Mary Ann Evans aka George Eliot, one hundred and ninety-two today, and to celebrate this seems like a good day to launch our year-long read of Middlemarch, because if this had been 1871 it would have only been eight more sleeps until the first part, Miss Brooke, is published.
I have been indulging in some minor preparations which included stumbling across a really excellent essay by Zadie Smith entitled 'Middlemarch and Everybody' in her collection Changing My Mind. Zadie Smith's assertion that the book 'gets better as you age' is a theory I am keen to test out. It is about ten years since I first read it which feels like ageing enough, but I'm also wondering whether it was because that first read came later in my life that the book made such an impression on me. And thanks to Zadie Smith for reminding me that George Eliot was fifty when she wrote it and
'can look upon her young self with satirical good humour and clinical self-knowledge.'
Because that's something that gets easier with age too.
I have also been re-visiting my copy of The Journals of George Eliot to track the progress of Middlemarch, both the writing of and especially the publishing schedule and thinking through until our read ends on the anniversary of her death, December 22nd 2012 (deo volente etc)
Jan 1st - A bright frosty morning! And we are both well. The servants are going to have their little treat, and we are going to see Mr. and Mrs. Burne Jones and carry a book for their little boy. I have set myself many tasks for the year - I wonder how many will be accomplished? A Novel called Middlemarch, a long poem on Timoleon, and several minor poems.
August 5th ...This morning I finished the first chapter of Middlemarch. I am reading Renouard's History of Medicine.
August 29th...at p40 of Middlemarch
Sep 1st - I mediated characters and conditions for Middlemarch which stands still in the beginning of Chapter III
Sep 11th - I do not feel very confident that I can make anything satisfactory of Middlemarch. I have need to remember that other things which have been accomplished by me, were begun under the same cloud.
Sep 22nd - We went down to Watford for a change.
Progress is slow, and having seen the original hand-written manuscript in the British Library that is not in the least surprising. Family bereavement and 'a swamp of illness' intervene but insufficient to stifle some socialising and travel, and all the while Marian Evans and George Henry Lewes remain blissfully happy and fulfilled in their life together.
Eventually Miss Brooke, the first of eight parts of Middlemarch is published on December 1st 1871 at a cost of 5/- and is 'excellently well received', and the second, Old and Young, will follow on February Ist 1872. Incidentally this eight-part serialisation was all about the publisher's attempt to break the monopoly and control of the libraries, and I'm not sure how accurate it is but a bit of research suggests that 5/- in 1871 may have been the equivalent of about £18 in today's money. George Eliot negotiated 40% on each copy sold, Blackwood printed 6000 and it was a sell out each month. I'll leave you to do the homework but it sounds like a lottery-sized amount to me.
So the approximate plan is (though of course not compulsory) to start reading Miss Brooke one hundred and forty years later on December 1st 2011, and not to read Old and Young until its 'arrival' on February 1st 2012. I will doubtless publish some interim posts between now and then because I can see I'm not the only one with the George Eliot bug, but with the focus for our first main discussion happening here in comments on Sunday January 22nd 2012
I'm planning to stay with the reading schedule (I'm half-tempted to dissect one of my copies and hide the rest) because I am interested to see how well-imprinted Miss Brooke becomes on my comparitively over-full twenty-first century mind, and how eager am I to 'receive' the next part. I might even read it several times as I feel sure the Victorians would have done, and doubtless they would have read it aloud too. There are frequent mentions in George Eliot's journals of her and George Henry Lewes settling down for an evening of reading aloud or having friends round to do likewise.
May 29th 1870 - Mr Spencer, Mrs Burne Jones and Mr Crompton came. I read aloud No.3 of "Edwin Drood".
I shall be using a mixture of real (Oxford World Classics) and digital copies depending on whether I happen to be travelling in the brougham or not, and my thanks to Diane who very kindly extracted me from the muddle I had got myself into with my Kindle, because having downloaded twelve different free sample copies I then had no idea which was which. The file Diane has compiled about available digital editions is over here >>>>> under Team Middlemarch so any Kindlers amongst you may find it helpful as some editions have indexes and some don't.
For ease of finding, all relevant posts on here will be tagged under the Team Middlemarch heading so one click will bring them all up together.
So is everyone ready??
If anyone else has being doing any pre-reading please do share in comments.
Oh and I almost forgot, scroll down for gifts.