Wednesday, December 9, 2015

"MIDDLEMARCH" AND ME



A hometown friend who is a respected historian is currently writing a book about a controversial local figure who went from being our town's most promising scholar to being the only US physician since the doctor who treated John Wilkes Booth to be arrested for accessory to murder after the fact. Other parts of his trajectory included being pursued by the FBI, jail, and lastly, an honored career as a humanitarian.

What could my small efforts to help her with her research have to do with my belated reading of "Middlemarch"?

Some years ago, we found this 1977 edition at a charity book sale. Like its heroine, it was patiently waiting for the right moment. 


MIDDLETOWN, MEDDLEMARCH, MIDDLEMARCH

Or should the order be reversed? I'm sticking with the first because I come from Middletown, and have only now, in my 68th year, come to "Middlemarch." Although the book was published in 1871 in a country far from mine, the universal applicability of its observations of small-town life and human nature offer ample proof that the author of "Middlemarch" knew what she was about.

The heroine, Dorothea,(inappropriately nicknamed Dodo?) was not only no dodo, but is more accurately compared, by the editor of my edition, to "a modern-day Saint Teresa."

Nevertheless, in the book's Finale, George Eliot references the town rumor mill's negative view of the protagonist, who was "spoken of to a younger generation as a fine girl who married a sickly clergyman, old enough to be her father, and in little more then a year after his death gave up her estate to marry his cousin – young enough to have been his son, with no property, and not well born. Those who had not seen anything of Dorothea usually observed that she could not have been 'a nice woman', else she would not have married either the one or the other."

This may be a stretch, but I am thinking of the way the Middletown grapevine whose reach is surprisingly long, responded to Alan's rise, Fall, and rise.

I have not always had good things to say about my home town, where everyone seemed overly interested in everyone else's business, and maybe my response was a childish rush to judgment. A high school friend with whom I resumed contact in the wake of our class's 50th reunion sees our town quite differently, and his positive words about it have made me rethink my own.  

Be that as it may, regardless of whatever muddling happens in Middletown, "Middlemarch" will remain a classic. And I hope that my friend's book about AB will, too.

FLASH: My husband tells me that according to a recent BBC poll, "Middlemarch" was cited as the UK's best novel. So in waiting more than six decades to get to it, we find ourselves both "behind the eight ball" and in front of it for having just read what some consider Britain's most popular novel. No matter. When is the right time to read a classic? Any time!


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