I Once Promised to Read Middlemarch…

It was the summer between my junior and senior year in college. I was taking one class for summer school — an Independent Study on Women’s Literature. For those unfamiliar with the concept, that meant I just read some books I wanted to read by women and wrote papers about them. I remember reading The Awakening, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and Mrs. Dalloway; I’m sure I could name a few others if I really thought hard. At the end of the summer, the professor, Mrs. Constantine, told me I had done a great job, but she had slipped up in not requiring me to read Middlemarch, by George Eliot. It was one of the greatest books by any woman author ever, she said. I should really have made you read it. Promise me you will read it, and I’ll give you an A.

Two years later, I was unemployed during one of the hottest summers ever, and I spent it in the air-conditioned public library. It was the summer that convinced me to go back to school and get a library science degree. It was the summer of reading. One of the first books I checked out was Middlemarch. I think I made it to about page 60, and then I put it down in favor of The Lord of the Rings.

I’ll read it some other time, I thought.

Three years later I was finished with library school, working in a public library, and a used copy of Middlemarch fell into my hands at the library’s used book sale. 25 cents.

I brought it home and started to read. I got to about page 60, and put it down in favor of The Doll Maker by Harriet Arnow.

But at least it was now on my bookshelves. Every couple of years I would pick it up again. I would always make it to about page 60 before I put it down in favor of just about any other novel — Dune, Angle of Repose, A Hundred Years of Solitude, Chronicles of Narnia, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes….

The book finally took its toll on me — every time I went to my bookshelves, the thick spine haunted me — all 850 pages. I finally gave it back to another library’s used book sale to assuage my guilt.

The last time I tried to read it was ten years ago. I got to about page 60. When I put it down for what I thought was the last time, in favor of Anna Karenina, I apologized to Mrs. Constantine for accepting that A under false pretenses; I apologized to Mary Anne Evans for not being able to read her seminal work; I apologized to the muses of great literature for failing to make it beyond 60 pages of what has been called one of the greatest novels ever written; and I apologized to the great God of all for not keeping a promise.

Last month while adding to my Netflix queue, I discovered that Middlemarch had been done as a Masterpiece Theater series in 1994 and was available on 2 discs. I moved it to Number 1 & 2 and hoped Mr. H. C. was amenable to watching it.

I admit to having always always always decried watching the filmed version of a book, any book. From Charlotte’s Web to Empire Falls. From The Hobbit to Sophie’s Choice.

But we loved watching it.

So much that I have now downloaded Middlemarch to my Kindle, and I am now on page 137.

Perhaps that A wasn’t under false pretenses after all. At least I’ve made it past page 60.

(In case you are interested, dear reader, chapter 5 begins on page 60. Before that, chapter 4 is where Dorothea meets Casaubon at their dinner party. Like Celia, I must have been bored to tears by Casaubon…)

13 thoughts on “I Once Promised to Read Middlemarch…

  1. Sounds like you are on the path to fulfilling your promise. Right now I have started several books, which I normally focus on one, and I’m not making much progress…

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  2. I read Middlemarch early in 2017. It took everything I had to make it through the Prelude and the first two Books. And then everything changed; I caught the rhythm of Eliot’s writing, plot lines began to fall in place, my 21st C.over-stimulated mind was forced to adapt to a 19th C. pace, and I was in for one of the most fulfilling reading experiences of my life. Soldier on!

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    • Thanks for the encouragement. I generally like 19th century British authors, Hardy, Austen, Dickens, so I was particularly discouraged about this one. Not to mention the promise. Thanks for the encouragement — I’m still reading…


  3. What an interesting post for its inclusion of many books you read and one you didn’t. I’ve read most of the books you mentioned, decried the books turned into movies you listed, and have never given a thought to reading Middlemarch. Nor has anyone ever suggested I read it. Furthermore, the excerpt you included didn’t make me yearn to read it. But: as a result of reading your post, I now feel I must do so. Heavens! I can’t say I’m happy about it! I’ll let you know if I do.


    • Oh dear. It certainly wasn’t my intention to make anyone else feel guilty for not reading this book. I certainly do recommend the masterpiece version — and then perhaps starting on page 60? 😍

      Sent from my iPhone so please excuse spelling errors.



  4. Oh, can I relate to this! I don’t have a taste for fantasy (except, perhaps, for “A Wrinkle in Time,” which is in a class all by itself), so I wouldn’t have been distracted by most of the other books you read. I love the Victorian period, but every now and then I try to reread or finish a Henry James, to no avail. Thank goodness for Masterpiece Theatre or I’d never have enjoyed “The Golden Bowl” in any form!

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    • Yes. Masterpiece Theatre is the best! And I’m about to reread A Wrinkle in Time in order to decide if I will go see it or not.
      I tried to comment on your latest post the other day but the computer muses wouldn’t let me. I’ll try again.


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