new marriage between Dorothea and Mr. Casaubon have widened into a full-fledged chasm, and it appears unlikely that they will be able to bridge the gap.
Eliot develops Middlemarch slowly. So slowwwwwwly that sometimes it seems like nothing is happening at all, while Eliot slyly shows us the character of every person in town with her well-chosen words.
One of the components of our discussion relates to the differences between plot-driven and character-driven books. Many of my co-readers have enjoyment issues because of the slow pace. I find myself rather enjoying the leisurely pacing of Middlemarch, although I can understand why other readers would find it boring. I do tend to chip away at classics, and read modern (i.e., books with a faster pace) fiction simultaneously. This probably helps.