Men, Women and George Eliot

Even more enjoyable than re-reading Beloved, I have discovered, is re-reading Middlemarch. (And no, I am not actually that virtuous–again, it’s for class.)

With Beloved, there’s really no way to do any sort of skimming; you’re either paying attention and getting something out of it or you’re not. With Middlemarch, though, it’s not too difficult to breeze through the parts about taxes and local politics while savoring those about marriage and relationships.

Which I am clearly, and quite happily, doing. I know a lot of people hate this book. It’s written in a bizarre and antiquated omniscient voice, is not far from a thousand pages long and has more characters than most books have chapters. I understand. But I don’t agree.

Because the thing about that weird all-knowing voice–as well as the reason I love this book and the reason I do think it might be one of the best novels ever written–is exactly how brilliant that voice is. Nearly every page is littered with insights into the human experience so piercingly accurate that one can’t help but consider the possibility that George Eliot actually did know everything that every person has ever thought–not just in the fictitious country village of Middlemarch but in the entire history of the planet.

Pardon my enthusiasm. But this is what I found myself thinking as I lay in bed reading last night and came upon passage after passage that resonates with how I think about the world. Especially, of course, how I think about love.

One of them describes the thoughts of Lydgate, the handsome young out-of-town doctor, about Rosamond, the town beauty to whom he has recently been introduced. Eliot tells us–in a sentence using the words “florid” and “personage” that I will not quote in hopes that you might actually read the book if you have not–that Lydgate has become in interested in Rosamond.

But then she writes: “Not that, like her, he had been weaving any future into which their lots were united; but a man naturally remembers a charming girl with pleasure, and is willing to dine where he may see her again.”

Which reminded me immediately of something that one my NY best friends had said to me  when the “undatability” ball got dropped with someone I dated recently. I’m not even sure who it was. Okay fine, I am sure. It was My Latest Hiccup. I just continue to be embarassed about the extent of my blogging about him in relation to the extent of our dating, but clearly I continue to do it anyway. As we’ve established, pride is not my strong suit.

Anyway, I believe that at the time I was bemoaning to her the injustice of him flaking out after how excited he had seemed about the possibility of something between us. He wanted me to meet his dog, I told her. He wanted to chat every night. He wanted me to pick him up from the airport.

“He probably was excited,” she said.  “I’m sure he was excited. He probably thought ‘great, I’ve met a cool girl who I want to hang out with.’ But he probably wasn’t thinking in terms of, like, the future.”

I stand by the fact that the guy acted irresponsibly. But my friend had a valid, important, and apparently Middlmarch-ian point.

I know it is a huge generalization: not all women are hopeless romantics and I suppose it’s possible that men have romantic daydreams.

But, in very general terms, I think it pretty much captures the basic state of affairs between males and females: a woman meets someone she likes, and she immediately begins to fantasize about their life together. A guy meets someone he likes, and he is not opposed to the idea of running into her again for dinner.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Men, Women and George Eliot

  1. Megan

    Oh my God I love Middlemarch! It is one of my all time favorite books and I’ve read it twice and intend on reading it more. The second time I got even more out of it, so I anticipate the deeper I delve the more I’ll find. I agree, George Eliot literally “pierces” into the heart of the human condition with some of her sentences. This is a strange way to honor her, but I actually named my two cats after the sisters in the book. My two favorite things about Middlemarch are Eliot’s piercing sentences–you’ll be reading along and then WHAM she hits you with something so insightful you can actually feel yourself becoming wiser–and also how all the different couples in the book are sort of different meditations on various forms of romantic and familial love. Also I just love the book. Period. Thanks for writing about it!

    • I’m so glad you agree! I am so tempted to just cut and paste chunks of text directly on to the blog. Last night I read the scene in Rome with Dorothea and Casaubon where Eliot talks about how different marriage is from courtship and the difficulties of marriage between a younger woman and older man…so amazing!

  2. davkow

    I’ve never read Middlemarch, so can’t comment about that. But concerning the airport pickups: that’s fine and all good when dating. What happened to me with a not-so-super-close friend of the opposite sex in my circle of friends (who I was *not* dating – we were both single), was the airport pickups became this expected thing. I got really tired of it. It wasn’t reciprocal enough. (I’m all for self-sufficiency when single with taking a bus or van shuttle, and now there’s even light rail). I wanted her to get a boyfriend (fast!) so I could be relieved of the dreaded airport drop off/pickup duties for this princess.

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