Whatever else I was expecting, it was not this. And that's stupid, because I've known George Eliot for five years now, and she certainly ranks very high up on my list of favorite authors. Middlemarch is one of those classics, though, that's so well-received, that it doesn't matter that I already knew that George Eliot is a brilliant writer: I was suspicious. I was hesitant. I doubted that Middlemarch could really be that good.
But it is. It really, really is.
I have a lot to say about this book. More than can, and should, fit into one post. And this isn't going to be a critical, intellectual, balanced assessment of a classic work of literature. This is going to be my own jumbled and passionate thoughts on a book that managed to surprise me. This is going to be messy. You have been warned.
Middlemarch is so often touted as a book of great scope, a book that on the one hand deals with a relatively small setting, yet manages to paint it in its entirety. I wouldn't call it an epic; I think the story is too limited, too focused on its character, too narrow in its time-span. But it is certainly big, and that word "scope" often crops up when describing the book. Unlike many other long, serialized novels of its era, Middlemarch never sprawls, never falls apart, and never even approaches bloated. It's a surprisingly concise novel.
I read Middlemarch badly. Though my edition kindly recommended pausing for a day or two between each book, I typically could not resist waiting a few hours... and as the book progressed, I could barely even allow myself a bathroom break between sections. Looking back at the book now from a safe, two-month distance, I can say that my need to rush through the book was more detrimental than it was beneficial. I might have enjoyed Middlemarch even more had I given myself some time and space to truly appreciate it. But I'm an antsy reader, and when I read something I love, it's sometimes hard to take that step back. Even when I'm told that it's the right thing to do.
Middlemarch falls into that category of books I could just keep talking about. And I will. At least for a few days more.