The “hidden lives” of Middlemarch

It’s taken me quite a while to get through George Eliot’s Middlemarch. But I don’t think I’ve ever struggled through a novel only to be so taken by the ending – especially the very last words:

…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 and rest in unvisited tombs.

The idea that people must do great things to change the world is put to rest by the stories Eliot tells in her novel. The residents of Middlemarch, of which there are many, live their lives and dream their dreams. Some hold on to the status quo with dear life while others bend the rules and go against the grain of tradition. With Eliot’s final words, she brilliantly shows us that the small decisions and the little acts of those in which we are unaware help shape and mold the world into a different place – one that is better for all of us.

middlemarch

Each character in Eliot’s novel becomes the important one – the protagonist – during the sections of the narrative in which they are involved. How intimate Eliot can make these characters is remarkable. Perhaps it’s easiest to consider Dorothea Brooke the true heroine. She’s the one that goes against the wishes of her husband and the general traditions of her family. She’s the one that grows from a timid girl to a strong woman willing to make needed sacrifices not just for her own happiness but for the happiness of others, too.

Eliot also can paint conversations between individuals as well as anyone. As readers, we get both the outwardly spoken thoughts and and the hidden unspoken ones all at the same time. The several conversations between Dorothea and Will Ladislaw leading up to their final decision are beautifully written and puts the reader in a wonderful suspense waiting to see what might happen.

While this probably isn’t my favorite of Eliot’s novels (of the ones that I’ve read anyway), I’m glad I read it. If I was going to recommend an Eliot novel with which someone might start, it would be Silas MarnerIt has all of Eliot’s wonderful writing – but it’s not as long. And I still intend to read Daniel Deronda, another Eliot novel on my shelf that is on the lengthier side. It just might be a little while before I decide to tackle it.

 

5 responses to “The “hidden lives” of Middlemarch

  1. I remember that final (quite awesome) line of the novel as well, and have heard its echoes occasionally in other works. Eliot knew what she was doing. 🙂

    Wasn’t it our old book club that read Silas Marner back in the day? I know I remember reading it for a book club at some point.

    • Yes, Eliot is awesome! Middlemarch was definitely worth the time I invested in it – even if itts not my favorite of her novels (so far).

      I don’t remember reading Silas Marner for our book club – but I know that there were a handful of months in 2009 that I missed – maybe it was during that time. I think I read it in 2013. And I read The Mill on the Floss in 2015 or 2016 – another good one.

  2. Pingback: Ten Interesting Posts of the Week (2/10/19) – Pages Unbound | Book Reviews & Discussions

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