Boozy Books Friday: Middlemarch

Hello everyone and welcome to yet another exciting edition of Boozy Books! This week, we’re going to head back into the land of literature and move away from some of the more popular works we’ve explored of late. Let me remind you–just in case there is a single person on this planet who doesn’t remember–that I am a huge Austen fan. I adore every single one of her novels (though not all of her characters) and read them often, returning to her wit and romance like a warm blanket. But she is not the only outstanding female writer England has to offer. There are the sisters Brontë, of course, but let’s forget about them. (Kidding, kidding.) No…tonight, we give you George.

Yes, George. George Eliot to be precise, although she was born Mary Ann Evans. She is one of the many ladies who wrote under male pseudonyms during this period (for example, George Sand or Currer Bell–the name under which Jane Eyre was published). Like many women, she had something to say about the world in which she lived, but was not of the right gender to say it. Even Austen wrote anonymously, though of course it was perfectly OK for ladies to write romances. (The satire was not entirely as appreciated.) And so Miss Mary Ann Evans took the name George Eliot to write the novel we are pairing today: Middlemarch.

I love this novel. When I began to read it, I didn’t think I would, but I love it so much that I read it at least once a year despite how long it is. And it is a long novel, comprising two pieces that eventually came together into one. It is considered a masterful book of realism, containing several historical events such as the 1832 Reform Act, the coming of the railroad, and the ascension of King William IV. It also deals with modern medicine, such as the treatment of fevers and the use of empirical science (I know!) in studying disease. But what do all of these things have in common? Advancement. The coming of vast amounts of change. And the eponymous town–Middlemarch–is not a place that much likes change.

The novel begins with Dorothea Brooke, an intelligent woman with much wealth and even greater aspirations for both of those things, making a really stupid decision vis a vis her marriage. Then Dr. Tertius Lydgate, a brilliant Doctor, comes to town with new ideas and great ambitions. He, too, marries poorly. But where Dorothea is willing to listen, Tertius is far too stubborn and high-minded to bend. And when he comes up against the people of Middlemarch–against Middlemarch itself, it must be said–it is he who blinks first.

There are a score of other characters: Edward Casaubon, the pedantic clergyman concerned with a work that is already out of date before he even begins it, though he is unwilling to admit to that fact; Will Ladislaw, the poor cousin of Casaubon, who is full of verve and talent and idealism, but who has no place in the world but what he can make for himself; Rosamund Vincy, the beautiful but vain and shallow young woman who thinks she’s far too good for Middlemarch society; her brother, Fred, who is ultimately well-meaning, but needs so much to grow into himself and abandon his spendthrift ways. So many characters all woven into one another, their lives and decisions all making up the story and turning it into what it is. Because, you see, the real star of this book is the town of Middlemarch itself, and what it stands for. Every character is just part of it.

Now, there is some light romance–a couple of the arcs end with love, though whether both of them are satisfying is up for debate and your definition of worthiness–but it isn’t the whole of the story, or even most of it. So if you’re not really into a sort of…slice-of-life, provincial tale…well, you should be. You really should be, because this book is amazing. It’s just so fulfilling and so…wonderfully written. Such a brilliant look at a small, English town at a time when breathtaking change has come to the countryside. The historian in me almost feels like this should be used as a source…though, of course, it was written a few decades later, so maybe just a secondary source…

Anyway, moving on. I am sorry for rambling. I do that. Been watching *way* too much Doctor Who of late and it has a bad impact on my ability to keep focused. So, what to drink with such a wonderful slice of England? Well…I feel Newcastle Brown Ale is the only way to go. Why? Because it’s very English. It’s named after an English town, it’s an ale, it’s…brown? Kind of bitter, like the townsfolk. (OK, some of the townsfolk.) Really, it’s mostly because it’s named after Newcastle. If there were a Coventry Brown Ale, I’d have picked that (Middlemarch is based off of Coventry), but there isn’t. If Brown Ales aren’t your thing, my significant other is a huge fan of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, too…so I recommend that as our alternative. Basically, you want something that no one in Middlemarch will sniff at, because they have a tendency to become the unmovable object if you don’t do things the right way. And you want them to let you in.

Anyway…sorry this is so darn late. Doctor Who happened. Going through the David Tennant years again and I just got to “Blink”. Good episode, no? OK, so…we’ll see you tomorrow (…or later today…) for some Shakespeare! Nerd Cactus out!

-C

ps- There’s a great mini-series from 1994 that covers a lot of the major stuff. I am not saying skip the book for the movie…never would I say that. But this one is good, if a little old. It’s on…Hulu, I think? Check it out.

http://www.amazon.com/Middlemarch-Wordsworth-Classics-George-Eliot/dp/1853262374

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