(sprinkles cupcakes are terrible.)
in chapter 4 of my life in middlemarch, rebecca mead writes:
"we all grumble at 'middlemarch,'" a reviewer for the spectator said. "but we all read it, and all feel that there is nothing to compare with it appearing at the present moment in the way of english literature, and not a few of us calculate whether we shall get the august number before we go for our autumn holiday, or whether we shall have to wait for it till we return." with book four, we are approaching the very middle of middlemarch -- and even though i know well how the novel concludes, the riddle posed in chapter 30 always beguiles me with its suggestion of alternative fates, of different love matches, of other possible endings.
certain genres of fiction derive their satisfactions from the predictability of their conclusion. the reader knows where things are going to end up: in a romance the lovers are united; in a detective story the murder mystery is solved. there is a pleasure in the familiarity of the journey. but a successful realist novel necessarily takes unpredictable turns in just the way real life predictably must. the resolution of middlemarch, even as seen in prospect halfway through the book, cannot possibly be completely tidy. (an example: mary garth has two possible suitors, fred vincy and mr. farebrother. both have qualities to recommend them, but at least one is bound to be disappointed.) middlemarch permits the reader to imagine other possible directions its characters might take, leading to entirely different futures, and as so often in life, love is the crossroads. (mead, 113-4)
one. imagine a time when novels were serialized and people anticipated the next installment, couldn't wait to read it and discuss it and simmer in anticipation for the next. imagine that.
two. this made me think of hillary kelly's article in the washington post about the serialized novel, which was linked on melville house's fabulous blog with discussion, all of which makes me think of the paris review, which recently serialized rachel cusk's outline (published in book form by FSG in 2015) (excerpts from the paris review: part 01, part 02, part 03, part 04). also i swear the paris review recently said they were going to start serializing another novel in their next issue -- or the fall issue -- but this is the problem with following all things literary on twitter, instagram, tumblr, facebook, and subscribing to publishing newsletters and reading blogs like the melville house blog, the paris review blog, lit hub -- i can't remember where i read this (spent the last 15 minutes trying to find it), but i swear i did, and it makes me happy, the end.
three. that last sentence in the paragraphs quoted above is one reason i feel compelled to keep going with middlemarch. i honestly don't know what's going to happen, not in any constructed narrative way but in the way that it is in life with life's penchant for throwing curveballs as it pleases, and i'm finding it just interesting enough to keep the pages flipping.
four. mr. farebrother > fred vincy.
five. ... because i don't like the number four?
book four of middlemarch is when i decided that i despised causabon. what a selfish man. it wasn't even the stupid clause in his will that did it for me; it was the stupid request he lay before dorothea after waking her in the night because he felt restless so she had to wake up and read to him so he could edit via dictation, when he says:
'before i sleep, i have a request to make, dorothea.'
'what is it?' said dorothea, with a dread in her mind.
'it is that you will let me know, deliberately, whether, in case of my death, you will carry out my wishes: whether you will avoid doing what i should deprecate, and apply yourself to do what i should desire.' (eliot, 477)
oh my god, you selfish man, you'll be dead -- what does it matter to you what she does with her life? she's a human being, not something you can control and order around, and i was glad that dorothea hesitates, doesn't give him an answer right away and asks for more time. it's not fair for her, either, because she ends up getting no sleep and struggles away, aware that he's asking for too much:
still, there was a deep difference between that devotion to the living, and that indefinite promise of devotion to the dead. (eliot, 479)
in the end, it's moot because he dies, and, instead, dorothea's left with a stupid, petty condition in his will that bars her from the property if she marries ladislaw. she can marry anyone else, but she can't marry ladislaw, all because of causabon's small-minded jealousy -- and part of me laughed over all this because i couldn't help but think that, if dorothea so bends herself under her husband's will and causabon is so selfish and petty, they must have had some incredibly unsatisfactory sex. if they had sex at all beyond the consummation of the marriage, that is ...
it's already saturday, which means, drat, i'm going to have to haul this brick of a book to california after all. i was planning on taking atul gawande's being mortal (metropolitan books, 2014), but i'm thinking maybe i'll just take middlemarch and my life in middlemarch instead. that should be enough reading because i don't have a lot of free time in california, anyway, especially when i only have four days to cram as many people in as i can.
i'll still be posting a middlemarch update tomorrow, though, so check back for that! and i promise to talk about characters other than dorothea and causabon. :D