Sunday, September 30, 2007

Reading Middlemarch With the Plague

Been sick as a dog the last few days -- nothing serious, some sort of body-aches/upper respiratory gizmo that had me bunked and moaning for about 40 hours, miserable and grumpy.

This has left me unable to do anything but read all weekend -- that's when I felt well enough to read -- I couldn't even write, which you know I'm sick if I can't make it to the computer for my daily three or four hours at the screen; all I did was read Middlemarch and sleep.

Yes! It's Middlemarch season again. This is such a fine book. Even when you're running a fever of 103 and hallucinating a bit (i kept hearing people singing and alarm bells going off yesterday) or maybe especially when you're hallucinating a bit, how do I know, but this time, my sixth or seventh time through the book, I'm seeing things I never did before -- well, for instance, I knew that "the web" was a huge metaphor Eliot was working with, but not until this time did I see how thoroughly it works. Everything anyone does in that book connects to and effects the actions of a dozen other characters, usually in ways those other characters *never* see or understand, and often with immense (and sometimes tragic) effects.

Way back when Bulstrode does not tell his "rich widow" that he's found Sarah Dunkirk, for instance, her long-lost daughter -- look what far-ranging effects that one action has, on not just Sarah, but on Will Ladislaw, her son, obviously; and on Casaubon and Dorothea's marriage, which, if Casaubon had not been supporting Will, as he was, would not have taken the turn it did; and on Lydgate, the trouble he gets into, which he would not have, had Bulstrode not been trying to hide his wicked ways; and on Dorothea, since if Will had not been around, why, she would not have fallen for his pretty eyes and impetous temper; and on Rosamund, since the destruction of Lydgate is her destruction as well, though she never knows or recognizes that.

None of them, except Will and Bulstrode, know anything about what happened with Sarah Dunkirk, and WIll knows very little; but it shapes all their lives. This, as we can tell from that last paragraph, is Eliot's point. We're an interactive web. You think your actions effect you alone? Well, they don't. And they don't stop effecting the world, maybe forever, and in ways you may never understand.

This is such a brilliant book. Why did they make me read The Scarlet Letter in high school, will someone tell me, when this was available?

6 comments:

Bardiac said...

I disliked Hawthorne with a good deal of energy. But... I wonder if I'd have liked Middlemarch as a high schooler? I did just fine when I was an adult, but it seems to me that some things I really needed to grow into. I don't think Austen really worked for me until I was about 30, and then I had a sense of the genius.

But maybe you were way ahead in high school?

(Oh, and the reason? Weren't we supposed to think that Hawthorne was the Bee's knees or something?)

delagar said...

Yeah, I was messing there a bit at the end. I don't think I could have handled Middlemarch in high school either. But also I didn't handle Hawthorne well.

Diane said...

When I was in high school, I liked Austen and Thackeray and Maugham and Cather (not Hawthorne). But now I have forgotten the books I read, and I often wonder whether I understood them at any type of mature level? I think I did, but only to a certain extent, which means I should read them all again. Only I now have trouble getting myself to read (isn't that terrible?), let alone re-read. The only author I re-read on a reliable basis is Virginia Woolf.

Mouse said...

I just want to throw in a digression: I hope you feel better.

Anonymous said...

Delagar, I know you aren't feeling well, or you wouldn't use "effect" when you mean "affect." Feel better!

All my high school reading memories are about Shakespeare. My English teacher made me read a section of a play out loud to the class. I wasn't ready to use the word "teats" in public at the time. Another teacher stated her opinion that Romeo and Juliet were a couple of spoiled brats. I remember that very well. Now my favorite is Thomas Hardy. -- L

delagar said...

Ho -- I can't get that effect/affect straight on my best days, I'm afraid. Not even right after I have looked them both up. (One' s a verb, except, you know, when it isn't; the other's a noun, except on those occasions when it's a verb -- ai! And they both sound the same to me, with my Met'r'y accent, so it's hopless.)