As should be clear from my three posts celebrating George Eliot’s birthday (e.g., this one), I am quite a fan of that Englishwoman’s writing. On Saturday, in its weekly “Five Best” series, OpinionJournal.com invited scholar Barbare DaFoe Whitehead to list “Top books on love and marriage.” Her description of one of those five, Eliot’s Middlemarch, is quite possibly the best short synposis of the best novel ever written that I have ever read:
Virginia Woolf famously described this work as one of the few English novels for grown-ups. Interweaving themes of love and work, it is a meditation on the freedom to choose–and the moral consequences of choosing wrongly. Its central characters–the bookish Dorothea Brooke and the medical scientist Tertius Lydgate–are high-minded reformers who pick utterly unsuitable mates. Dorothea chooses an elderly pedant; Lydgate, a vain material girl. This novel of marital disappointment, though, leads not to despair but to something more hopeful. In recognizing the misjudgments as their own, both Dorothea and Lydgate are humanized by their failures, chastened in their ambitions and moved to compassion for those they have chosen wrongly.