Countdown: My Second Favorite Read This Year Is…

We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year, and we’re almost at the end!. My second favorite read is the oldest book on the list; it’s a classic I only got around to reading recently. Read on to find out that my second favorite read this year was…

Middlemarch, George Eliot

I’m not the biggest Victorian lit fan. Jane Austen has some good moments, but overall I’m usually bored; the writing can be very dry, and the reflections of people and their doings too outdated to apply to people today. I therefore avoided George Eliot and her Middlemarch, thinking it would be typical nineteenth century British literature. How wrong I was!

It’s hard to describe what is so profoundly moving in the large, leisurely story of Middlemarch. Here’s what I wrote in an earlier review:

Middlemarch succeeded in utterly beguiling me. It’s less like Austen to me, and more like Henry James; it is passionate, realistic, and willing to gaze upon the lives of unhappy individuals with great clarity and compassion. Unlike the stories of Austen, which generally bear toward a marriage, several marriages happen in Middlemarch right at the outset. The drama will stem not from who will marry whom, but what life will truly be like after these matches, for better or for worse, have been made. One storyline follows Dorothea, an enlightened, modern women with great wisdom, ambition, and intelligence. She is a wonderful character to follow, full of identifiable emotion, passion, and loyalty. She marries an older man who is a respected scholar because she believes she wants to support him in his great work; but to Dorothea’s dismay, and the reader’s as well, we discover that his work is useless and backward, the scholarship that he has been devoting his life to an utter waste of time. Through Eliot’s graceful writing, we can see a marriage, having lost its foundation, crumbling from within.

There are other married-life dramas within this story, including another marriage that seems to begin on the best of terms, but begins to fall apart as husband and wife discover how little they know about each other and how unwilling they are to understand each other. Eliot’s descriptions of the small bitternesses of relationships, and how wounds can fester, or how chasms can open between people who once loved each other, are sensitive and real. They feel as relevant to relationships today as they must have been about marriages of a previous century. Frequently I felt myself associating guiltily with the character of Rosamond, whose utter self-absorption causes rifts to open in her marriage. She firmly believes each new hardship is done deliberately to spite her or marr her happiness; it’s these sorts of perspectives that I feel I take when I’m at my worst. And it’s these sorts of perspectives that can make relationships fall apart.

Of course, in the time and place of Middlemarch, divorce or breakups are not an option; so the members of these unhappy unions must struggle along the best they can, facing a lifetime of dischord. They realize that unhappy marriages can mean a lifetime of smothering their true selves, or subjugating their wills to others; but a chance for freedom, even at the risk of social disapproval, might just be worth taking.

Middlemarch is a small-town gossip novel; it’s a gripping portrait of troubled family life; it’s a coming-of-age novel; it’s even a murder mystery. I found it riveting, honest, subtle, and true. It’s the first book in a long while that I’ve felt a real, personal connection to. Finally, I get what all the hype was about.

Stay tuned for my FAVORITE read of 2013, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!

One comment

  1. mary brady says:

    Hurray! An Olde Time Booke made it onto your list! I’m not surprised it is ‘Middlemarch.’ I really liked this book, too, when I read it 17 decades ago. After reading your review here, I want to read it again–I may get still more out of it after 17 decades of intervening life…

    Overall, though, your Rave Faves of 2013 were mainly new writers; several were debut novels. I admire your adventurous choices, BLH. When I began following this blog, I was stuck in that last resort of the Woman Who Has Read All the Greats: mystery novels.

    I was not alone. My two sisters & many other women of a certain (old) age had gone the same route. Having read all the ‘great literature’ of our time, we licked back with terribly literate British mystery writers (or, in the case of my sisters, utter crap mystery writers).

    Thanks to Writerly Life, I haven’t read a mystery in more than two years, at least. Instead, I read short story anthologies or collections by modern writers. I even started a Zadie Smith NOVEL, though I put it down in favor of a few physics books I couldn’t resist.

    But buying a used copy of Smith’s ‘White Teeth’ was a big step for me. OK, so it’s 13 years old now–at least it was written in 2000! We’re still IN the 2000s (century-wise, not millennial-wise, I mean).

    And it is NOT a police procedural or mystery of any kind.

    Thanks for all the recommendations, BLH, & Happy New Year. I love having a blog that urges me to read MORE. Most people think I’m a freak for reading as much as I do–though perhaps I’m nearing your 39 books per year record…

    L&K, MaryB
    (Other readers–contribute to BLH’s Kickstarter project! It’s super easy; you can use your Amazon account. No need to even look for your credit card. Do it today. Or tomorrow. But no later than that.)

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