Middlemarch by George Elliot (1872)

Click, burrrrrzzz. Right, that’s the Fib Finder on.

Stand up all those who’ve haven’t read Middlemarch. Okay, okay, sit down – or they won’t be able to see at the back.

You should. It’s one of the best novels ever written. Why? How long you got?

Don’t panic. Let’s play with one word, for starters. Hang on, tongue, cheek – okay, I’m ready. A clue? Look at the title.


(Geddit? Starts in the middle of March.) Or Boing. Nah, let’s stick with Spring – if only for the graphics.

Spring. And all that that entails. Think birds a-tweeting. Persephone. Pollen. Pomegranates. Flowers. Fecundity. Bosoms. Blooms. Blushes. Modesty. Ecstasy. Seeds-a-popping. Goodness. If you think hard and make frowny face you can hear Ella singing Porter’s Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love.

And there’s the nub. It’s not just the birds and bees that are at it. Everyone’s at it. Or trying or thinking about or just wanting to be at it. It’s not just for the pretty. It’s not just for the glamorous, the rich in their big cities all lit up with jewellery and glitz and sparkles and razzmatazz.

It’s provincial, too. Ah, the ubiquity of love. Out in the country, in places like Middlemarch. Quiet, unassuming, often understated, natural.

And the female is at the heart of it all. Ardent, virtuous, she makes the world go round. And the male? Well, he finds her rather hard to follow.

In short, woman was a problem which, since Mr Brooke’s mind felt blank before it, could be hardly less complicated than the revolutions of an irregular solid.

But he’s going to do his best.

I have been little disposed to gather flowers that would wither in my hand, but now I shall pick them with eagerness, to place them in your bosom.

Oh, my. Did you hear that bodice pop?

Rosamund’s the drop-dead gorgeous one. Here’s her looking in the mirror.

Two nymphs – the one in the glass, and the one out of it, who looked at each other with eyes of heavenly blue, deep enough to hold the most exquisite meanings an ingenious beholder could put into them, and deep enough to hide the meanings of the owner if these should happen to be less exquisite.

Lovely. Can you take more?

She blushed and looked at him as the garden flowers look at us when we walk forth happily among them in the transcendent evening light: is there not a soul beyond utterance, half-nymph, half-child, in those delicate petals which glow and breathe about the centres of deep colour?

Oh, I wish it was Spring now and I’m lolling in an armchair.

… she sat down by him and laid one hand on the elbow of his chair, at last looking at him and meeting his eyes, her delicate neck and cheek and purely-cut lips had more of that untarnished beauty which touches us in Springtime and infancy and all sweet freshness.

The prelude to Middlemarch dwells on Saint Teresa and her passionate, ideal nature demanding an epic life. This book is a quiet contrast to that and closes by musing on the novel’s plain, unglamorous, virtuous, kind and unassuming heroine, Dorothea (in Greek meaning ‘Gift of God’).

Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. [See, she can do it too.] Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels [think virtues] which had no great name on earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life [away from all the sparkly, shallow razzmatazz], and rest in unvisited tombs.

Yep, they do run the show. And, anyway, men can’t blush proper.

This book makes you want to be a better person. And smell more flowers.

Thanks for being here.

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Guy Nicholls

Freelance copywriter – writing compelling copy to sell, explain or entertain.

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