'Who shall tell what may be the effect of writing? If it happens to have been set in stone, though it lie face downmost for ages on a forsaken beach, or 'rest quietly under the drums and tramplings of many conquests,' it may end by letting us into the secret of usurpations and other scandals gossiped about long empires ago : - this world being such a huge whispering gallery."
No one could have been more surprised than me when, straight off the back of the excitement of that Olympic fortnight, I plunged headlong into Book Four of Middlemarch and found myself engrossed. Knowing where my attentions would lie this summer, and more importantly that my work-brain was going to take a complete rest, this had been one of the reasons I shied aways from tackling Proust this year... and with apologies to Erika:) But I had still worried that Middlemarch might be a chore, a bit tame after so much 21st century sporting action, when in fact it was quite a relief to wander calmly and quietly amongst the populace and the 'whispering gallery' that is this Study of Provinicial Life, and to catch up with happenings.
I don't know about you but I am finding this is all opening the door on a completely absorbing representation of early nineteenth century life, and how frequently I am struck by plus-ca-change thinking at the appearance of all those similar anxieties that still pervade our twenty-first century life. Money, possessions, property, insecurities and jealousies, machinations and plotting, futile attempts to control that which is out of our control, thwarted access to finance, the superficiality of physical beauty, those sudden and unexpected blessings and a quick guffaw at mention of WAG, in those days a jester and joker, when the connotations for us these days are associated with the pseudo-celeb status of the footballers' Wives And Girlfriends.
The Dorothea-Ladislaw-Casaubon situation fast becoming a bit of a triangle...Casaubon feeling seriously undermined and threatened by Will's presence in town; Dorothea, seemingly in all innocence very much attracted, whilst Will seems to be digging his heels in and refusing to bow to Casaubon's edict that the town really wasn't big enough for both of them.
The Garth family...oh the lovely Garths, can't you just tell how much George Eliot loves this family, always presenting them in such a favourable light with Caleb's deep-seated wisdom shining through alongside Mary's unshakeable moral values. And don't you just love the little exchanges...
'When Mr and Mrs Garth were sitting alone, Caleb said. Susan, guess what I'm thinking of.'
'The rotation of crops,' said Mrs Garth, smiling at him, above her knitting, 'or else the back-doors of the Tipton cottages.'
'No,' said Caleb gravely; 'I am thinking that I could do a great turn for Fred Vincy...'
And that brings me neatly onto the Vincys. Fred perhaps being generously offered a lifeline of redemption and Rosamund now engaged to Lydgate by assumption rather than formal announcement.
'Young love-making - that gossamer web ! ...momentary touches of fingertips, meetings of rays from blue and dark orbs, unfinished phrases, lightest changes of cheek and lip, faintest tremors...'
Lydgate willingly ensnared in something ' which had stolen upon him' and now in haste to tie the knot only leaves Rosamund six weeks to get her trousseau prepared and her hankies embroidered.
I am as interested, on this read of the novel, to notice what George Eliot chooses not to write about as much as what she does, because how studiously she avoided mentioning the wedding. Surely fodder for a great long chapter or two (thinking how Flaubert went to town at Emma Bovary's do) but perhaps an emotional step too far for our George to contemplate given her own presenting situation??
Yet plenty of focus earlier on the reading of Peter Featherstone's will as the 'Christian Carnivora' gather for the post-funereal pickings, jealousies and rivalries nakedly exposed at the prospect of money.
I would almost pay money to read those absent wedding chapters given how much I am tuning into George Eliot's veiled sarcasm when it comes to the ongoing descriptions of beauty, mostly Rosamund's, and all made so saccharine and shallow. I can only begin to imagine how that wedding banquet might have evolved at the tip of George's pen.
'Lydgate...had found it delightful to be listened to by a creature who would bring him the sweet furtherance of satisfying affection - beauty - repose - such help as our thoughts get from the summer sky and the flower-fringed meadows.'
It's very pass-me-the-bucket and surely George knows it.
One more thing, did anyone else notice the vicar's shrugs??
I loved those too... tiny details that George Eliot invested with so much meaning.
So over to you...anyone still in the running with Middlemarch??
And for those who are still in the brougham, we are a little behind with our schedule and I wonder if you would mind if we stayed that way rather than rushed?? I am enjoying this far too much to rush it.
We could reconvene the weekend of 6th October for Book Five The Dead Hand ??
Then George Eliot's birthday, 22nd November for Book Six The Widow and the Wife
Saving the final two books for early in 2013, in fact, let's finish in the Middle of March.