Tuesday, November 28, 2023

(Not) Reading George Eliot

Two hundred pages into my second attempt to read Middlemarch I've thrown in the towel. I went into it with high hopes, having recently enjoyed the 1994 BBC series, which I didn't see when it first ran. I discounted my earlier experience with the book a few years back, which had ground to a halt after maybe twenty-five pages, and I did make good headway for a while this time, and even found myself appreciating Eliot's unhurried, almost dialogue-free narrative style. But after a while I just couldn't stay awake through one more page-long paragraph describing the characters and attitudes of provincial doctors or bankers or marriageable young women. Every sentence glistened with wit and intelligence, but the plot moved at a glacial pace. Now and then an anecdote would perk things up briefly — the most intriguing being the episode of Dr. Lydgate's passion for a French actress who stabbed her husband to death on stage — but it just wasn't enough. In fact I think I would have enjoyed the two hundred pages I did read even less if I hadn't been able to imagine the splendid BBC cast fleshing out the written page. It made me want to head back to Dickens, or, for whatever reason, to Turgenev's Hunting Sketches. In fact the idea of brief "sketches" is now very appealing. Ah, well.