Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A and Z March through the Middle: Middlemarch Part 2

This year, Aarti and I have decided to wade deeply into a classic book of literature that we hadn’t been exposed to before. We thought it would be fun to break up our reading into sections and post a little bit of our conversation and reflections on what we’ve read. This is really different for me because I’ve never really shared a classic with anyone before, but I knew that if I had Aarti along for the ride, it would be much less intimidating and more of a full experience. So we have embarked on our read of Middlemarch by George Eliot with some eagerness, despite the fact that neither of us really knew what the book was about. There are some slight spoilers in this second section, as they were a little hard to avoid! I encourage you to hop on over to Aarti’s site today and see the second part of of our conversation. So without further ado, onwards to Part 2!

Zibilee: Okay, so I totally got my groove on in this part of the book! I liked it a lot more than the first part, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a little more used to Eliot’s writing or because this part of the book seemed more playful at times to me.

Aarti: Oh, I’m so glad! I was so worried that you were going to struggle through a massive that you didn’t enjoy at all, so I’m very happy that you are enjoying the book more. And I agree- I think Eliot’s sense of humor comes out more and more as the story goes on, but at really subtle, witty moments.

Zibilee: I find it really interesting that Bulstrode is so awful about Fred, and the way that he’s just so stingy and sanctimonious! I mean, he knows that he needs to set Fred’s reputation to rights and he just doesn’t want to do it out of priggishness. I started to really become irritated with him and his behavior. So morally smug and malicious. I’m glad that was resolved, but when Fred discovers that his generosity is far from being truly generous, I wanted to give him a hug and console him. Bulstrode is so much the toad!

Aarti: I agree. So many men in this book are really very extreme in their personalities. Mr. Peter Featherstone is such a Scrooge who just wants to control everyone, and no one likes him. Mr. Brooke is a very silly person who seems to embody the “Jack of all trades, master of none” phrase. Mr. Casaubon, whom we’ve discussed in great detail already, is a jealous and insecure man who doesn’t have any empathy in him. Bulstrode is, as you say, a toad. I think Eliot is really playing with how different personalities react and respond to their circumstances. These men have already been molded and defined by the wealth they inherited and the power they have amassed, but Fred is (hopefully) still able to change and become a different man.

Zibilee: I was wondering about that last point you made, because they all seem to think that living off an inheritance or being supported by someone is such an odious thing, and I wondered where their money came from. Nobody except a select few seem to work, and that makes me wonder how everyone is getting by and able to be moneylenders and patrons of the younger generation. It also begs the question as to why they think they’re so superior to the other townspeople who do have to work to make a living. I guess it’s that old money vs. new money thing, but it still makes me confused. There seems to be a social strata that people can’t break free from, and the ones at the top are boorish and selfish.

Aarti: Well, it may be a little unfair to say that the top is only comprised of boorish and selfish people, but I can see where you get that impression. I think a lot of it has to do with old vs. new money, and people born into the gentry (as loosely defined as owning a country house with tenants) vs. people who were not.

Zibilee: Every time I see Bulstrode on the page, I just inwardly cringe because he’s just acting horribly.

Aarti: Yes, as Farebrother pretty damningly describes him, “I am opposed to Bulstrode in many ways. I don’t like the set he belongs to: they are a narrow ignorant set, and do more to make their neighbors uncomfortable than to make them better. Their system is a sort of worldly-spiritual cliqueism: they really look on the rest of mankind as a doomed carcass which is to nourish them for heaven.”

Zibilee: I also totally didn’t see the Mary and Fred intersection coming, and was smiling because I knew you were hoping for that! I think they would be so good together, but of course there are all these self-imposed limitations on Mary, and she, I think, isn’t being true to herself. Fred seems like a very passionate person, but I wonder why all the people in this book don’t have the sense to shake off all of these financial fetters and just go about things in their own way.

Aarti: Yes, I know what you mean! It’s hard from a modern perspective to feel sorry for Fred, who is basically just sitting around waiting for his uncle to die in the expectation that he’ll inherit a large sum of money and have to do nothing of import with his life. I really like the way Eliot plays this between Fred and Mary- Mary, who has worked so much of her life and has no respect for the way Fred is hoping to live his, and then Fred who wants Mary so much but has no real ambition of his own. I really look forward to seeing how these two go along in life together.

Zibilee: I have complex feelings for Fred because, as you say, he’s just sitting around waiting for his uncle to leave him money, but it’s obvious that there’s something in him that seems to break out of the mold of most of the men of the town. He’s also capable of such intimate and expressive feelings, as evident in the conversation he has with Mary. I think Fred hasn’t realized a way to reach his potential and I want to know why he feels so impotent as to how to obtain a living without having to sponge off someone else and why everyone feels he’s sort of a failure. I think he’s gotten himself into some kind of predicament and he’s stuck somehow, but I like him. I don’t necessarily like the way he lives, but there’s a feeling in him that I can appreciate.

Aarti: Yes, he is certainly the easiest male with whom to sympathize! I think he’s just sort of aimless and lets life happen to him instead of going and doing things himself. But honestly, even his attempts to “earn” money really just involve speculation, such as when he tries to buy a horse cheap and then sell it for more later, and (shocking!) finds that it didn’t work out well for him at all. He means well, but doesn’t seem very intelligent at all. But I agree- it’s hard not to like him!

Zibilee: I hate the way Bulstrode is manipulating Lydgate, though I do think that Lydgate is at times a little full of himself. I liked the way that Eliot examines him and all his personal tastes and beliefs. He seems like he’s an idealist and, at one time, rather passionate. Though I do think that after his failed attempt at love, his passions diverged from the personal and became more scientific. I like him, but I’m a little concerned that he didn’t speak up for Farebrother, who seemed to me the more obvious and capable man, but then again, one needs to be kept in the good graces of Bulstrode, as we have obviously seen!

As you can see, this section inspired a lot of passionate indignation on both my part and Aarti’s, and I’m glad that I’m enjoying the book as I delve further into it. For the rest of our conversation, hop on over to Aarti’s site and check out our thoughts!


Jennifer | Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I read Middlemarch, and really enjoyed it but I highly recommend Adam Bede. I fell in love with that book.

Harvee said...

I know Adam Bede but can't remember Middlemarch. It was so long ago that I read the classics. Must take a look at it again. Nice idea to have discussions on the book.

Audra said...

At risk of sounding like a crazy stalker person, I wish you two were local and would be my bookish besties -- I love this peek into your convo/thoughts about Middlemarch -- a book I own but haven't read yet. This so seems like a book that benefits from shared reading/convo. If I do read it this year, I'll come back to these posts to specifically comment!

Aarti said...

I've recently finished part four of the book and I think Fred *might* be on the road to redemption for us, depending on how things go. I'm glad because I know we're both gunning for him!

Christy said...

I remember the Fred plotline and I really wasn't sure where it was going to go for him, or for Mary.

Great quote from Farebrother. I hadn't recalled that incisive commentary on his part.

Elizabeth said...

FANTASTIC BLOG....Stopping by from Bermdaonion's site...so happy to have found you.



(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I love the back and forth perspectives from you and Aarti on this book. It's one I hope to read this year. Sounds like one I would enjoy.

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