Book Review: Middlemarch by George Elliot

By Tam Charlwood

Limited to one book on my travels, I bought the largest book I could find: Middlemarch. Initially I was unenthusiastic, yet I quickly fell in love. Middlemarch is an intense novel with a glorious range of characters. They are the driving force of the book; Eliot masterfully constructs and deconstructs them. It would be a disservice to George Eliot to say that her characters are perfectly rendered. The characters in Middlemarch are not bound to the realm of paper and ink, instead they are fully realised and flawed human beings (although critics seem to have it out for Will Ladislaw).

Eliot’s realism is a shining beacon of the style. Middlemarch is a historical novel, an intellectual novel, a romance novel, even a business novel! There is such breadth and depth, that each page seems to offer insight into society of the 1800s and society today. It is hard to say precisely what Middlemarch is about, since it is a meander through a country town with keen insights into humanity at large and small. Each page provides understanding into people, relationships, and society.

Middlemarch has enriched my life – returning poor from travel, I recalled Lydgate’s financial difficulties; learning about Australia’s depressing detention centres, I keenly felt Dorothea’s need to do good “business”; and considering my path as a graduate, I was cautioned by Casaubon’s vain efforts.

For a time-poor law student, Middlemarch is a commitment. Yet as you read, you’ll forget about your other commitments. Whenever I read a book, I fold the bottom corners of pages that resonate with me for their prose or concepts. My Middlemarch has most of the lower page corners folded. Do not be daunted by the size of Middlemarch. Provided you exert some effort at the start, you will be amply awarded. Middlemarch will be a lifelong friend to you.

“Character is not cut in marble – it is not something solid and unalterable. It is something living and changing, and may become diseased as our bodies do.” Dorothea responds, “then it may be rescued and healed.”

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