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chesilbeach

Middlemarch by George Eliot

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We're having another group read for the English Counties Challenge, and this time we've decided on Middlemarch by George Eliot.  It comprises eight books within the one volume, so we're going to try and read one book at a time, but we're unsure about timing, so for the first book, we're aiming to read it in over the next three weeks, and then see how the timing has worked, and go from there. We'll be discussing our progress along the way, so there will be spoilers!   :readingtwo:

 

Synopsis (from the back cover):

George Eliot's most ambitious novel is a masterly evocation of diverse lives and changing fortunes in a provincial community.  Peopling its landscape are Dorothea Brooke, a young idealist whose search for intellectual fulfilment leads her into a disastrous marriage to a pedantic scholar Casauban; the charming but tactless Dr Lydgate, whose pioneering medical methods, combined with an imprudent marriage to the splendid beauty Rosamond, threaten to undermine his career; and the religious hypocrite Bulstrade, hiding scandalous crimes from his past.  As their stories entwine, George Eliot creates a richly nuanced and moving drama, hailed by Virginia Woolf as 'one of the few English novels written for grown up people'.

 

 

Please feel free to join in! :)  We may find we need to change the timescales as we go along, but will update this first post to say what instalment we're currently reading, with links to where each discussion starts, but please bear in mind, there will be spoilers!

 

 

BOOK ONE: Miss Brooke (chapters 1-12) reading until Sunday 22nd Feb 2015

BOOK TWO: Old and Young (chapters 13-22) reading until Sunday 22nd Mar 2015 - spoilers for Book 2 start here.

BOOK THREE: Waiting for Death (chapters 23-33) reading until Sunday 12th Apr 2015 - spoilers for Book 3 start here.

BOOK FOUR: Three Love Problems (chapters 34-42) reading until Sunday 3rd May 2015 - spoilers for Book 4 start here

BOOK FIVE: The Dead Hand (chapters 43-53) reading until Sunday 24th May 2015 - spoilers for Book 5 start here

BOOK SIX: The Widow and the Wife (chapters 54-62) reading until Sunday 15th June 2015 - spoilers for Book 6 start here

BOOK SEVEN: Two Temptations (chapters 63-71) reading until Sunday 5th July 2015

BOOK EIGHT: Sunset and Sunrise (chapters 72-85) and FINALE reading until Sunday 26th July 2015

 

 

All reading dates subject to change after discussion.   :)

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Thanks for setting this up Claire. I shall definitely be joining in. It's my first Eliot and I'm a bit nervous!

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WARNING --- THERE MAY BE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR CHAPTERS 1-4

 

I'd read Miss Brooke a few years back, and I found an audiobook of Middlemarch at a very reasonable price, so I decided I'd listen to the first book a couple of weeks ago. I actually listened to it twice, the second time straight after the first, as it took me a while to get used to it.

 

I loved it. The characters are wonderful, and she brings them to life with her descriptions of their personalities, their dialogue and the different quirks. I wanted to shout at Dorothea not to marry Casauban, but having been orphaned and not brought up in the home of a married couple, her ideas of relationships are naive and foolish. Towards the end of the book, we are introduced to Rosamond, who I loathe as a person, but love her as a character, and her brother Fred, who is far more amiable but who we leave knowing he has trouble ahead with his finances.

 

I'm looking forward to reading book two. Do you have a date in mind for finishing the next book? If we go for three weeks again, that will take us up to the 15th March.

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I found book one a bit more of a struggle. Personally, I think Dorothea is in need of a good slap with her religious judging when it suits her, and only when it suits her :D However, I did feel sorry for her with her misguided thoughts about relationships and marriage. Her union with Casaubon seems destined to end in tears. 

 

However, I got much more into the book with the marriage and then subsequent introduction of Rosamond and Fred. I loved the character of Rosamond, and I get the feeling Fred will be someone I can root for despite his misguided finances...! 

 

I'm therefore looking forward to book two in the hope now I'm into things I shall find things much better now. I am up for March 15th if that suits you guys. :)

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I've just started Middlemarch today, and am up to the end of chapter 9 this morning.  It's my main read, and once I get going I'm loath to lose momentum, so I don't know whether I'm going to keep to the timetable of a book at a time, but hope to join in on the discussions if that's OK.  I think I've joined the club who want to shriek at Dorothea not to do it, but then I don't think Sir James would have suited either. She may be under twenty-one, but Dorothea still sounds quite formidable in her own way, and there are already signs of trouble ahead. Celia seems to have much more sense though. 

Edited by willoyd

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Yes, of course it's fine to join in the discussion, even if you don't keep to the timetable. :)  Celia does seem to have more sense, but also maybe a bit scheming?  I'm not sure if that's it, but I'm a bit suspicious of her and can't quite put my finger on why.  Maybe I'm just over thinking it at the moment. 

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I've updated the first post, as we're extending our reading of book two until the end of next week, as all of us are a bit behind! See you in a weeks time to discuss it :D

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I've updated the first post, as we're extending our reading of book two until the end of next week, as all of us are a bit behind! See you in a weeks time to discuss it :D

It's fab! I'v just reached the end of Book 5, and am furious with work as it keeps getting in the way! Have just ordered the BBC DVD to watch once finished.

Edited by willoyd

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We've already got the DVD on the shelf, but I've been holding off watching it until after I've read the book … it's been there quite a few years already, but looks promising that I'll be able to watch it later this year! :D

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WARNING – –   THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR BOOK 2

 

I finished Book 2 yesterday.  I didn't get round to commenting on Book 1 but I agree that Rosamund and Fred are great characters and I shall look forward to reading more about them.

 

I enjoyed Book 2 more than I did the first one (that's not to say I didn't enjoy the first part, but the second was... faster paced).  It definitely looks like Dorothea's union with Casaubon is a mistake.  I know people got married much, much quicker than today's standards, but the phrase "marry in haste, repent at leisure" certainly springs to mind.  Poor Dorothea.  I wonder if an affair with Will is likely - or whether that would have been far too shocking for Eliot's readers?

 

Lydgate looks set to ruffle a few feathers at the hospital with his ideas of reformation.  I wonder if he made the right decision of choosing Tyke over Farebrother as the hospital's Chaplain?   Farebrother seems an interesting character - I'm sure there is more to come about him. 

 

Not the most detailed summary of Book 2 from me, but it's late and I'm tired so it's the best I can do!  I am enjoying Middlemarch very much and I'm looking forward to Book 3.  :)

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WARNING – –   THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR BOOK 2

 

It definitely looks like Dorothea's union with Casaubon is a mistake.  I know people got married much, much quicker than today's standards, but the phrase "marry in haste, repent at leisure" certainly springs to mind.  Poor Dorothea.

 

I don't think the speed of getting married made much difference in this case: Dorothea would have married him even if she'd known him for longer. She's stubborn enough to have gone ahead whatever anybody told her, and it's only after being his wife is she starting to discover that he's not quite what she thought she married, and I'm not sure she'd have found out so easily otherwise, given her mindset.  Maybe if she'd had time to mature a bit?

Edited by willoyd

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You don't think she might have found him dull if she'd got to know him over time and realised he wasn't the right match for her?  Or that she might have found that Sir James Chettam (or someone else) was more to her taste?  It seems to me that he wasn't her only option.  It's not like she  had to get married quickly, is it? 

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I sort of agree - now she's spending more time with him she's starting to realise they aren't particularly well suited! That said, given past days of yore and old fashioned courtship, would she have ever got the chance to spend so much concentrated time with him without being married?

 

Of course they also got married much younger than is traditional now - I dread to think what sort of man I might have married in my late teens! I was still in my bad boy phase then, now I've got round to finding someone who is much more suited to me and my ideas of the future etc.

 

Also agree with you J on thr faster pace of book 2 which was a welcome change for me. I also wonder where Eliot will take us with Will. Maybe Casaubon can meet an untimely end?!

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Set slightly earlier than Middlemarch, the women in Pride and Prejudice had lots of opportunity to spend time in the company of the menfolk so I was basing my comment on that comparison. :)

 

And the Bennet girls were under more pressure to get married with the estate being entailed but Lizzy was still able to refuse two proposals rather than rush into marriage.

 

I think your theory about Casaubon is a good one, Alex. :)

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You don't think she might have found him dull if she'd got to know him over time and realised he wasn't the right match for her?  Or that she might have found that Sir James Chettam (or someone else) was more to her taste?  It seems to me that he wasn't her only option.  It's not like she  had to get married quickly, is it?

 

No I don't, because the sorts of things she found out about him that are starting to change her opinion were things she wouldn't have found out if she hadn't married him and achieved that level of intimacy.  As for Sir James, he simply isn't her type, and never really featured.  Indeed, he's the complete antithesis of the sort of man she would marry..

 

Given that you were regarded as being on the shelf by your mid-twenties, I'd say that Dorothea didn't want to hang around.

 

Of course they also got married much younger than is traditional now - I dread to think what sort of man I might have married in my late teens!

Hmmm. I started going out with OH in my late teens, marrying in early twenties. We're still putting up with each other 30+ years later!

Edited by willoyd

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Well you know best, I'm sure. I will butt out of this discussion for now Seeing as my opinion is always so wrong.

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Well you know best, I'm sure. I will butt out of this discussion for now Seeing as my opinion is always so wrong.

Well, I'm not so sure! I thought I was simply answering your question with a different viewpoint, and explaining why I thought that - all of it, of necessity, opinion. It's the sort of thing we do in my book group all the time. Any part of my reasoning may be wrong, but that's the way I reasoned it. I'm sorry if that causes you offence. I've no idea who knows best - we're dealing with a 'what-if' scenario, and, FWIW, I think there probably isn't any one right or wrong answer, but one can have a lot of fun debating it.

Edited by willoyd

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Set slightly earlier than Middlemarch, the women in Pride and Prejudice had lots of opportunity to spend time in the company of the menfolk so I was basing my comment on that comparison. :)

And the Bennet girls were under more pressure to get married with the estate being entailed but Lizzy was still able to refuse two proposals rather than rush into marriage.

I think your theory about Casaubon is a good one, Alex. :)

Ooh, interesting P&P comparison. I was basing on what we've read so far, when she didn't spend much time with him - but as you say, perhaps she should have done!

 

Although, one finds out a lot about people's natures when one moves in with them 24/7 of course. My Mum has firmly advised all her children to try living with their OH before agreeing to be mated for life!

 

  

Hmmm. I started going out with OH in my late teens, marrying in early twenties. We're still putting up with each other 30+ years later!

My parents are the same and good luck to all of you! I was just imparting my own experience, which was if I had married the sort of men I dated in my late teens I might possess a large therapy bill and no doubt divorce papers. We are all different - who is to say Dorothea isn't more like me than you? ;) (Her sex apart obviously!)

 

As for James being the antithesis of what she would marry, I'm not sure that's entirely obvious to the reader by the time she marries Casaubon. We know a lot about Dorothea, but we haven't met her long by the time she decides to marry him, and certainly to me it seemed likely to be a mistake. Who is to say she wouldn't have been better off with James?

 

I guess book 3 may reveal the answer :D

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Sorry for my lack of response so far! Reading through the comments, here's some of my thoughts.

For Dorothea's marriage, and whether a longer engagement would have changed her mind, I think it was not only if she'd spent more time with him, but also if she'd been exposed to wider society, which over time she would have done. It seemed to be that she had very few married couples in her social sphere, and that lack of visibility led to her views on what a wife was, and that she was looking for a father substitute rather than a husband in Casaubon without realising it. I don't think she would have been too stubborn to break the engagement at a later stage if she'd understood more about marriage and her future husband, as that necessary extra experience may have also seen her grow and mature, but if she had still led her sheltered life with her sister and uncle, she may well have still made the same decision and married Casaubon.

Book 2 definitely picked up the pace, and it was interesting to meet the new characters, but then also go back to others towards the end. I'm intrigued as to how many more characters we will meet and if all of them will continue to appear throughout the later books.

As Easter is coming up and you have other plans, are we okay to go with three weeks for reading book three? That would take us up to the 12th April.

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I think 12th *should* be achievable.   We can always review later.  :)  I haven't started book 3 yet - I'm not sure how long it is. 

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Same for me on all counts :D

 

J - I hope you didn't think I was strongly disagreeing with you in my earlier post. Your P&P comparison makes a lot of sense and was something I hadn't considered :) I shall be interested to see if Dorothea and Casaubon can work things out or if he comes to an untimely end - when Rosa used to write fics my favourite method for bumping someone off used to be choking on a mini cheddar :D

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Not at all.  :)  I just don't think things are always black and white.  I was only 21 when we got married (nearly 22) and Peter was a year older.   When I look back I think we were so young I'm not sure I'd be so keen on my two getting married so young (that would be Luke in 18 months time!  :o ).

 

I can't see Dorothea and Casaubon's union being a lasting... or happy... one, but time will tell.

 

If Casaubon dies choking on a mini cheddar I'll give you £1!  :P  :giggle:

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For Dorothea's marriage, and whether a longer engagement would have changed her mind, I think it was not only if she'd spent more time with him, but also if she'd been exposed to wider society, which over time she would have done. It seemed to be that she had very few married couples in her social sphere, and that lack of visibility led to her views on what a wife was, and that she was looking for a father substitute rather than a husband in Casaubon without realising it. I don't think she would have been too stubborn to break the engagement at a later stage if she'd understood more about marriage and her future husband, as that necessary extra experience may have also seen her grow and mature, but if she had still led her sheltered life with her sister and uncle, she may well have still made the same decision and married Casaubon.

 

That strikes me as a pretty good summary of the situation.  Given the title of the book, I think that one of Eliot's themes is the difference between provincial life and elsewhere, and one of the aspects of that provincialism is a narrower range of experience: small ponds etc.  I agree that she wouldn't have been too stubborn to break the engagement, but in the world she is in, that sheltered life was likely to continue, exacerbated by the fact that the only older generation to advise her in the family is her rather 'silly' uncle, who was never going to put his foot down over Casaubon.  That's why I would argue that, even if she had known Casaubon for longer, I don't think the situation would have changed much.  What might have changed is that somebody more her age and with that intellectual spark might have come within her circle.

 

Janet has alreadly drawn attention to comparing with P&P, so contrast the way Mr Brooke handles the situation to the way Mr Bennett discusses the possibility of Mr Collins marrying Elizabeth.  Not a perfect analogy by any means,a nd  Mr and Mrs Bennett may have been comic characters to some extent, and not in full control of their family, but at least Elizabeth had her parents to provide some guidance.

 

As for Sir James: a decent enough stick but just not sufficiently intellectual enough for Dorothea.  I think Eliot makes that pretty clear from early on.

Edited by willoyd

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Not at all. :) I just don't think things are always black and white. I was only 21 when we got married (nearly 22) and Peter was a year older. When I look back I think we were so young I'm not sure I'd be so keen on my two getting married so young (that would be Luke in 18 months time! :o ).

 

I can't see Dorothea and Casaubon's union being a lasting... or happy... one, but time will tell.

 

If Casaubon dies choking on a mini cheddar I'll give you £1! :P:giggle:

My Mum always said to me that she would have been nervous about me getting married as young as she did, but she got married in the late 70s and at 23 was considered on the shelf :giggle2:

 

Apparently rural northern England hadnt moved on that much from Dorothea's time ;)

 

And if I had £1 for every time someone had said that....

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I just don't think things are always black and white.  I was only 21 when we got married (nearly 22) and Peter was a year older.   When I look back I think we were so young I'm not sure I'd be so keen on my two getting married so young (that would be Luke in 18 months time!  :o ).

 

I can understand what you mean.  My parents were dead against us getting married, and now offspring is a similar age, whilst I wouldn't act the same way by any stretch of the imagination (they made it perfectly clear what they thought!), I can see why they were so worried.  We got lucky - we've both changed hugely, but fortunately grew together.  Could so easily have done the opposite.

Edited by willoyd

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