Inspired by Rebecca Mead’s “Middlemarch and Me” article in the New Yorker, I decided to take on George Eliot’s 785 page classic. Mead fell in love with the novel when she was young and had all her choices before her, I of course read it at a time of life when I probably can’t do much more than launder the bed I made, to borrow a phrase from Joe Pernice. But Mead described it as, “a primer to the limitations on accomplishment that are, for the most part, the lot of even the most ardent and aspiring among us.” She said it was about, “the resignations that attend middle age.” It seemed like maybe for once my timing wasn’t so far off.
I was excited to read it but found the first half oppressive. Witnessing those two unhappy marriages take shape was almost more than I could bear. Eliot is brilliant at using a single conversation or mundane event to show how terrible misunderstandings and worse arise between two people and some of it was pit-in-the-stomach awful to read even as I could see it was complete genius. I also admired/hated her patient, painstakingly thorough and accurate probing of all our human ridiculousness. The second half was easier to read not because there is any relief from these explorations but simply as plot-wise it was quite the page-turner by then.
In the ways these things go, I did listen to a lot of Pernice Brothers over the time I was reading Middlemarch. They do defeat awfully well, though they wrap it in such perfect pop you’d be forgiven for not noticing at first.
The Pernice Brothers - Somerville
But they aren’t an exact fit because they are much more bitter than anything in Middlemarch. Well - with the exception of Lydgate. I can see how a young woman reading Middlemarch would identify with passionate, high-minded Dorthea but I found her a bit much despite being genuinely good at heart, and once she was released from Casaubon I worried about her the least of all the main characters. Instead I am haunted by the fate of Lydgate. His comment about the basil plant struck me not only because I understood it thanks to Keats- that brief proud flash of getting something that would have been lost on me a few short years ago- but because it was the most bitter thing in the novel by far. I made my bed I'll die in it.
Any excuse for vintage Courtney. I was trying to say that it all ends on an uplifting note, if you can get Lydgate out of your head.
And speaking of unhistoric acts and unvisited tombs, I’ve started dancing again. More than the irregular stumble around the back row of class I've been doing since I had my children. It hasn't been without challenges but it's good x.