Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sticking a toe in the water

Why am I writing this blog? In all likelihood, no one is listening (or reading). Unless I call attention to this blog, by inviting people to read it, I may just be talking to myself. So, okay, for now I am talking to myself -- about books. I am sticking my big toe in the cold lake water of the blogosphere.

Why books? I could talk about something more personal. But what could be more personal that the interior library we carry around in our heads. Isn't my reading history a sort of autobiography?

My narrative device is to begin in the middle, in media res. How appropriate, since I am reading George Eliot's Middlemarch. Or, to be more accurate, I am rereading Middlemarch.

Have you ever loved a book so much that as soon as you reach the last page, your first impulse is to turn back to the first page and begin all over again? I have had the impulse a few times, but I don't think I have ever actually started rereading a book in this way. Still, it is something a passionate reader would do, and the longer I am a reader, the more passionate I am about reading. And rereading....

Middlemarch is a book I have carried around on my little internal list: top ten books of all time. The last time I read Middlemarch was in 1996. I am more seasoned now. And yet, I am also more impatient. When I open a book that is over 800 pages long, I do so in the knowledge that this book and I are in it for the long haul; we are going to be companions, and for more that the couple of days in which I can gobble up a contemporary novel or a mystery. A long book is one thing, but a long slow book (as most of the Victorian triple-deckers are) is a commitment.

As I said, I'm more impatient now than I was a decade ago. Our whole culture is more impatient, a fact that makes me worry that fewer and fewer readers will have the patience to read Middlemarch, or Vanity Fair, or The Eustace Diamonds. But I did pick up Middlemarch, and as I began reading, I realized that, while the characters and events of a mystery I read months ago have grown dim in my memory, the characters of Middlemarch are as familiar to me as long-lost friends. Of course, they have changed over the years. Dorothea Brooke seems so much younger to me now, and Causabon seems more like a dried beetle than ever. Celia Brooke seems more pragmatic and sensible, and Dr. Lydgate is both foolish and prescient.

What has changed the most is the way I see the choices before the characters, the primary choice being the selection of a mate. Having been divorced and remarried, I see all too clearly not just that Causabon is self-deceived about his own importance, but also that he is too narcissistic to ever be a satisfactory husband to Dorothea. Certainly he is asexual, which is not a quality most young brides seek. The proposal of Causabon to Dorothea reminds me a little of Pride and Prejudice, and the awful Mr. Collins and his embarrassing proposal to Elizabeth. Why is Dorothea so undiscerning, so unconscious in her acceptance of this withered old fraud? What a dreadful mistake!

Is the marriage decision any more conscious and discerning for today's educated woman? Or do men and women continue to choose exactly the wrong mate (like Dorothea, like Dr. Lydgate, like Lydia Bennet)? Do we have any better means today for making this life-altering decision?

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