I’ve just finished reading Middlemarch by George Eliot – a big thick wedge of a book, and one of the most satisfying novels I’ve ever read. It feels and reads like an epic, even though it contains no heroes in the traditional sense of the word, is not set in the context of any great historical conflict, and does not span a long period of time.
Instead, it contains characters marvellous for their ordinariness – people even we moderns can recognize and identify with. Eliot was a genius in character study, and she brilliantly portrays this or that aspect of human nature in a few skillful strokes, and captures a character’s predominant fault or virtue with a simple gesture, facial expression, or a few words of dialogue. The lives of her characters in Middlemarch make up three main story lines, which mingle, separate, and twine together again like the branches of a vine. From the very start we are drawn into their joys, loves, sorrows and concerns. Perhaps Eliot realizes this, for she begins the epilogue by saying, Who can quit young lives after being long in company of them, and not desire to know what befell them in their after-years?
I would recommend this book to young men and women, especially those in a relationship and may be thinking of getting married. I would also recommend it to almost-grown-up children who are just beginning to realize that their parents are not perfect beings. The book offers many insights about friendships, relationships, marriage and family life: how very easily we can fall in love with the idea we have formed about a person, instead of seeing who the person really is; how parents, while capable of many mistakes, are still deserving of all our affection and respect; how married couples can survive any difficulty if they remain united and are able to laugh together.
I leave it to you to discover for yourself these and many other lessons from Middlemarch. But I cannot resist sharing with you two of my favourite quotes from the book:
The first was uttered by one of my favourite characters, Mary Garth: I consider my father and mother the best part of myself.
And this, the concluding sentence of the book, which I think expresses wonderfully the value and beauty of the extraordinary good we can do with ordinary lives well-lived: …the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for 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 tombs.