For 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good book
Day 39, Middlemarch by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)
Middlemarch is a provincial town in the Midlands, in central England. The novel begins around 1830 in this fictional community of poor people, tradesmen, middle class, and gentry. Mary Ann Evans, under her pen name George Eliot, wanted to create an entire small world in the rising town of Middlemarch, and so she wove together a huge cast of characters, a lively landscape, and four distinct narrative storylines to create a classic work of literature. Long and challenging, Middlemarch the novel touches on assorted themes—marriage, political reform, education, idealism, religion, the status of women—and by doing so, allows a reader to see different perspectives through characters and roles in Middlemarch’s social structure.
At the heart of Middlemarch is the admirable and memorable Dorothea Brooke, a young woman blessed with wealth, intelligence, and a good family name. Though awarded many advantages by the luck of her birth, Dorothea has the heart of a philanthropist. She makes a match with an elderly clergyman, with the idealistic expectation that he will allow her to help in his scholarly work and become a helpmate as well as a mate in marriage. Dorothea’s hope that marriage will be a partnership is a mistaken one, and her marriage is a failure. She establishes a friendship with Will Ladislaw, a poor young cousin of her husband’s, and the relationship that grows between Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw is a great literary romance that examines desire, patience, respect, honor, and honorability.
The novel’s subtitle is “a study of provincial life.” Because of its massive size, Middlemarch was published in eight installments. Other important storylines include a young doctor and his new wife trying to fit into Middlemarch’s society; a foolish young man hopelessly in love with a steady young woman who rejects his proposals unless he matures; and a pious banker who wants to enter politics but has a shady past that threatens his plans.
Why is Middlemarch a good read for women? In modern terms, Dorothea’s emotional journey would be called a woman’s search for agency and control over her own life. Her poor choice in marriage could have broken her spirit; an affair with a younger relative could have ruined her reputation; giving up her desire to help others could have made her life meaningless. Though limited in power and not always secure in herself, Dorothea nevertheless is a literary woman to be admired. Against the norm of the time, she maintains hope that her thoughts are valuable and her plans are practical. Middlemarch is set in a particular place in our historical past, but Dorothea has Everywoman qualities that apply to girls and women of today who seek to mark their value and place in a sometimes unappreciative society.