Middlemarch by George Eliot

  • April 14, 2013 · 3:00 PM
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Middlemarch is a novel of epic proportions, but it transforms the notion of an epic. Epics usually narrate the tale of one important hero who experiences grand adventure, and they usually interpret events according to a grand design of fate. Every event has immediate, grand consequences. Kings and dynasties are made and unmade in epic tales.

Middlemarch's subtitle is "A Study of Provincial Life." This means that Middlemarch represents the lives of ordinary people, not the grand adventures of princes and kings. Middlemarch represents the spirit of nineteenth-century England through the unknown, historically unremarkable common people. The small community of Middlemarch is thrown into relief against the background of larger social transformations, rather than the other way around.

England is the process of rapid industrialization. Social mobility is growing rapidly. With the rise of the merchant middle class, one's birth no longer necessarily determines one's social class for life. Chance occurrences can make or break a person's success. Moreover, there is no single coherent religious order. Evangelical Protestants, Catholics, and Anglicans live side by side. As a result, religious conflicts abound in the novel, particularly those centering on the rise of Evangelical Protestantism, a primarily middle-class religion that created heated doctrinal controversy.

Middlemarch readers will be astonished by the novel's amazingly complex social world. Eliot continually uses the metaphor of a web to describe the town's social relations. She intricately weaves together the disparate life experiences of a large cast of characters. Many characters subscribe to a world-view; others want to find a world-view to organize their lives. The absence of a single, triumphant world-view to organize all life is the basic design of Middlemarch. No one occupies the center of the novel as the most important or influential person. Middlemarch social relations are indeed like a web, but the web has no center. Each individual occupies a point in the web, affecting and affected by the other points. Eliot's admirable effort to represent this web in great detail makes her novel epic in length and scope. Unlike in an epic, however, no single point in the web and no single world-view reigns triumphant.

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  • Janet K.

    I don't know about anybody else, but I'm finding this a really tough read... :(

    March 22, 2013

    • Megan H.

      Janet, I loved talking about the book with you. Your thoughts really helped clarify a lot of what was going on for me.

      April 14, 2013

    • Janet K.

      Thanks - it was great meeting you too. I hope to see you at the next meeting. :)

      April 15, 2013

  • David R.

    This was a great discussion. Everybody had so many insightful comments. I'm enjoying Ann Arbor Classic Book group so much. Rosamund may be a selfish bitch but she sure is cute.

    1 · April 15, 2013

  • Janet K.

    Once again, the discussion was wonderful! Even though I can't say that I loved this book, I came away with a much, much deeper appreciation of it based on others' insights. I especially enjoyed hearing from Lin, who brought an international viewpoint, and Megan, who brought what looked like an entire notebook of thoughts and ideas about Middlemarch based on her passionate love of it.
    And just when I thought that the discussion was about over, David brings in the question of the relevance of Eliot's themes to today's world and we're off again!
    I'm very glad that I joined this group - I've been raving about it to others because I always bring away more than I expect after attending.
    Oh, and a big Thanks to Rebecca for keeping us on topic. :)

    April 15, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Great discussion. I was inspired and happy to learn more insights of this book. Looking forward to next book discussion.

    April 14, 2013

    • Megan H.

      I'm so glad you were there, Lin! Your insights were wonderful and I loved hearing about the book from your perspective.

      1 · April 14, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Same here! I learned so much from u guys, and I had a fun time too. U sure inspired me with ur thoughts. I cannot agree with all the personal feelings u have for poor rosy, but that sure shows how passionate u r towards the book. Loved talking to u! Hope to see u next time.

      April 15, 2013

  • Megan H.

    The discussion was so much fun. We had such a great talk about the themes, plot, and characters. Thank you for an awesome meeting, and looking forward to next month!

    April 14, 2013

  • SVS

    Sorry, didn't have time to read it:-(

    April 11, 2013

  • Elena

    Well, I actually read the whole book and thought it was pretty good (if a bit long and slow-moving). I'm sorry I won't be able to discuss it with the group because I'll be out of town! I hope to be back for the May meetup!

    2 · April 8, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Looking forward to 100 Years of Solitude! Cheers, Alice.

    April 4, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Well, I just joined this afternoon and haven't done any of the reading. So the first thing on the agenda is to get a copy of the book. I'm looking forward to meeting everybody. Anyway Cheers and all that!

    1 · March 30, 2013

  • Domino

    I've volunteered to teach a class is seniors how to use computers for basic communication. Sorry I can't make it. The book is an interesting read.

    March 23, 2013

  • Steve H.

    I am bowing out for this month. Not enough time for me to get this one read along with my other book clubs. See you in May!

    March 22, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    A maybe. Not enough time to read thoroughly.

    March 21, 2013

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Rafaël

We just grab a coffee and speak French. Some people have been coming every week for months... it creates a kind of warmth to the group.

Rafaël, started French Conversation Group

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