Posted by Mike
It’s a comedy and a tragedy. The author’s subtle humor is seen on every page. She is generally making delicate fun of her characters’ very human frailties and foibles. But she displays a sensitivity to their feelings and private anguishes that reveals her own broad awareness of the varieties of human physical and emotional predicaments. George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) published Middlemarch in 1871, but the incidents in the novel took place in a provincial English country town in the 1830’s.
Middlemarch has an ensemble cast of main and secondary characters; and unless it is read straight through, the reader might have the difficulty I had of being able to place exactly where Mr. Brooke or Mr. Trumbull and others fit into the tangled web of family, social, business and other relationships. Despite this, the main characters show up regularly enough that the reader can get at least their relationships reasonably clear. For me, in long narratives of this sort, I become personally involved in the hopes, affairs and entanglements of the characters, wishing for the best, while knowing that the author has the guiding hand, not Providence, and that resolutions remain with the author and not with my feeble desires and expectations.
I will say that the writing is complex. On virtually every page there are extended passages that I needed to reread if I were to understand the author’s meaning, and there were times that even then I wasn’t sure. Her frequent use of triple negatives and multiple qualifiers often left me gasping for clarity. But ultimately the charm of her style overcame my frustration–to the point that I suspect I have begun to incorporate elements of Evans’ obscurity into my own writing!
The novel is complex, brilliant, sensitive, and true to humanity at least as I see it today in my section of the provinces 150 years later. Despite the author’s frequent but subtle mocking of the naiveté of her characters, her own humanity and sympathy for them as frail mortals struggling with the immensities of life is evident.
One of these characters is Dorothea. Of her the author writes: “…the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill 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.”
Evans is saying here that all of us whose lives are not particularly distinctive but who work at being decent human beings, despite what might be our baser inclinations at times, also contribute in our own small way to the betterment of the world. What a hopeful epitaph, for me and perhaps for you, too.