Sunday, May 10, 2009

Middlemay 2: Old and Young

Hi everybody, and welcome back for the second week of George Eliot's Middlemarch!

Please feel free to post status reports and/or famous lines as well as comments.

Please don't feel beholden to read any further than this line before commenting! But if you'd like further prompting, I put some random stuff up to perhaps inspire/incite. This week, I did a little fussing around reading biographical information about Ms. George Eliot as well as background on the book and its writing. So, in no particular order and without any guise at journalistic integrity, I'm going to post what struck me as interesting trivia (mostly stolen from my Oxford World's Classics edition):

-Middlemarch was published in 1870 and 1871, in single book installments (so 8 separate installments total), usually two months apart. Then, at the end of it all, they issued a "Cheap" (bumper edition). Not unlike several modern-day marketing schemes I've seen (eg "buy this compilation album! There's a secret song!").

-George Eliot didn't become a novelist until she was 37, which is pretty young in the scheme of things, but perhaps not as young when one considers she'd spent her entire adult life as a professional writer. Middlemarch was published when she was 51.

-George Eliot's birth name was Mary Ann Evans. She took the male pen name so she wouldn't be written off as a romance novelist, like most of her fellow female Victorian novelists.

-Eliot was almost entirely self-educated. She didn't have the means to go to the kind of fancy private school she makes fun of Rosamund Vincy for having attended, but she was a strong believer in self-education and self-improvement. By the end of her life, she had taught herself eight languages: aside from English: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Hebrew, Latin, Greek.

-Eliot's writing was (purposely) idea-driven. That's why we get so much about art, science, and religion in every moment of Middlemarch--Eliot cared a lot about her ideas and was very focused on making what she believed come through in her plots.

-Eliot lost faith in God when she was 20. She wasn't the only Victorian questioning faith--British Christianity had reached a strange point during her lifetime where it was assumed one believed in a Christian God as a default, but people were increasingly less confident in this religion. Religion, its place, and its politics are a major concern throught Middlemarch, as in the second book, where we witness (in close detail) the highly political election of a clergy position, and where the question of fitness to lead congregants is secondary to other concerns, like salary and personal relationships.

Ok, I've lost stamina for typing. Turning over the floor!!

-We get a lot of biting commentary on the role of women (often toward some of the things the female characters do and say themselves), but Eliot--although a feminist by practice and by default--did not want to be associated with the feminists of her era, because she didn't agree with some of their philosophies. (NOTE TO SMARTER PEOPLE--this is taken directly from my edition of the book, but there was no further commentary on what philosophies specifically she disagreed with. Anyone know anything about Victorian feminism and/or George Eliot's opinions? I'm fascinated and would love to know more!)


Emily Cross said...

I found a few sources:

"Yet even she is compelled to acknowledge that a purely ideological reading of either the life or the fiction is unsatisfactory; ''Middlemarch,'' she reminds us, ''is a novel, an imaginative construct replete with paradox and multiple possibilities, not a position paper on the Woman Question or any other Question.''"

"Perhaps the most curious aspect of Eliot's relationships was the consistent pattern of dependence on strong male figures: the marriage of Dorothea Brooke, the ardent feminist in ''Middlemarch,'' to an older man seems to have mirrored the psychological needs of Eliot."

Basically i think the summary point is this:

she recognized that the subservience of Victorian wives and daughters was only one of many kinds of injustice in the world.From what i gathered from internet articles (could be unreliable sources) - although she lived the life of a feminist (not being married - although this prob wasn't a choice, as she still called Lewes husband) she didn't preach about it or had it influence her work entirely. She probably wasn't feminist enough (redical), in regards to her opinions and writing.

Thats just my interpetation

Anonymous said...

Eliot may or may not have been feminist, but she sure was subversive. Here I am reading along as the author's voice is making remarks about the ways of men that are so pithy that I'm thinking "how did she get away with that?" Finally, I remember that her contemporary readers thought it was a man writing. I spent the rest of the section squinting first with my "male writer" eye and then with my "woman writer" eye as I read. It was a bit dizzying the way tones and meanings shifted. Very cool.

Favorite quote this week: "The story of their coming to be shapen after the average and fit to be packed by the gross is hardly every told even in their consciousness..."

moonrat said...

Thanks, Emily.

I think George Eliot's relationship with George Lewes is SO interesting. We could have a whole separate chat on that.

Sandra--great line!

Calenhíril said...

Hi there! I really did read the first part last week, just didn't get to chat about it.

Is anyone else having trouble with the loooong sentences? I keep having to go back and reread, which is annoying, because I read fast and miss the beginning, and have to go back.

I liked this part better than the first, I think. The descriptions of art and Lydgate's professional interests engaged my mind more than the descriptions of Miss Brooke. I feel sorry for Dorthea...she seemed ahead of her time in the first part and now that she's married, her illusions are crumbling. Let's see what happens with Will.

The amount of research the author must have done surprises me. There are quite a few instances where she goes in depth about a topic and I'm glad she did. She manages infodumps of a sort without them sounding stodgy or boring.

This is a different sort of read for me-no fantasy at all, not quick. I'm having to modify my reading habits, which may or may not be a good thing. I'm still reading critically though-the aforementioned long sentences, awkward phrasing, etc. There's a good story, though, despite those things. I'm just not sure what the overarching plot is...guess I better keep reading!

If I have time I'll try to go through and find the quotes I liked.

Thanks for making me read this!

Precie said...

Pssst--Just can't resist a good Middlemarch discussion! :)

One thing to note...Yes, the introduction of the Vincys (and Doctor Lydgate) may seem a bit jarring...but I do want to point out that, even though the book starts out (and mainly holds) Dorothea as the protagonist, it's really about a society (Middlemarch) as much as it's about any individual. So the introduction of the other plot lines may seem odd or abrupt, but they do have purpose. :)

moonrat said...

ooo, we drew Precie out of her academia cave! i knew we could get you out with a little Eliot!

so glad you're sneak-reading, and i hope you'll come spice up our discussion with your Eliot expertise when you're all done with this semester.

re: Middlemarch as a character: I'm finally seeing it come together (i think it was the clergy election that did it for me, where i realized this is about the *community* as opposed to any one person).

Calenhiril--I agree, I've had to slow down while reading it. That said, I find the actual act of reading gets smoother the more I read, easier as I get deeper into the book. Do you?

Calenhíril said...

Moonie, I do find I read faster when I can just sit down and do it, though that's kind of difficult for me right now, because I'm looking at houses (!) and that's taking up a lot of my time. I still come across those long sentences and they pull me out, though. It's like I'm already skipping forward to the period, and when I don't find it, my reading mind gets confused. I never really thought about it, but I suppose in fantasy (which is mostly what I read) most of the sentences are short and punchy, conveying action quickly. Middlemarch doesn't have that rhythm, which is okay, but I haven't gotten used to that yet.

Scattie said...

I am still reading book 2, but I have been enjoying book 2 more then I enjoyed Book 1. I may have got used to Eliot's style of writing,or the story may have just gripped me a bit more. Hugs, Bethxx

Anonymous said...

Has anyone else noticed Middlemarch all over the place? In this past week, two books I've picked up have started out with quotations from it.

Jolie said...

I especially enjoyed the scenes between Dorothea and Will in Rome. It was the first time that I was able to see beyond her naivete and observe her intelligence in action. After those scenes, I finally like her instead of just finding her sympathetic. And she's becoming even more interesting now that I'm into book three ...

Jen A said...

Well, this book is definitely denser than my usual reads. I have to go back about 10 years and find my English major hat and put it on!!

Moonie, you said something earlier in the week about this book going slower for you because of the medical stuff. Was that really just about that ONE chapter on Lydgate's background and how he came to be a doctor? Because that chapter nearly put me to sleep, several times, but the rest of book 2 has been pretty interesting to me.

I like Dorothea so much more now that I see she's human and thinks of herself as human, and I'm very interested in seeing how the confusion between Rosy Vincy and Lydgate is going to play out. I mean, she thinks he's putty in her hands and she's going to marry him within a year or something, and he's not interested in marriage at all! I'm totally hooked on the story and the characters now.

moonrat said...

Jen--yeah, that one specific chapter was pretty... you know. but i made myself plow through.

moonrat said...

oo! i remembered an interesting thought i had re: dorothea.

she enters in her marriage hoping ONLY to sacrifice her own personal happiness/glory for the happiness/glory of her husband. the only thing she wants to do is be of service to a great man.

then it turns out it's this very fact that makes her desperately unhappy. her husband isn't a great man, and doesn't appreciate her, her help, or her abilities. if she hadn't underwritten herself and determined to make herself the second person in her marriage, she might actually be employing her many abilities for good.

i'm frustrated for her. but also annoyed at her.

is that a spot of feminism?

Jennifer Hudson Taylor said...

Since I'm 37 and just received my first book contract for my debut novel, Highland Blessings (May 2010), that gives me hope. I've been writing 10+ years. Thanks for sharing.

PurpleClover said...

HOLY MACKERAL. Can I just say...CHAPTER FIFTEEN. Wow. That one held me up (so did packing, unpacking, moving, and all the other busy things I've been sidetracked with). I'm actually behind. I think I'm on chapter 17 or 18. But I'll be able to catch up soon.

Moonie - I'm not there yet but as a closet feminist I can't wait! Sadly, being feminist is still looked down upon. Isn't that sad when you look at the true definition?

moonrat said...

yeah, i think it's pretty upsetting that the word "feminist" has negative connotations, a lot of which are mean. or that if you say you're a feminist people think you're angry, unpleasant, and difficult to talk to. i wish there was a neutral word we could unpack and use to apply to people who are interested in women's biological/psychological/etc issues and who believe in equal rights.

but then, you know, there are always surprises. for example, i only learned *yesterday* that there are a bunch of Americans who strongly believe gender roles are true, correct, and vital. i just... i guess i live in some kind of progressive bubble where my parents trapped me at birth.

anyway. that's not directly related to George Eliot.

but i am interested to see how Dorothea's self-appreciation evolves.

Linda said...

I'm catching up, catching up... fabulous discussion. back later... peace, Linda

moonrat said...

go Linda! you can do it!

hmm, i wonder what our attrition rate between weeks 1 and 2 were?anybody definitely decide to quit?

i'm staying strong!

Trixie said...

I have my copy and am planning to start reading. Discussion so far is very interesting!

Gina Black said...

Haven't quit, haven't quit. (Catching up, catching up.)

moonrat said...

good girl, gina :)

trixie, we're here for ya :)

00 Pisces said...

I'm a little late with my comments--I read most of this on a flight back to DC from MI on Thursday, and then the rest of it on a flight from DC to LA on my way to Hawaii, where I unplugged for a few days. So please accept my apologies. And boasting. ;-)

I'm definitely finding that the best way for me to get through this is to almost not pay attention to it. I have to read it in a daze, otherwise I start to fuss and I lose all sense of the story. Nothing in particular excited me about book two. I saw it mostly as plot development. I started to get a sense of who I was going to be rooting for and what I was going to want for them. So far, I think I'm going to identify the most with Mary, and this worries me. I hope her story is substantially flushed out, or else I will wind up in a snit over the pretty girl getting too much story. I don't like Rosamund, and I'm not terribly fond of Lydgate, so at this point I can't say that I feel bad knowing that he's facing certain ruin. The blurb at the back of the book blames Rosamund for his ruin, but he kind of strikes me as a spineless tool, so maybe I'll start to care? I did sort of like Dorothea in the beginning, but she grew on me in book two, so perhaps Lydgate will endear himself to me as well? I don't know!

moonrat said...

Nice, Pisces :)

I haven't started Book III yet, cuz I'm kinda caught up in a non-Gaps book (THE BOOK OF NIGHT WOMEN by Marlon James). So now I'm a little worried I'll finish on time!

Becky said...

I just now finished the first part. So I'm already behind on reaching goals for the second and third. But I am going to do my best to catch up. :)

I'll be back when I've done the work :)

Linda said...

I'm halfway through Book II and liking it immensely. As a health professional, I like all the medical stuff and Lydgate in particular.

And I am swooning over Fred! What a great character. He seems so like all my smart-a$$ college students - ha! And Mary, of course... I feel her pain.

More later.

I WILL persevere.

But it sure would be nice to allow an extra week before plunging into Book III - hint-hint.... Peace, Linda

Becky said...

I'm only a week late this go round :)

I thought Book 2 had its ups and downs to be honest. There were bits that I struggled with. We met a lot of new characters. Learned a lot of back stories. There was one chapter at least that I felt didn't move the plot forward at all. It was rather tedious in fact. But the last three chapters that reintroduce us to Dorothea really picked up the pace.

I can't say that I was surprised that Dorothea's honeymoon was so very boring and frustrating for her.

I am liking Will though. :) And Fred.

Laza said...

Pisces: "I'm definitely finding that the best way for me to get through this is to almost not pay attention to it."

OMG I'm so glad I'm not the only one. I really feel like no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't pay attention to that chapter with Lydate.

Dorthea seems human now that she's got her head out of her ass and realized that she can't be happy if she puts herself second to everyone. It will be interesting to see how she acts. Rosy annoys me because she's a plotter and that usually comes to no good. Lydate is just buh-horing. I like Mary too, I hope her story gets fleshed out.

On to Book III and IV. Hopefully there won't be any more chapters about chaplains.

I_am_Tulsa said...

Oh gee, I am so behind...but I am enjoying "Old and Young" right now but I admit to liking the first book more. I was starting to feel rather uneasy about this until I read Becky and Laza's comments. Thank you!
Will try to hurry up and get caught up!