Ok lar, ok lar. It’s a 5-star book lar. Technically it is a 4.8 star book, but since you can’t do decimals for ratings, let’s just round it up.
When I’m embarking on classics, I’m only really afraid of the stuffiness generally brought on by overweening prose that go nowhere, and the risk of the plot plodding along at a snail’s pace (you know, just like this sentence). To illustrate, more Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.
As with most other classics I read, I had no idea what Middlemarch was about beforehand. The book more or less centers around Dorothea Brooke and her almost-childish insistence to marry a man more than twice her own age, almost out of spite, with an ideal to help a supposedly eminent scholar achieve academic greatness. She finds that the reality is a little different from that ideal, and how that affects her marriage and her state of mind. Also, that couple of sentences, as an attempt to summarize Middlemarch, is almost like saying LOTR is a story of a couple of chaps looking to dispose of an unwanted piece of jewellery.
The beauty of the book, for me, comprises of two points: the characters and the omniscient voice exploring the character’s emotions.
The story involves more than just Dorothea (I have to say I didn’t really like Dorothea right out of the bat), but an entire cast of characters in Middlemarch lovingly drawn and characterized to perfection. All the characters are skilfully interwoven into an intricate story.
Also, Eliot has a way of expressing the deep human emotions that motivates and compels the characters to act the way they do. Her observations on marriage is particularly incisive. The torment Dorothea feels under the yoke of her marriage with Casaubon (by now it was clear the marriage was a mistake for both), and also the interplay between Rosamond and Tertius Lydgate when the latter ran into financial troubles in particular quite memorable (and a little sad).
It’s basically Jane Eyre without the almost unbelievable serendipity, with the tension and satisfying climatic release of any Austens you care to name (albeit without the sense of fun and humour) with the constant character self-examination of a… a Russian author, just pick one… Dostoevsky.
Middlemarch is not the wreck that my mashup would seem to imply. It’s actually quite wonderful.