Oh Dodo…

a iddlemarchFor the second time an audio book has helped me get into and through an enormous literary classic. The first time was Moby Dick. After trying to read the book numerous times and failing, doing a read/listen combo helped me finally get through it. Unfortunately, I can’t say that the experience turned out to be pleasant. Not the case, however, with my most recent read/listen attack on a hitherto impenetrable classic read.

Middlemarch by George Eliot
Twice I made it to about page 150 before giving up on Middlemarch. With the help of Nadia May’s narration, I was finally able to get past that mark and read/listen to the whole freaking 736 pages. On my previous attempts I didn’t dislike what I was reading, I actually kind of liked it, but something made me set it down and not want to pick it back up again. I’m glad I finally made it past that hump because I did thoroughly enjoy the rest of the novel.

I enjoyed Middlemarch in the same way I enjoy Trollope. Lots of characters and period detail and charming turns of phrase. But most importantly, lots of talk about how much money people have to live on. On the one hand I can see how money issues drove so many marital decisions at the time, but I also wonder whether it was a bit voyeuristic at the time. Surely a good number of contemporary readers of Middlemarch and Trollope must have been living below the socio-economic status of the main characters. Was it similar to our fascination with rich reality show characters?

I got into a bit of trouble on Twitter for tweeting spoilers about this 150-year old book so I am not sure how much I should say here. Certainly not worth trying to explain a plot that spans over 700 pages, but I am tempted to tell you who I liked and who I hated. There is at least one character who is redeemed in a way that I don’t think was very redeeming. In the end I feel like he was forgiven too much and only made good after everything was handed to him on a platter.

Unlike Moby Dick, I enjoyed Middlemarch and could see myself reading it again for the sake of the language and because I want to revisit the characters. Given everything else on my TBR, it may be a decade or two before I get around to that.

16 thoughts on “Oh Dodo…

  1. Deb July 24, 2016 / 9:58 am

    Love, love, love MIDDLEMARCH (“the wisest book in the English language” per Virginia Woolf)–and your comparison to Trollope (another favorite) is completely apt, especially something like THE WAY WE LIVE NOW, a book with a massive sweep and many characters. I was reading MIDDLEMARCH when my oldest child (now 23) was born. In several of the hospital pictures, you can see the green cover of the edition I was reading.

    Regarding spoilers: a good philosophical question might be when do we assume something is too old and too familiar to not require spoiler alerts. I remember someone getting dragged because they mentioned that Jane marries Mr. Rochester at the end of JANE EYRE. I think that’s taking spoiler alerts a bit too far.

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  2. lakesidemusing July 24, 2016 / 11:00 am

    Classics and audiobooks are the perfect match! I did a read/listen combination of Middlemarch, too, but was helped through by Juliet Stevenson.

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    • Jenni M July 26, 2016 / 11:30 am

      I’m also team Juliet Stevenson, she’s my favourite narrator for classics. I just bought the audiobook and hope to get to it soon. I first read Middlemarch almost twenty years ago in a Finnish translation, so I’m excited to experience it in English this time around.

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  3. BookerTalk July 24, 2016 / 11:46 am

    My favourite classic but one I didn’t like first time around either. Eliot packs so many ideas in that it can get overwhelming but it means I have the delight of discovering something new every time. Is it Ladislaw you disliked??

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  4. Deb July 24, 2016 / 12:29 pm

    (Spoiler) Of all the characters, Rosamond Vincy is my least favorite. She’s as cruel and clueless as a junior high school mean girl/queen bee. You know Lydgate is doomed when he marries her!

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  5. Jane @ Beyond Eden Rock July 24, 2016 / 2:08 pm

    I love Middlemarch, but I suspect I would have struggled had I not read it when the BBC adaptation was still in my mind. The book/audio combination has helped me through a few hefty classics too – Anna Karenina was the first and The Three Musketeers the most recent.

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  6. Anthony Catanzariti July 24, 2016 / 10:28 pm

    I am so glad to hear you say so. I gave up around the same point and have always meant to read on but just didn’t despite the fact that I adored The Mill on the Floss and Adam Bede.

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  7. Liz Dexter July 25, 2016 / 3:42 am

    I love Middlemarch so much that for decades it was the only Eliot I would read. Then I was given Daniel Deronda – loved it. Started picking them up when I saw them. Adam Bede – loved it. Just loved Mill on the Floss. Have Silas Marner – can’t wait!

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  8. Ruthiella July 25, 2016 / 2:25 pm

    I think it is best to not spoil this book for future readers. Just because it is a classic doesn’t mean everyone has read it or is familiar with the story.

    I have read it and really liked it. You might be on to something about the voyeuristic quality of it. There might be a term paper about that somewhere in the world!

    I am guessing the guy you thing didn’t deserve his good fortune is Fred Vincy. I found him to be insufferable.

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  9. Richard July 29, 2016 / 10:43 pm

    Middle march of my very favourite novels, but I think I only got to page 150 or so when I first tried to read it. This seems to be a common experience. I found it really easy to read when I returned to it a few years later.

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    • Richard July 29, 2016 / 10:45 pm

      That first sentence should be “Middlemarch is one if my favourite novels…”. Not sure why the comment went wrong.

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      • Richard July 31, 2016 / 4:23 am

        I wonder if I can add a further comment without including yet another typo.

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  10. biggardenblog August 2, 2016 / 5:07 pm

    [J] Middlemarch – dense writing, but once read, never forgotten. Clearly I haven’t! George Eliot is so well worth persisting with. And yes the Victorian middle classes were obsessed with money – how much someone was worth. As in: Goodness, what does she see in the man? I doubt very much he’s worth a penny more than £600 a year! This was the amount of interest paid out on capital invested (often under the guardianship of trustees) – often in gilts. These days we ask ‘And what do you do?‘ ;~) It’s true of every generation that we want to know where we stand – how well or how badly we are doing compared to others. A bit of envy, a bit of schadenfreude – whatever.

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  11. Geoff W August 5, 2016 / 3:22 pm

    I still haven’t gotten audiobooks to work for me, but I am using the Serial App to slowly (10-15 mins a day) make my way through Ulysses. Maybe I’ll try an audiobook/reading hybrid for one of the tomes left on my Classics list.

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  12. tara dillard August 14, 2016 / 10:57 am

    Just began reading Middlemarch this month. Been wanting to read it since moving into our ca. 1900 American farmhouse last year.

    Found it for $1 at thrift store.

    Cannot imagine reading it without marking it up with my pencil. Stuffed with so many good words, and phrases, aside from the story. Once read, will do book report from all the underlined/circled, after the book report will include literal pieces of it in my journal.

    Who knew what would become the pleasures of age.

    Garden & Be Well, XOT

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  13. Christy August 16, 2016 / 10:02 pm

    I think I ended up writing a couple posts on Middlemarch, one that was spoiler-free and one where I just got really into it because I definitely wanted to know how others felt about certain plot points and characters. You have to be talking about Fred Vincy I think with the person who got forgiven too much.

    Your comparison of this book with Trollope is very apt.

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