It took me a while to get into this novel. This was not a surprise. I remember that it took a long time for my eighteen year old self to fall in love with Middlemarch : a study of provincial life, but fall in love with it I did. And so it was with this book. I knew that it was a well-written novel from the first paragraph. But eventually I went from appreciating Eliot’s skill as a writer to adoring what she had written.
Maggie Tulliver is a simply wonderful heroine. Intelligent, passionate, desperate to love and to be loved, she grabs the reader’s attention from the start and never lets go. She is complicated and flawed and very real; so much more real in her longing and pain than any other Victorian heroine who currently comes to mind. The other characters – both major and secondary – are also well drawn. Some of them may be silly, misguided, obstinate or selfish, but they are very human and very real.
Eliot’s writing is a delight. It is dense but satisfyingly easy to read and once the reader finds its rhythms, the prose is as wonderful as the characters it brings to life. While profoundly dramatic and moving, the novel is not all high emotion. Eliot balances light and shade and darker scenes are often followed by moments of laughter. In addition, Eliot’s satire of family relationships and social conventions is as biting as anything written by Austen. Fans of literary love letters will find an amazingly beautiful example in Chapter 56, which in itself is almost worth reading the book for.
I started reading this novel as an e-book, but after I had read about a third of it, I decided to switch to an audiobook narrated by British actress Eileen Atkins. This was a very good move; there is something about a well-narrated Victorian novel which I find particularly compelling.
Overall, this was an amazing read. How happy I am that it has come so early in the year. This is currently a group read for the Readers Review: Literature from 1800 to 1910 and the group discussion has been interesting and stimulating.