Many times over the years, I'd open up Middlemarch only to close it and place it back on the shelf. Next year, I'd tell myself, next winter I'll get into it. It's a winter book.
This year, though, having turned 40, I felt I couldn't wait another year. So I didn't. I decided to read it, and I did. Along the way, there were some of the most perfect paragraphs I've ever encountered. There were complicated characters and nuanced insights into human nature and sad and funny comments on the position of women in society and the state of marriage in general. There are also sheets of stuff about English politics which I didn't understand and I'm sure would color my feelings about the book and add a layer of meaning to the closely detailed psychological portraits if only I had any interest in figuring them out. What's most interesting to me, though, is that in the end, the book is simply a love story and everyone pretty much lives happily ever after. There are tragic figures, for sure, but their tragedies are too complicated to be heartbreaking and for a prudish book they visit most closely on the most prudish -- or priggish -- of the cast of characters. Every life has the big and small dramas but I have to admit I was surprised that after 800 pages almost everyone ends up so pleased. It's nice, sort of. I will admit to feeling, I don't know, a little restless when I finally closed the book. Thinking about it now the ending is growing in brilliance (I love the last line of the epilogue), but I did have a vague dissatisfaction. And yet, I'm so glad I can FINALLY say I've read that damn book. Now my only problem is my friend N told me after a palate cleanser of Mansfield Park I should go off and read Daniel Deronda. I don't know if I can. Maybe for 45.