By it’s nature, the Victorian novel forces you to take your time with it. The writers were generally paid by the word, so the words are copious. Also, the books were divided into chapters and volumes and sometimes sub chapters. They aren’t easy, but I’ve never read a Victorian novel that wasn’t worth it in the end.
Unlike a lot of her contemporaries however, George Eliot doesn’t utilize filler. There are no flowery descriptions, or needless digression, which makes Middlemarch’s length all the more astounding. That said, her female peers also didn’t use those kinds of crutches, Austen, The Brontes, a bit earlier, Baroness D’Orczy and Edith Wharton a bit later also tended to be succint. And also, amazing, there are really three novels going on at once in Middlemarch, the angsty star crossed love story of young Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw, the nearly farcical bad marriage of Dr. Tertius Lydgate and Rosamund Vincy, and the sweet childhood love makes good story of Fred Vincy and Mary Garth. These stories all connect and overlap in the delightful everday ways that these things do in small towns, but otherwise operate independently.
The modern art form that most resembles the Victorian Novel is television as they were consumed in much the same way. They’re serialized, they have huge casts and they often wrap up in a way that feels hurried and disappointing! Not the case here, there was something deeply satisfying about seeing the way that the small dramas of Middlemarch all interweave and contribute to the happiness and unhappiness of our protagonists.
I’m always dismayed that I haven’t read more Eliot. Every time I read something of hers, I pledge to read more. The problem is, well, Victorian novels are long, and often difficult, and before last year, I’d sworn off both of those things in my reading (unless there were dragons…obviously) because well, I was tired. Since I’ve decided to dive back into challenging my reading brain since The Vonnegut Project (I’ll finish someday!!!) and being back in the habit of reading, I think that’ll be different now. I’m certainly not going to rush out and pick up one of the other books. (Not with Children Of Dune and my next two epics staring back at me from my TBR pile. Not to mention the other worthy books hanging out there at the moment.) But I’m committed to knowing her at least as well as I know Dickens and Austen as she fits quite snugly between them in my mind, chronicling a time and place I will never get sick of learning more about.
The next book is Rebecca by Daphne DeMaurier because HOLY CRAP HOW HAVE I NEVER READ REBECCA! The next Epic is David Copperfield and I mean it this time!