Middlemarch Review

by Jim Farrar (1986)

The Tardy Times
Thomas Tardy, Pub.
Vol. I No. I

Book III

We feel obliged to express our sincerest apologies for being behind times in getting to press earlier reviews of George Eliot's new novel, Middlemarch, having had unforeseen and unfortunate developments occurring in the immediate past, to such a degree as to preclude the possibility of earlier publication of our inchoate weekly.

Having read an assortment of early reviews of books one and two that seemed to reflect a soporific image of our story, we approached the first installment with trepidation.

We are happy to report, however, that Middlemarch is anything but tiring. George Eliot's prose is as lyrical as ever, her characters well drawn. With broad strokes, our authoress paints a mural of the said provincial town of Middlemarch, a portrait that we are not soon to forget.

In books one and two, our authoress mainly introduces us to the principal denizens of Middlemarch, leisurely guiding us their thoughts and through the little dramas that define the day to day lives of those of living far from the hub of our own great metropolis.

There is Dorothea Brooke, whose notion of love resides on an intellectual plane, and thus marries an older man, named Causabon, who lives solely within a world of ideas, and thereby committing herself to a sterile life lived solely within an unemotional nutshell, marked only by intellectual pursuit.

There is as well Dorothea's younger sister Celia, engaged to be married to a personable young baronet, named James Chettam. We also meet an idealistic young doctor, Lydgate, who vows to remain a bachelor, until he meets Rosamond Vichy. We are introduced to her somewhat indolent but basically well-hearted brother, Fred, who seems unable, that is to say unwilling, to decide on a suitable career and, also, to keep himself out of debt.

But it is Book III that we are primarily concerned with here. Having by this time acquainted us with her characters, George Eliot finally seems, in this installment, to focus on what could be loosely described as a plot, of sorts.

Book III our authoress calls "Waiting For Death," and in it we are given a glimpse of the particulars of the relationships surrounding those characters connected with a certain Mr. Peter Featherstone, whose death is imminent and whose will is of impending concern to those who perceive themselves likely to benefit from it.

What we feel, as perhaps our best novelist, to be George Eliot's metier is well illustrated in this third offering of the Middlemarch saga. Unlike our beloved Mr. Wilkie Collins, who is unsurpassed in his ability to construct an intriguing plot-line, George Eliot brings us, with lyrical phrasing, thought-provoking drama; she brings, in fact, a poetic beauty to the everyday, to the common emotions and events that shape our lives. Her characters are so real that often our eyes fill up with tears of admiration for their human simplicity, for their ordinary grace.

Needless to say, we eagerly await the next installment of Middlemarch, trusting, as usual, that we shall not be disappointed in our expectations.


The Tardy Times
Thomas Tardy, Ed. & Pub.
Vol. I No. II

Book IV

In this, the fourth offering of George Eliot's burgeoning epic called Middlemarch, we learn of "three love problems," a subject on which we assume we are to focus, as suggested by this fourth installment's title.

We won't belabor you with any details of the plot (and, truly, what plot that there is, is smallish and rather simple), other than to say that our authoress' characters, in this the fourth book, are finally and, it may be wise to add, are with attendant difficulty, paired off into the duos we have long been expecting.

Lydgate is to be married to Rosamond, though the father of the bride-to-be has reservations, due to the young doctor's pecuniary situation; Fred Vincy and Mary Garth are yet to reach a state in their relations, the result of which we assume will be the ultimate announcement of their engagement; and Dorothea's sterile marriage to Causabon is further complicated by the presence of Will Ladislaw.

What we are given, then, in this fourth book are in fact three very distinct and separate stories, held together, as another reviewer has writ, by "the barest of threads."

As usual, George Eliot's prose is engaging, plaintive, certainly, and at times almost musical, and, though we can think of no living writer with such a firm grip of the pen, we must confess, however, that we did find an occasional lull in our story, most notably at the outset of every chapter.

But though our authoress' pace may at times be a trifle too leisurely, we feel that the overall scope of the Middlemarch saga far outweighs any momentary lapse into, shall we say, what may be described as a narrative lethargy on the part George Eliot.

We must confess, also, that of the three romantic conundrums we are following, we find the potential love triangle that seems to be developing between Mr. Causabon and Mr. Ladislaw, in regards to Dorothea, the most intriguing.

This, however, is merely editorial preference, and we here at the Times sincerely suggest that you, fair reader, decide for your ownself which set of characters pleases you most.


The Tardy Times
Thomas Tardy, Ed. & Pub.
Vol. I No. III

Book V

What we'd long suspected comes to pass in Book V of George Eliot's new tome, Middlemarch.

Having been expecting Mr. Causabon's death since the first installment, it certainly comes as no surprise to us at the Times to find our tiresome pedant dead, from his heart ailment, slumped over a stone table in the Yew Tree Walk. Good riddance, we say, and fare-thee-well in the hereafter.

Book V George Eliot calls "The Hand of Death," and through its pages she shows a sense of the dramatic that should silence even the sternest of her critics. Those who contend that Middlemarch is but insipid provincial fodder, dragging or altogether devoid of plot, and didactic without being entertaining, would do well to read this installment, which we feel moves at an unflagging pace throughout.

The aforementioned hand of death belongs, needless to say, to Mr. Causabon, who, by revelation of a particularly offensive codicil to his will, shows us the true pettiness of his character.

In Causabon's codicil, poor Dorothea is to lose her inheritance should she decide to marry the young rascal Ladislaw, an arrangement which, it is suggested, has not yet crossed this unfortunate woman's mind.

As usual, George Eliot handles her narrative with consummate skill. We find, for example, Mr. Farebrother's efforts on behalf of Fred Vincy, who enlists the former's assistance in determining the sentiments of Mary Garth, to be both common in its scope, and yet heroic in the magnitude of the sacrifice we feel Mr. Farebrother to be making.

The arrival of Raffles, and Mr. Bulstrode's subsequent meeting with him and his attempt to purchase his departure from Middlemarch, smack of scandals yet to come.

Though we can't honestly say that the Middlemarch saga is rolling to what appears to be a thrilling climax, we can say unequivocally that George Eliot does capture better than any other novelist the epic scope of our day to day dramas, and has created in Middlemarch a daguerreotype of our lives that future generations will no doubt refer to time and time again.


The Tardy Times
Thomas Tardy, Ed. & Pub.
Vol. I No. V


Book VI

"Oh, for Heaven's sake," we kept saying to ourselves as we perused book six, "will Dorothea and Will ever resolve their difficulties and get together, as we know they must?"

Though George Eliot is as fine a writer as we feel we're likely to have the privilege to enjoy, we must admit that the various stories we are following in Middlemarch are becoming a bit laborious.

This, we feel, is not so much a result of the stories themselves being boring, but because Miss Eliot has become too leisurely in her delineation of what we know to be inevitable: Dorothea will forfeit her fortune to marry Ladislaw, Rosamond's marriage to Lydgate will disintegrate just as surely as her brother Fred's, to Mary Garth, will materialize, and, alas, Mr. Bulstrode will become firmly embroiled in scandal, as a result of his past association with the scoundrel, Mr. Raffles.

The latter story we feel, at the moment, to be of the greatest interest, though we must confess that it seems a bit out of place in our narrative, especially as we compare it to the other little dramas we've been following.

At the this juncture, however, such excitement is a necessary respite from the ennui that the other stories have generated. Though we have no doubt in our minds that Middlemarch is destined to become a masterpiece, still, at times, we are tempted to put the text down and mumble, "enough, enough."

T. T.

The Tardy Times
Thomas Tardy, Ed. & Pub.
Vol. I No. VI

Books VII & VIII

My word, but I do believe we've missed another deadline. We are slow readers here at the Times and it takes us longer than most, we believe, to sift through things.

Nevertheless, we feel, after having completed George Eliot's lengthy masterpiece Middlemarch a somewhat vague sense of loss, emptiness, and loneliness, such as the type of which one feels at saying farewell to an old and trusted friend.

And indeed that is how we've come to feel about the denizens of Middlemarch. We've come to know Miss Eliot's characters so well, so well, in fact, that we find it hard to part company with them and move on to other characters, in other books.

So it goes, and so it has gone in Middlemarch. Goodbye Dr. Lydgate, we are sorry you have been sentenced to live a life of what the American transcendentalist Henry Thoreau would describe as being one of "quiet desperation." (This I have on good authority from Mr. Thomas Carlyle.)

Farewell, Dorothea and Will, we trust you have acted correctly, in the best interest of your happiness. And Fred and Mary, we can hardly say your union comes as a surprise. . . to anyone.


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