How I Was Defeated By Middlemarch

Saturday, April 07, 2012

I will admit it- hell, I have admitted it.  A rather large (too large?) part of my identity is wrapped up in not just being a reader, but in being well-read.  Sure, I've lied about reading books that I really only started and couldn't finish because they are high-faultin' classics that make me sound smart...haven't we all? (please, don't judge).  But just this once I am going to come clean-I was defeated by George Eliot and her classic Middlemarch.

There is nothing about Middlemarch that I shouldn't love as a reader and a feminist.  Female author fools the world by writing as a man to get her novel about a young woman  bucking the system taken seriously.  With themes of a women's role in society, religious hypocrisy, and political reform-if this book was tea I would want to drink it.  But apparently the book itself is better for me in the abstract than in the reality.  I simply could not get through it.

I first tried to read it in college, during a summer when I was determined to read the classics-with-a-capital-C.  I re-read Jane Eyre that summer, as well as Wuthering Heights, The Old Man and The Sea, and A Tale of Two Cities.  But when I tried to read Middlemarch, I found myself putting it down in favor of doing things like, oh, scrubbing the grout with a toothbrush or hand-waxing my 10 year old Renault.  I was relieved when it came time to go back to school and have an excuse to put it aside "for the semester"-you know, if a semester lasted 20 years.

OK, enter the advent of digital audiobooks.  Surely, if I could listen to a really good narrator read the words aloud, I would be able to get invested in the emotional life of the characters and not be distracted by the old-fashioned language.  Surely, the voice of the narrator would bring to life the long passages where Dorothea is rhapsodizing about Mr. Casaubon in her head, all he's-so-righteous-so-what-if-he-is-pedantic-and-old-and-not-that-attractive.  "And the audio version is 30 hours long, so I will certainly get my money's worth!", thought I.  Well, there's $14.95 wasted...I couldn't even get through the first two hours.  I listen as I drive, and I found my thoughts drifting to such an extent that I would realize I was home and could not list one event from the preceding 25 minutes.  So, I hereby admit defeat.  Go ahead and feel smug, all you Smarty McSmartypants who actually read this book.  Hmmmm, or did you?


  1. If we are confessing, I'll just say that I was defeated by War and Peace. I considered Middlemarch recently, trying to regain my confidence as a Reader, but now that you've shared your crushing defeat by this novel, I'll push on to other waters...maybe I'll have a go at...something more my speed like...say, Green Eggs and Ham.

  2. Oh, I don't know, Deb Nance-you seem like a Smarty McSmartypants to me!

  3. I did finish Middlemarch - but it's not one of my favourites.

  4. I have never even tried to read George Eliot, so you're one step ahead of me. I do get a little embarrassed to admit that I have never read something by such a well known author, because I feel like I should be "well read" since I have a BA in English Lit, but not everything appeals to me, nor is there enough time!

  5. This is sitting on my shelf. After reading your review, I fear it will sit on my shelf for a while longer.

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