Middlemarch by George Eliot

When I read Middlemarch in 2015, I was surprised when the focus shifted away from the character I thought was the protagonist. In fact, the book has an ensemble cast whose stories are woven together by a variety of relationships all contained within the same geographical area, the town of Middlemarch. Hence the title.

One of the Hungry Hundred Book Club members said the book was about “knowing the other”, though obviously not in the science-fiction sense of knowing aliens from other planets. I very much agree. The plot relies on characters who make assumptions and project their own worldviews on others unknowingly, then find, having hurt others or themselves, that they were mistaken.

The characters are not to be blamed for not understanding each other perfectly to begin with (such problems are perennial human ones), but we can certainly judge them for the actions they take and the attitudes they adopt when they realize they are wrong.

My evaluations of some of the characters below as well as information on when and why I read the book.

Characters in Middlemarch

After noticing mistakes, Dorothea becomes kinder; Casaubon becomes more insecure and secretive; Lydgate tries reconciliation and mitigation; Rosamund blames everybody but herself, conceals things and manipulates her husband; Fred listens to his conscience and speaks openly, honestly, and humbly.

Some people found Dorothea annoying because she was unbelievably innocent and good. Personally, I found Lydgate annoying. He is arrogant, obliviously offensive, and careless with money. Worse, when it comes to his wife, he’s spineless. (I can’t stand spineless characters.)

Lydgate’s shortcomings are more like sins of commission, whereas Casaubon’s are more like sins of omission, so I am tempted to find more fault with Lydgate than Casaubon. On the other hand, whereas Lydgate is a scientist and entrepreneur, Casaubon is a ship in the harbor, safe but totally useless, while Lydgate is out braving storms. Nothing ventured nothing gained.

When and Why I Read

This work was chosen as the Hungry Hundred Book Club book for January, so I’m re-reading it.

Genre: fiction (literature)
Date started / date finished:  07-Jan-17 to 28-Jan-17
Length: 795 pages
ISBN: Project Gutenberg 145
Originally published in: 1872