Why you should read Middlemarch by George Eliot

You must read Middlemarch by George Eliot, a classic book. This is a recreated book review that I wrote a while back. When I finished reading this book, I wrote in the front of it that This is the most rewarding book you will ever read. and left it on a bookshelf in Fiji, dreaming that someone would go through the effort of reading the whole thing based only on my comment. I doubt anyone’s picked it up since then – Fiji is a strange and frightening place. I stand by what I wrote, though, because Middlemarch will give you more than a story. It’ll give you a better appreciation for humanity.

Most of those who’ve read Middlemarch these days are hapless souls who resent it as the mammoth task some crooked professor set them at university. I read it for myself, unwittingly and unforced, because I had a lot of time to kill, and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s been analysed to death, from all angles (here’s a particularly good appraisal from AS Byatt), but I’m going to go ahead and give mine too. Because this is a book you probably won’t read by choice, and you need me to tell you it’s worth it.

George Eliot conjures a massive spectrum of characters, and gets into the head of every major player in the novel. We are shown what motivates the most despicable figures as well as those we are drawn to, and as a result there is no one in this book who you cannot relate to in some way or another, or at the very least understand. That is what makes it such an exceptional read: George Eliot understood people, and explains them. She shows you that everyone thinks in their own way, and it makes it hard to judge anyone when you can observe this. It’s a monumental character-study that has a lot to teach about creating and exploring a varied cast.

On top of Middlemarch’s acutely analysed portrayals of human thought and behaviour, the story itself is continually interesting for its sheer breadth. George Eliot set out to give a panoramic view of a provincial town, and she achieves this incredibly. It is a long read, but every step in the story builds up to the picture of the whole. You may find yourself confused as to how you ended up in a situation where you’re reading what was essentially a 19th Century soap opera, but what really confused me was that I enjoyed it so much. I was desperate to know what would become of these marriages and debts and everything in-between. This is such a detailed character study that you become genuinely interested in their lives, no matter how mundane the details might appear from a distance.

Middlemarch is not a book for everyone. The insight George Eliot shows might bore as many as it interests. But it interests me like hell, so a pox on the naysayers. If you’ve never delved into her world, you can read the book online here, or buy it outright. Neglect it at your own peril.

This review was originally written for Goodreads, many years ago. I recently discovered this review, the sole piece of writing I did for Goodreads for many years, earned me a qualification as a top #10 reviewer in Russia.

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