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Likely Stories: Middlemarch

Jim McKeown
April's Likely Stories: Middlemarch, The Lover, Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Book Store, and The Lost Estate


The quintessential novel of the 19th Century by George Eliot, Middlemarch, ensnares the reader in the life and loves of Dorothea Brooke in Victoria England.

Follow Jim McKeown's book blog Rabbit Reader

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

I recently reviewed My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead, and she inspired me to return – for the third time – to one of my all-time favorite novels: Middlemarch by George Eliot.  Fortunately, on my first two reads, I used two different pencils, so I was able to compare my readings as I went along.

According to the BBC History Website, Mary Ann Evans, one of the leading English novelists of the 19th century, used the male pen name, George Eliot, to ensure her works were taken seriously in an era when female authors were usually associated with romantic novels.  She was born on November 22, 1819. When her mother died in 1836, Eliot left school to help run her father's household until his death in 1849. In 1850, Eliot began contributing to the Westminster Review, a leading journal for philosophical radicals and later became its editor.  She was now at the center of a literary circle through which she met George Henry Lewes, with whom she lived until his death in 1878.  Lewes was married and their relationship caused a scandal.  Eliot was shunned by friends and family.  In 1856, she began a series of novels, which proved to be great successes.  The popularity of Eliot's novels brought social acceptance, and Lewes and Eliot's home became a meeting place for writers and intellectuals.  She died on December 22 1880.

Eliot underscored the importance of teaching reading and the humanities when she wrote in a letter to Frederic Harrison the following:  “aesthetic teaching is the highest of all teaching because it deals with life in its highest complexity” (593).  This quintessential novel of the 19th century conveys in a wonderfully entertaining fashion, the complex tangled web of love, marriage, and relationships.

My worn Norton Edition has hundreds of passages underlined and annotated.  The attempt to encapsulate this novel in a single passage proves almost impossible.  So, I decided to quote the opening passage, which describes the main character:

“Miss Brooks had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.  Her hand and wrist were so finely formed that she could wear sleeves not less bare of style than those in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Italian painters; and her profile as well as her stature and bearing seemed to gain the more dignity from her plain garments, which by the side of provincial fashion gave her the impressiveness of a fine quotation from the Bible, -- or from one of our elder poets, -- in a paragraph of today’s newspaper.  She was usually spoken of as being remarkably clever, but with the addition that her sister Celia had more common sense” (1).

Middlemarch by George Eliot is one of the great novels of British Literature.  Rather than simply read, it should be experienced.  Do not be deterred by its 578 pages.  You will visit Middlemarch and soon return after what will seem like the briefest of vacations.  5 Platinum, diamond encrusted stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  You can read my book blog at RabbitReader.blogspot.com.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and HAPPY READING!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.