Ah, Victorian fiction; lengthy narratives, plots that may involve the return of at least one character from the dead, and the frequent determination of a woman’s character based on her gaze/finger slenderness. I admire Victorian authors for their commitment to realism and their vital reflections upon the complexity of human nature amid sociocultural change. When it comes to identifying a novel that represents the best writing of the era, Middlemarch floats elegantly (in spite of its bulk) above the stacks.
First published in installments between 1871-1872, George Eliot’s Middlemarch presents readers with an in-depth study of provincial English life during the 1820s and 30s that chronicles the loves and losses of ten principle characters. Our twenty-first reader has revisited Middlemarch many times since her first reading of the Victorian tome as an undergraduate, and continues to praise Eliot’s reflections on art, history, and human nature. We met over Skype to discuss the strengths of Victorian fiction, the appeal of Eliot’s flawed characters, and to reflect upon the role of goodness as a prevailing support system for humankind.
“[Middlemarch] confirmed something that I’ve always thought about literature…that I’ve always suspected, but didn’t have proof for…Which is that literature is the kind of universal subject…In it you touch upon psychology, art, linguistics, language itself, history, and often science, politics, the social sciences as well…[Middlemarch] confirmed that in a really concrete way. So when people ask, ‘Why did you study literature at university, Ilana?’…I often say, ‘Because I can learn so much,’ and I can point them toward a book like Middlemarch and say, ‘This has taught me about the human condition.’ And like a lot of literature it is a balm for the soul…you can identify with perhaps the isolation that Dorothea feels, or the frustration Rosamund feels, or the confusion Lydgate feels, the self-doubt that Fred feels…These are all aspects that we can relate to while being people who are very different from these characters.”
NOTE: George Eliot and I share a birthday. This makes me happy.
Dracula – Bram Stoker