Saturday, August 13, 2011

Middlemarch (at last) ~ George Eliot

I've landed the whale.  That's right, the book I've been whining on about for something like three months (I really should note start dates when I read behemoths) has come to a close.  The book that spawned a midway-through complaint review as well as a poorly thought out early morning rambling character list is complete.  I'm done with Middlemarch and I couldn't be happier (or more miserable, depending on how you look at it).

So, Middlemarch.  It's the kind of book that makes you vaguely wonder if it's best to just end it all now if life really does suck this much.  The book is full of miserable people doing miserable things and suffering miserably for miserable things they've done in their miserable pasts.  I found myself telling a friend the other day that the story gets in the way of the writing, which seems a bit counterintuitive but is exactly how I felt.  The writing was lovely, as George Eliot's writing is, but the story was just so miserable that I couldn't enjoy it.

There were a couple bright spots, however: I enjoyed the early-18th century discussion of medicine, in which it's most respectable for a doctor to always prescribe something, no matter what the cause, because that's how he gets paid: a magic pink potion can cure jaundice, pregnancies, and broken legs, apparently, and brandy is a perfectly reasonable medicine for alcoholism.  The Garth family was nice too; despite their poverty, they seem to be the only reasonable well-adjusted and all-around happy people in all the pages of that book.

Eliot seems to have attempted to redeem the misery of her tome in the last lines, claiming that "the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tomes" (889).  That's a nice little sentiment on its own, but taken in the context of the novel as a whole is a little hard to stomach.  Nobody accomplishes anything.  Dorothea never accomplishes any of her philanthropic plans (her vagina being a hindrance) and eventually decides to give up her money and respectability for love.  Lydgate accomplishes nothing with his forward-thinking plans in medicine, and dies young, miserable, and beholden to a snooty, domineering wife who cares for little but her image.  Nobody else seems to have any interest in improving the world, so I can only assume this conclusion applies to these two and their good intentions, and I'm sorry but happy thoughts are just not enough to convince me.  If positive energy was enough, or even half-enough, as an American citizen, what's between my legs wouldn't affect my abilities or even be considered, and that's just not the case.  Sorry, George Eliot.  It's a wonderful message, but does not redeem the book.

Like when I read Anna Karenina, I'm feeling like I must have missed something and actually kind of thinking about rereading this, and then telling myself that that's crazy.  It's okay to not like things.  No reason to spend several more months of my life trying to like something because I "should."  That said, I can't bring myself to trade it in.  Oh well.  Classics have their grip.

And now, to lighten the mood, I've moved on to Jasper Fforde's Lost in a Good Book, the sequel to The Eyre Affair.  Ah, to laugh aloud once more.

No comments:

Post a Comment