Skip to main content

52 in 52 Week 50: Middlemarch by George Eliot

I LOVE George Eliot! I read Silas Marner (my grandmother's copy from 1914) in January 2009, but Middlemarch is Eliot's masterpiece. And to think I was just going to settle for the mini-series because I have friends who hated it and mockingly called it "Middlecrawl"

Virginia Woolf once said that Middlemarch was, "the magnificent book that, with all its imperfections, is one of the few English novels written for grown-up people."  So true! It is not for those who have not seen a little bit of life and had the bright light of their "young idealism" dimmed due to unrealistic choices made in the height of that idealism and romantic fantasies of life. As Fantine from Les Miserables sings, "Life has killed the dream, I dream." I encourage all who have tried to read it to read it again as a "grown up"!

Invitation to the Classics writes:
Eliot called Middlemarch "this particular web" because a central feature of the novel is the complex interconnectedness of the people--and their choices--in the town of Middlemarch. All the major characters are related in some way. Even the minor characters, who gossip in the taverns and at work, influence the main players. 
Middlemarch develops through two main plot lines--and multiple subplots. It follows the growth from egoism to altruism of two young, naive idealists, Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate. Eliot had originally planned two separate novels about Dorothea and Lydgate, which explains the novel's length-six to eight hundred pages, depending on the edition. (p.272)

I will not go into anymore details about the book, but do not let the length deter you. I think it is such a thoughtful book about our choices and the consequences of those choices, but even the ability to rise above those bad choices! 

One of my favorite quotes from the novel:


The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ills 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.

So appropriate after our previous summer's family quest to find the gravestones of my ancestors in rural Pennsylvania!

Here are the questions from Invitation to the Classics:


1) Throughout Middlemarch Eliot emphasizes the need to make wise moral choices. Do her characters have the freedom to make choices? 

2) Eliot believes that humans beings are the products of laws of inheritance. Can they have free will? 

3) She insists that people should not allow "a fatalistic point of view to affect practice." Does she make her characters' freedom to choose believable in the context of a world determined by laws of social and biological inheritance? 

4) Furthermore, can they as products of Darwinian struggle consciously and rationally choose to nurture feelings of sympathy rather than selfishness? Or do the characters' moral choices make an evolutionary ("survival of the fittest") model false? 

5) Does Eliot's evolutionary model make the moral lessons too remote from a Christian notion of reality? 
I should add that although Eliot's fiction employs Christian ethics, she employs it as a form of goodness without God. Although she passionately embraced Christianity while a girl, she totally rejected it at twenty and was an avowed agnostic. She translated English editions of The Life of Jesus by D.F. Strauss and The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach, both books that denied the supernatural aspects of Jesus' life but embraced his morality and the principles he taught. Here is also a thoughtful analysis of Middlemarch in light of Darwinism: 

George Eliot, Charles Darwin, and Nineteenth Century Science

I will answer the questions below. Don't read them if you don't want plot spoilers! But before I  start this, I heartily recommend the mini-series: 

Middlemarch Poster In the excellent Reader's Guide at the end of the DVD, the screenwriter, Andrew Davies, makes the point that for some, it will take watching the mini-series before reading the book because the book does read very slowly. I listened to the excellent reading by Kate Reading (She has the perfect name since she reads books to people.). It did help me to have pictures of the characters in my mind as I listened (I had to do that for the first book of Lord of the Rings too.). But as always, the books is so much better than the movie because you know what is going on in the characters' heads! A movie cannot convey this without having annoying voice-overs! 

I am so glad I did not stop at the mini-series and did not listen to some of my friends. To each her own though! I loved it, even though it took me several years to do so! What is so funny is that we watched the mini-series because my husband, George, had read the book, and he loved it. Why didn't I just listen to him because we have very similar tastes in books!!!  

By the way, the actors in this series are all pitch perfect, and you will see many favorite British actors if you are familiar with period dramas from across the pond. We especially loved seeing Colin Firth's younger brother, Jonathan Firth, in the roll of Fred Vincy. He is every bit as good an actor as his older brother!  I want to see more of him!!!  And of course, as always, Rufus Sewell is perfect in his role as Will Ladislaw. The actor who plays Casauban is just creepy, but that is as it should be! I haven't even mentioned Thomas Hardy who is brilliant as a fop!

Well, now I really will attempt to answer those questions, but DO NOT READ if you do not want spoilers:

1) Yes, her characters do have the freedom to make wise moral choices, but due to desperation, those in the lower classes, often do not always make them. Poaching is illegal, but what is a man to do to feed his family and are oppressed by the landed gentry who dominate them?  

In many ways people, especially of the lower classes, do not have the freedom to make choices to rise above their class status. They are often at the mercy of their "betters."  Fred Vincy makes bad choices and gets into debt, but what eventually saves him are others who "lift him" above his present station. Education and apprenticeships were a way to upward mobility but there was a ceiling to that mobility due to the division between the landed gentry and the working class. 

2) Everyone has free will, but they are bound by the laws of inheritance. See answer above.

3) I think she does an excellent job of their freedom to choose believable. What hard moral choices! Was Jean Valjean in Les Miserables wrong in stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's family when they were starving? What is the bigger "moral" injustice? Do two wrongs necessarily make a right though? Did Rosamund really have the freedom to choose whomever she wanted as a life partner, or was she truly limited. She made a wiser choice for her social situation after Lydgate died at age 50. 

4) Such a good question! I love how this makes me think. Hmmm. YES, we do have the power to consciously and rationally choose to nurture feelings of sympathy rather than selfishness! We are not animals. We have the potential for higher feelings of love. I also believe we have a God that through His Son gives us the Holy Spirit that infuses God's goodness in us SUPERNATURALLY so that we are capable of great love that causes us to perform "unhistoric acts" of good in the world! 

5) No, they are not too remote. I believe that we are made in the image of God. Therefore, humans can reflect that image at times! 


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Snapfish versus Shutterfly

I dealt with both this week. So, while it is fresh in my mind, I am doing a comparison for ordering prints. Wish I could do it in table form, but I am simply not savvy enough or maybe I am just lazy.

Shutterfly

PROS

1) CUSTOM CROPS - I have gone all over the Internet looking for people who say this is an advantage. To me, that is huge if I have cropped a photo with an other than 4x6 size in my photo editing software and then I try to print them. BOTH Snapfish and Shutterfly print these photos with cut off heads and portions gone and both don't seem to have a mechanism for telling me that the whole image isn't going to be in the print. (Also, both tend to cut off heads and such for prints from my point and shoot too. I think it is because it is from a different aspect ratio). 

BOTH need to notify you to say that things are not going to fit in the frame, but Shutterfly gives you something to do about it with their custom crop tool! I also LOVE that you can make a custom border aroun…

8. Prayer: The Mightiest Force in the World by Frank C. Laubach

In keeping with my prayer emphasis for 2014, here is another gem of a book on prayer written by the same person who wrote The Game with Minutes that I reviewed in January, Frank Laubach. 

It was such a challenge to caste my prayer for world leaders (which was one of my applications from the Prayer Challenge that I am doing from Super Bowl Sunday to Easter). I had a half day in prayer last Friday; and because of this book's reminders, I prayed for the president of Ukraine to step down. Within hours, he fled the country. Now I have to really get on my knees for Putin because he might mess the whole thing up by sending military there. Oh my.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, I am cutting and pasting one person's reflections and quotes from the book:


One of Laubach's most important suggestions in this terrific little book is that we pray during the "chinks" that happen in all of our schedules: while stuck in traffic, doing mindless chores, standing in lines, and so on. …

1. The Game with Minutes by Frank C. Laubach

This is really more a short essay, but it is profound and important. It is one of the best things I have ever read and applying it will change your life. 

This is a reread for me as I have paired it with my reading of Letters by a Modern Mysticby Laubach in the past, but it is good all on its own, and we have our Kingdom training groups read it every time we do this curriculum, and people usually really like it! We pair it with reading The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence which I have read on a regular basis over the last 35 years. Laubach was like a modern day Brother Lawrence, but practicing God's presence in the midst of real life rather than in a monastery. 

Here is a PDF download:  of "The Game with Minutes"
(the link I had before was not the whole thing)

Here is also a PDF of Letters by a Modern Mystic:

http://www.dunedin.elim.org.nz/uploads/1/2/7/8/12786940/frank_laubach_-_letters_by_a_modern_mystic.pdf

Here is a helpful summary of it by Dallas Willar…