The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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January 22, 2012

Team Middlemarch, Book One: Our Miss Brooke

It's been a week or ten days since I finished Book One of Middlemarch.  I only stopped there so I could keep pace with the way the book was published, not because I didn't long to keep reading. But I should stop and gather my thoughts, because they seem so fleeting, sometimes! (and the book deserves more than that).

Expectations:  none. really. I've never read George Eliot, or until very recently, nothing about her.  I remember watching the Masterpiece Theater adaptation (was it really fifteen years ago?), and the plot point that Dorothea's marriage to Causabon will not be a success, and that someone younger, wilder and handsomer will enter the frame. {And it will be Rufus Sewall! I loved looking at him ... watching him act, I mean ... in the Aurelio Zen mysteries last fall. But I digress.}   Then again, even though I had Middlemarch on my bookshelf, and must have bought it about that time because of the tie-in images on the cover, there was nothing in the production that made me read the book any sooner than this.

First impressions:  it's wonderful: the characters and the humor, which was unexpected.  It seems so right that George Eliot (from the little I know about her) would draw a heroine like Dorothea Brooke:  a reader, a yearning scholar, someone who draws architectural plans as a pastime, and who finds herself above wearing adornments.  I can only borrow words like 'priggish' and 'irritating' that  people have already used, but she's endearing because she's so awkward and unsympathetic.  By contrast, her sister Celia is just uninteresting.

And then there's Rosamund Vincy.  As the daughter of a merchant, even a respectable one, she is not invited to meet the Brooke sisters at their uncle's party, but isn't there a sense that she's going to be the Mary Crawford of the story?

As to the men, it seems at first glance that Mr. Brooke, the uncle, is there for humor {'Sometimes, when her uncle's easy way of talking did not happen to be exasperating, it was rather soothing'} and Sir James Chettam is the dashing hero, but without the snarkiness he would have had in Jane Austen.  The one I really liked, oddly enough, is Mr. Causabon.  Like Dorothea, he's endearing because he's so out of his element, 'all semicolons and parentheses.' 

Certainly he was more and more bent on making her talk to him, on drawing her out, as Celia remarked to herself; and in looking at her; his face was often lit up by a smile like pale wintry sunshine. Before he left the next morning, while taking a pleasant walk with Miss Brooke along the graveled terrace, he had mentioned to her that he felt  the disadvantage of loneliness, the need of that cheerful companionship with which the presence of youth can lighten or vary the serious toils of maturity. And he delivered this statement with as much careful precision as if he had been a diplomatic envoy whose words would be attended with results. Indeed, Mr. Causabon was not used to expect that he should have to repeat or revise his communications of a practical or personal kind. The inclinations which he had deliberately stated on the 2d of October he would think it enough to refer to by the mention of that date; judging by the standard of his own memory, which was a volume where a vide supra [a notation in text meaning 'see above' - I looked it up for us] could serve instead of repetitions, and not the ordinary long-used blotting-book which only tells of forgotten writing.
{That last line is what I'm afraid I'll have here, the only downside to this plan of reading the books at the pace of their publication. I already think I'll need to go back and re-read the end of Book One, to re-orient myself, before I go on. }

And then there's Lydgate, who is going to emerge in Book Two, from what I'm hearing.

Lydgate was quick in anticipating her. He reached the whip before she did, and turned to present it to her. She bowed and looked at him:  he of course was looking at her, and their eyes met with that peculiar meeting which is never arrived at by effort, but seems like a sudden divine clearance of haze. I think Lydgate turned a little paler than usual, but Rosamund blushed deeply and felt a certain astonishment. After all, she was really anxious to go, and did not know what sort of stupidity her uncle was talking of when she went to shake hands with him.
      Yet this result, which she took to be a mutual impression, called falling in love, was just what Rosamund had contemplated beforehand. Ever since that important new arrival in Middlemarch she had woven a little future, of which something like this scene was the necessary beginning. Strangers, whether wrecked and clinging to a raft, or duly escorted and accompanied by portmanteaus, have always had a circumstantial fascination for the virgin mind, against which native merit has urged itself in vain. And a stranger was absolutely essential to Rosamund's social romance, which had always turned on a lover and bridegroom who was not a Middlemarcher, and who had no connections at all like her own of late; indeed, the construction seemed to demand that he should somehow be related to a baronet.
Nothing very deep here {Dorothea would not find me sympathetic, either} but I just wanted to record some thoughts in time.  Looking forward very much to Book Two, which we'll read in February.

{I'm reading Middlemarch with Dovegrey Reader and others as a member of Team Middlemarch.}

1 comment:

Jillian said...

I dislike Lydgate so far. He seems like a snob. But I so agree with you on Causabon; he seems so tame and focused and kind, in his way. I actually really like the uncle, Mr. Brooke, too.

As much as I like Dorthea Brooke (and I really, really do!), I think my favorite might end up being Rosamund Vincy. She reminds me of Thackeray's Becky Sharp -- so much that I checked my copy of Vanity Fair to see which character was written first. I LOVE a good anti-heroine. :-)

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