“Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.”
So says Mary Ann Evans, alias George Eliot, in her massive, gorgeous novel, Middlemarch.
Dorothea Brooke-- young, beautiful, and quite, quite bored with provincial country life-- leaps at the first chance of marriage she gets, to a self-proclaimed notable scholar of mythology. As her own dreams and preconceptions fade, their absence allows her to see those around her clearly: irresponsible Fred, desperately trying to prove himself worthy of the girl he loves; Rosamond, his sister, prepared to sacrifice her husband's happiness for his success; and Ladislaw, the cousin of Dorothea's husband, who falls more and more in love with the young, unhappy Dorothea, whose reputation he refuses to tarnish.
This is the village of Middlemarch. A vividly colored, skillfully drawn novel that captures the individual lives of villagers and their eventual intersections.
As for how I came by it, I can only say that my literature teacher knows me well. After class ended for winter break, she recommended two novels for me to devour until class resumed. (The other was Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray, which I also enjoyed but did not make the list.)
Middlemarch's brilliance is that it captures multiple plots, spins them into a cohesive story, and never makes one more interesting than the others. So what that it doubles as a three-pound hand-weight! Within Middlemarch's almost-eight-hundred pages is a close, hard look at what makes a marriage, what makes a village, and what makes a life.
What can I say about Middlemarch? It is beautiful. It is brilliant. And in case you are interested, it is shorter than Les Miserables!