I will admit - as I reached the end of the first section of Middlemarch, I was still somewhat skeptical. The writing was brilliant, of course, but the characterization hadn't sunk in enough yet, and when on page 84 of my edition the narrative suddenly shifted towards other characters (not the titular Miss Brooke of book one), I was a little shaken. It took several chapters until I felt comfortable enough with this new cast of characters, and only then could I fully appreciate the overall marvel of Middlemarch.
Because really, looking back on it now objectively, the shift is unexpected. After having immersed ourselves in Dorothea's life until that point, it isn't exactly the easiest thing in the world to suddenly start caring about Fred, or Rosamond, etc. But once I understood that this wasn't just a temporary move, I began to pay closer attention to these new characters as well. Like with Dorothea, I wasn't exactly drawn to them, but as time went by, I became deeply attached. I don't know how, or why, but by the end of Middlemarch I cared very much for the characters and I had a clear understanding of their lives.
One of those phrases I've always heard about Middlemarch - and what is attached to it by name - is that it's about the lives of all manner of people living in that fictitious province. I didn't really feel that. Dorothea is obviously privileged, but more important is the fact that she's educated. So, it seems, is nearly every other character in the novel. Even the members of the relatively lower classes are extremely well educated. People are in debt, but they are not destitute. Middlemarch is about the lives of the middle-class and up. That lack of the lower social rung was particularly jarring for me, maybe because I was expecting something... different. And yet even so, Middlemarch does a splendid job of showing exactly these classes, showing us their lives and their struggles.
Like I said, it took me a while to get into the other stories. But as I delved deeper into Middlemarch, I stopped feeling like Ladislaw and Lydgate and Mary were foreign, and started feeling as though they were real people. I not only started caring, I started caring. Even Dorothea, who I didn't particularly like at first, became critical. I wanted desperately to know what was going to happen with these people's lives. I felt for them, and it was glorious.
Please do not for a moment mistake these as critical assessments. These are scattered, messy thoughts of someone who, even months later, cannot quite understand how or why this book was so utterly incredible. Next up: finally, an emotional response.