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Posted on the 20 September 2013 by Erictheblue


Finished Middlemarch yesterday.  According to Wikipedia, its author, Marian Evans, used the pen name George Eliot "to ensure her books would be taken seriously."  Having spent a couple of months sunk in Middlemarch, I have my own amateur's theory.  The book is so full of learning and intelligence that, had it sprung from the mind of a female (which, of course, it did), the critical reception might have been marred somewhat by the jealousy of male writers.  Besides the apt and ranging chapter epigraphs drawn from world literature, there is the evident mastery of diverse subjects, from contemporary politics and business to the practice of medicine to an unsentimental but sympathetic grasp of human psychology.  And it's all executed with such leisurely assurance.  If the best novel in the English language was not written by James Joyce, then it's probably Middlemarch.

I have one bit of amateurish psychology regarding Eliot.  She doesn't go in much for villains. I think she might have assented to the maxim that one who understood all would forgive all, and in that case she herself would be obliged to forgive a lot, for there doesn't seem to be anything she doesn't comprehend.  But is she not hard on Rosamond Vincy?  And isn't beautiful, spoiled Rosamond, who marries the admirable Dr Lydgate and then almost destroys him with her bitchy egocentrism, just the sort of woman that a homely genius like Marian Evans might especially despise? About the only thing to be said against Lydgate is that he was fool enough to marry Rosamond. I wonder whether Eliot wasn't in her fiction working out some bitterness--exercising her prerogative to take authorly revenge.

Virginia Woolf's famous dictum concerning Middlemarch is that it is "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people."  Less well known is the opinion of another woman from the other side of the Atlantic.  In a letter to a relative, Emily Dickinson asked, "What do I think of Middlemarch?"--and began her reply with another question: "What do I think of glory?"


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