Middlemarch by George Eliot
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I shelved this as a romance on a whim, but if I'm being perfectly honest, this is just a work of brilliant realism. :)
George Eliot, nee Mary Anne Evans, was a fascinating woman who lived a life by her own ideals, living out of wedlock with a married man in Victoria's England, working for the Westminster Review and writing novels under a man's name. And for all that, she brings it out pretty swimmingly in what appears, at first glance, to be a heavily moral tale surrounding a very moral Dorothy who turns out to be an idealist of the first degree. Not idiotic in it, but always looking out for ways to make it work in a world that is quite as flawed as we all know it.
You can guess how it might go. Decide everything on high ideals, let others walk all over you and grin and bear it because of your high ideals, get roped into truly atrocious circumstances where your lifestyle and your happiness is curtailed because you refuse to bend your high ideals... yeah. Well. That's a tragedy and pretty uplifting at the same time, assuming you, as a reader, can bear to sit through it. :) (Did it affect me? Yeah. It did.)
But this isn't the whole story. It's just Dorothy's story and she remains a good person throughout it all.
The rest of the tale is a whole village of characters, some of whom take front row seat during the tale, hopping from marriages to politics to deathbed wills to rumormongering, firesales on reputation, finance, and absurdity.
This novel is pretty fantastic. It's just like our modern epic realist modern novels, dealing with almost every single important issue of the day while always remaining very grounded and it never becomes a spectacle.
The thing is... it doesn't feel like Austen or the Bronte sisters or Dickens. It never comes close to Collins, either. It just feels comfortable with a very deft hand at personal philosophy and making the very best out of your life despite everything. Do not assume this has anything (much) to do with religiosity, for all that. She has plenty to say against the church, social conventions, and the idiocy of everyone, but it's not a satire.
It's earnest, thoughtful, and really gorgeous. :)
Am I a fan? Maybe a few minutes ago I wouldn't have said so, but as I wrote this review, being thoughtful about what I read, I suppose I am. :)
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