Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Middlemarch by George Eliot

I first read Middlemarch when I was a teenager. I thought it was a series of romances, tied together with scenes of country life. I next read Middlemarch as a thirtysomething, and thought it was romances in community. Now nearing sixty, I see Middlemarch as well, funny. Still romances, the happy and unhappy outcomes of good and bad choices, still communities, but now, I am more atuned to George Eliot's fine, wry sense of proportion. So in case you were dismissing her as Victorian, fusty, and irrelevant, pray take another look, oh reader.

I read the introduction by Margaret Drabble in one edition, and found it mildly interesting, but the intro by her sister A.S. Byatt in the Modern Library edition is spot on:

"George Eliot did indeed coin the word "meliorism" to describe a belief in gradual progress - the word is attributed to her in the OED. But she had a strong - stronger - sense of black comedy, black tragedy than she is now generally credited with, and a saving savagery in her vision of man's normal and natural inhumanity to man."

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