Friday, July 25, 2014

Good history of England in the time of Middlemarch

One participant recommended A Social History of England by Asa Briggs as a good resource for information about Eliot's England.

Check our catalog for A Social History of England

Second round of discussions, part three:

We had 40 participants on Wednesday night, 12 on Thursday afternoon, and 18 participants on Friday at noon.

Was Ladislaw turning down money from Bulstrode a good thing for him or bad? Good or bad for Dorothea?
Did Dorothea need Ladislaw?

Is Ladislaw better off not being beholden to anyone?

Lots of discussion about Lydgate's view on science, especially where Lydgate wants the coroner to have a medical background.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Second discussion, second hour.

All forty of us are together in one big room discussing the second part of Eliot's classic book.
1830 or so was also the time of the industrial revolution, as well as Parliamentary reform. While the industrial revolution would change the fabric of the lives of all Eliot's characters, it does not come into play in the novel.

Mrs. Cadwallader and Raffles and Casaubon

Mrs. Cadwallader and Raffles are unfiltered characters who not only speak their minds, but also need no interpretation or explanation from the narrator.
Was Casaubon a character with whom you could sympathize at all? Some in our group feel that he was a man who could not live up to his own expectations.

Was Casaubon wrong about Ladislaw?
Were the sins he imagined for his cousin the sins he considered committing. Ladislaw loves Dorothea, but has no interest in Casaubon's money.

The idea of marriage.
Was Lydgate's idea of marriage the same as Casubon's?  Was marriage something to check off your list?
Is Rosamund the character that Eliot likes least?

The second part of Middlemarch

There are about 40 of us here again for the first discussion of the second part of Middlemarch (books 4, 5, and 6).
One of the first questions we discussed was whether Middlemarch engaged the reader more in the heart or the head.

 Storytelling in Eliot's time versus the modern novel. Lots of agreement that Middlemarch is not plot-driven.
What is a leveret? According to Merriam Webster's online, it's a hare in its first year.
Dagley's son kills one and Brooke discussion with Dagley goes off the rails partly due to Dagley's inebriation, and partly due to misunderstanding, mostly on Brooke's part.

Doris Lessing as compared to Eliot

Edmund Acosta, Library Board member and Middlemarcher is discussing Lessing's The Golden Notebook as compared to Middlemarch.
Certitude of the characters in their worldview, the tension between chaos and order in the two books, and thematic elements such as the rules encountered by the characters in the books, borders, constraints, and characters' submission to these boundaries.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hello, fellow Big Book readers! Following my thoughts on Eliot's deep sympathy for her characters, and for all facets of our all-too-fallible human nature, I am wondering if anyone is able to find herself or himself having any sympathy for the old humbug Bulstrode. I admit I find him very hard to tolerate, much harder than poor old Casaubon. But, as we near the end of Book VI, specifically on pages 590-591, Eliot once again shows her ability to present the most hypocritical, deluded, self-serving character in a not altogether damning light. I love her use of third-person limited narration in the series of questions Bulstrode is asking himself and, by extension, asking the Almighty, with whom he believes he has some special relationship. I think that is masterful fiction writing, and takes me as a reader deep into Bulstrode's subconscious mind as well as shedding light on my own. And it's interesting that all of this stream of consciousness presented on these pages is experienced by the reader against the totally unlikable, creepy character of Raffles. (Raffles strikes me as a kind of Dickensian character, something like Orlick in Great Expectations. There certainly ARE people like this, though he seems more like a character in fiction than anyone else I've encountered in this book. In an earlier blog post I think it was Patrick who commented that Eliot's characters are more well-rounded people than Dickens who tends to use caricatures.) I might despise Bulstrode, but somehow I want him to win over Raffles--and it's that tension that I think Eliot wants to create by introducing John Raffles in the manner that she does. It will be interesting to see how this subplot develops, and how it intersects with the plot involving Dorothea and Will.

A final note (well, for now) on the extent of Eliot's sympathy for her characters. I think she might have less sympathy for the rather spoiled Vincy siblings Fred and Rosamond. Interesting, though, that even when we can't "see" them, as one would in a film, say, their physical charm and attraction does have an effect on the reader, at least this reader. Admittedly, as a heterosexual male reader this is especially true in my response to Rosamond, who is thoroughly selfish and shallow, I think, and yet attractive because of the way Eliot has portrayed her physical appeal. Because of Eliot's incredible ability to paint the picture, I feel that I do see Rosamond, and feel the charm of what it would be to be in her presence even if I knew, as I do, how obtusely self-centered she is. As for Fred, oh, Fred, a big good-looking dolt; well, not really a dolt, but pretty clueless (I love the incident with the horse that he buys!). His real redeeming feature, it seems to me, is the affection he has somehow garnered from Mary Garth, who may be the most appealing character in the whole novel, don't you think?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Middlemarch on Vacation

Some of our librarians took Middlemarch with them on their summer travels. Check out their photos!

Taking Middlemarch with you? Tweet us at @UCPL_librarians with your photos and #UCPLmarch! We would love to see where you're enjoying George Eliot's masterpiece.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Greetings from Maine! Some may remember me from last summer when I participated in the Don Quixote read and discussions. I loved that experience and the lovely librarians have been kind enough to let me participate in the Middlemarch read, albeit long-distance. Though you have not heard from me to date, I have been reading, after getting a late start because of my move in mid-June. I can tell you there is no better place to sink into a big Victorian novel than in rural Maine. After life in Ames Place for many years (and I do miss it), I feel like I've stepped back in time here, where the days move at the slower pace of, say, a Thomas Hardy or, well, George Eliot novel.

I first read Middlemarch in a course on Victorian novels in college forty years ago. In my callow youth, and hunger to simply plow through pages, I feel quite sure I missed almost all of the subtlety and wisdom and even humor in this amazing book. Though I'm sure there's much that escapes me this time around, also, I now have enough life experience to garner more of the tidbits Eliot has sprinkled on every single page. I think I'll focus this post, though, on something Rebecca Mead spoke about in her talk back on June 4, and that's Eliot's deep sympathy for each and every one of her characters. As a young man I'm sure I "sided" with Dorothea completely and blamed poor old Casaubon for everything that went wrong. Not so this time. Not only do I carefully attend to Eliot's overtly expressed sympathy for this character, but I read into his psychology a painful expression of habits of mind that all of us, if we can be truthful enough with ourselves, fall into at one time or another, if not habitually. Casaubon KNOWS his work is a failure; he realizes that he has spent thirty years on something that has fallen far, far short of the initial vision that initiated it; and he is not unaware, at some level, that all he is doing now is protecting his and its (the work's) reputation against that ultimate truth. Read again his ruminations, as filtered through the sensitive narrator, on pages 398 and 399.

Is he being unfair to Dorothea? Of course he is. Should he have known better than to marry her in the first place? Probably, though she certainly shares the responsibility for their marriage even if she is twenty years old. Is he less courageous than one would like to think one is oneself? I guess so. But the truth is, I can't read those paragraphs without being moved by how trapped Casaubon truly is. And he DOES try to act with rectitude at all times. Which of course brings us to the codicil. Was that unfair, even malicious?  Well, yes, though anyone who has ever felt jealousy would have to have a little sympathy for his motives. And there is no indication that, consciously at least, he was suspicious at all that Dorothea would want to marry Will; he really wanted to protect her--and, yes, his estate--from a man he distrusted and even hated. (Subconsciously, he seems to have suspected the dangerous affection that has grown up between Dorothea and Will.)

Anyway, these are some initial thoughts about the now-dead Casaubon, and about a larger quality of this book--its sympathetic and sensitive portrayal of each and every character.  I still love Dorothea, but I see so much more glaringly her faults and failures, and how much harm she can do in her early idealism. Sir James and Celia are so much more grounded. And, by the way, a character that back in college I would have just thought of as almost comic relief is now one of my favorites, dear old Mr. Brooke!  In an earlier blog Kathleen asked for favorite quotes or bon mots. One of mine is something someone says about Mr. Brooke early on (I think it's Mrs. Cadwalader speaking): "Brooke is a very good fellow, but pulpy; he will run into any mold, but he won't keep shape." Maybe Casaubon and Dorothea both would have benefited from less rigidity and more pulpiness!

Happy marching, all!