Starting Middlemarch

George Eliot, Middlemarch: A study of provincial life (George Eliot, 1871–1872; Trident Press International Classic Romance 2001)

There’s been a gap in my waking-up ritual since I finished my slow-read of the Iliad more than a fortnight ago. Maybe I should have decided to reread The Odyssey – after all, I read it in a bit of a hurry the first time. Or I could have picked one of the classics that have so far stayed unread by me – Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace, the Confessions of Saint Augustine, there are plenty to choose from. But it’s Middlemarch that has been mentioned regularly in my social media feed, more than once nominated as the best English novel ever written.

A mention that stands out is something Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in his blog more than 10 years ago. His blog seems to have disappeared without trace so I can’t give you an exact quote, but he focused on one of George Eliot’s sentences, showing how the beats fell, how it veered off in unexpected directions, comparing it to hip-hop music that he loved. (In December 2011 The Atlantic published what may be a shorter version of that blog post, which you can read here. He had two other Middlemarch pieces in The Atlantic at about the same time, here and here.) Even though that was more than 10 years ago, it was probably Ta-Nehisi Coates who made the prospect of rereading this book attractive, if somewhat daunting.

Last year I read and blogged about Kathy O’Shaughnessy’s In Love with George Eliot (blog post here) and the comments on that blog post made rereading seem less daunting and even more attractive, and here I am.

I didn’t have a copy, so I trekked to the nearest second-hand bookshop (Goulds in King Street Newtown, if you’re interested). The one copy on their shelves was this Classic Romance edition. If romance readers can deal with such tiny type, it shouldn’t be impossible for me, but if I stumble across an edition that’s kinder to my septuagenarian eyes, I’ll switch and let you know.

I’m starting out with the aim of reading four pages a day, to finish some time next April, but if that turns out to be frustratingly slow, I’ll increase the quota. As with past slow reads, my aim is to give you a monthly progress report.

9 responses to “Starting Middlemarch

  1. Reading Middlemarch was my lock-down project and what a delight it was! I hope it’s the same for you. I’m not sure that four pages a day will be enough, there’s so much happening and so many interesting characters you might want to progress faster.


  2. I love Middlemarch but I couldn’t bear to read it that slowly!
    But no doubt you will notice many things that I’ve scampered past.


    • I’m not sure I can do it either, but I’ll keep it to a morning read and see how I go. It was easy reading Proust that slowly because of the labour of reading with my inadequate French. There it turned out that five pages a day was too ambitious and I cut down to three. I’m flexible …


  3. There’s a very clever fellow called Benjamin McEvoy who runs a group called the Hard Core Literature Book Club for people who are Very Serious Readers, and he advocates slow reading to get the most out of books. I have been tempted to sign up because he’s so clever and says such interesting things about books, but I know I’m really too much of a glutton to read slowly and I’m too much of a dilettante to stick to his program.
    You can just Google him and add the YouTube tag and you’ll find all kinds of interesting stuff, I think he has done, or is doing Middlemarch.


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