Friday, July 10, 2009

Book: Middlemarch

MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot was published in 1872, yet well over a century later, there are some surprisingly relevant passages. For example, writing of Lydgate, the new physician in Middlemarch, Elliot says, "since professional practice chiefly consisted in giving a great many drugs, the public inferred that it might be better off with more drugs still if they could only be got cheaply..."

And there is still a lot of truth in Eliot's observations about marriage and people's expectations upon entering into it: that what you see of someone during brief periods during the day does not necessarily reflect the experience of living with them 24/7. Of course, nowadays people who find themselves in a marriage that is not coming up to expectations can usually get out fairly easily, but in George Eliot's time things were more difficult.

And the current economic crisis seems for many very much the same situation Lydgate finds himself in. In preparation for his impending marriage, he spends several hundred pounds on furnishings for his house, feels he must keep two horses, and says nothing when his wife insists on buying only the best quality food and throwing frequent parties. At the same time, the income from his practice has declined. He has seen lack of money in his patients, but never applied the concept to himself. Although "Lydgate believed himself to be careless about his dress, and
he despised a man who calculated the effects of his costume," yet "it seemed to him only a matter of course that he had abundance of fresh garments--such things were naturally ordered in sheaves." [page 588] He does not want to ask for money from his father-in-law, but his wife does anyway--only to be told by her father that he might soon need a loan himself. If this doesn't sound contemporary, you haven't been paying attention.

This is not to deny that some of the passages are written in a very convoluted 19th century style that is hard to understand. But the book as a whole is surprisingly modern and rewarding.

Grade: A

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