Middlemarch, a novel by the woman who gave herself a man’s by-line, “George Eliot,” may be the most honored masterpiece you’ve been avoiding all your life. Here’s the point: read it this summer. You’re ready to love Middlemarch if you second-guess marriages, like your own; second-marriages, too. You’re ready to read Middlemarch if you want to feel epic striving in a heroine, yearning for nobility of spirit in a pretty ordinary province of England around 1830. You’re ready to read Middlemarch if you want to feel force and beauty in an artist’s process in fiction, step by step, as she writes it. You’re ready to read Middlemarch if you want to test Henry James’s famous premise that the art of the best fiction “makes life, makes interest, makes importance.”
For high beach-reading season, here’s the one-hour case for Middlemarch – some say the best of all English novels, the furthest from Twitter-speak: as invented a universe as Star Wars, inside a Jane Austen period piece. But Middlemarch becomes a pulsing, bickering, blooming world, and you’ll swear you’re inside it, in real time. It’s an animated tapestry of a smallish English city around 1830; a living web of human foibles, temperaments, longings, and lapses, two strikingly bad marriages before our eyes, and two great ones. Middlemarch is the rare instance of fiction that could improve your life and could frame your own lifetime as a novel.
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