First thing’s first – I’m a Jane Austen girl. Her timeless novels form the backbone of my reading experiences. Those of you who are familiar with Austen and Eliot’s work will understand that being an Austen girl, it took me a little while to crave the taste for Eliot’s writing. Actually it took me about 5 false starts, but on the 6th attempt to read this classic novel, I was well and truly hooked.
The book is set in the provincial English town of Middlemarch in the early 1800s and it is here that we meet the two central characters, the first being Dorothea Brooke. Dorothea is a beautiful, virtuous young lady whose seeming purity of soul is admired by all those who know her. Dorothea dreams of leading a heroic life and feels she will best attain this by marrying Mr Casaubon - an elderly, stodgy scholar who Dorothea believes is destined for greatness. Dorothea does indeed marry Mr Casaubon, but she soon becomes stifled by his constant study and lack of use for her.
I have to say that I initially disliked Dorothea. I found her almost manic desire to marry Casaubon quite irritating. However, the book soon shows us that despite Dorothea's best laid plans, she is just as misguided and flawed as the rest of us. As a consequence, by the end of the book Dorothea had found her way under my skin and I found myself cheering her on and championing her transformation.
The second dominant character of the book is Tertius Lydgate, a young and ambitious doctor whose affliction for the heroic matches Dorothea's in strength. Lydgate comes to Middlemarch with big plans to change the way medicine is practiced in the region, and early on is very successful. But like Dorothea, Tertius' hasty marriage begins to backfire and his vision soon begins to crumble, as does his life, around him.
Though the book centres around these two characters, it is the support cast that makes this novel so addictive - it has a true sense of community. Whereas Jane Austen is primarily focused on a small number of central characters, Eliot manages to interest us in a whole community of people. We see how the lives of seemingly unimportant characters impact upon the lives of the ones we love, and we see how a community has the uncanny ability to shape people. The narrative is rich, filled with both suspense and drama. It's so delicious, it's almost edible. This is trully one of the best books I have ever read and deserves its' place among the classics. (5 Stars)