(The #Marchalong is over! Many thanks to Juhi from Nooks and Crannies for hosting the Middlemarch readalong and giving me an excuse to reread this marvelous book!)
Oh yeah! I was supposed to write a post about the final section of Middlemarch, Book Eight, “Sunset and Sunrise.” I finished reading this marvelous chunkster of a book on July 12, according to Goodreads. If you’ve been following my Middlemarch posts thus far (and God bless you!) you know that I love this book. I love that it took me five months to finish it. If I’d had a tighter deadline for reading and posting, I probably wouldn’t have signed up for the readalong.
We left off in Book Seven with Dorothea aghast at the unsavory allegations directed towards Lydgate. We begin Book Eight with the Misters Farebrother, Chettham, and Brooke trying to persuade her not to get involved. (I love Dorothea’s impassioned question, “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other? I cannot be indifferent to the troubles of a man who advised me in my trouble, and attended me in my illness.”)
Rather than summarize the plot, I simply want to highlight some of my favorite quotations from this section. I know that some of you have expressed a desire to read Middlemarch at some point, and I don’t want to spoil it. (If you can spoil a book published in 1872!)
When Mrs. Bulstrode tells her husband that she knows all the allegations against him:
He raised his eyes with a little start and looked at her half amazed for a moment:her pale face, her changed, mourning dress, the trembling about her mouth, all said, “I know;” and her hands and eyes rested gently on him. He burst out crying and they cried together, she sitting at his side. They could not yet speak to each other of the shame which she was bearing with him, or of the acts that had brought it down on them. His confession was silent, and her promise of faithfulness was silent. Open-minded as she was, she nevertheless shrank from the words which would have expressed their mutual consciousness as she would have shrunk from the flakes of fire. She could not say, “How much is only slander and false suspicion?” and he did not say, “I am innocent.”
After Dorothea sees Rosamund and Will in what she assumes is a romantic interlude, and Rosamund tells Will to go after Dorothea and explain:
“Explain! Tell a man to explain how he dropped into hell! Explain my preference! I never had a preference for her, any more than I have a preference for breathing. No other woman exists by the side of her. I would rather touch her hand if it were dead than I would touch any other woman’s living.”
When Dorothea and Will finally confront one another and unburden their souls:
While he was speaking their came a vivid flash of lightning which lit each of them up for the other – and the light seemed to be the terror of a hopeless love. Dorothea darted instantaneously from the window; Will followed her, seizing her hand with a spasmodic movement; and so they stood, with their hands clasped, like two children, looking out on the storm, while the thunder gave a tremendous crack and roll above them, and the rain began to pour down. Then they turned their faces towards each other, with the memory of his last words in them, and they did not loose each other’s hands.
This book is about everything: love and marriage, the pitiful education of females in the 19th century, finding the courage to discover your calling, class consciousness, changing political times, spending above your means, honesty, flirtation, altruism, and what constitutes a good life. There are many strands to the web that Eliot spins, but they are all beautifully connected and come together in surprising ways. It is funny, witty, comforting, astute – and sometimes feels so modern that I can’t believe it was written almost 150 years ago. I admit that I’ve missed delving into its pages and visiting its characters over the past few weeks. This is a book that I will take the time to read again in the years to come.