Middlemarch by George Elliot
Obviously this is a classic. I read it after being interested in George Elliot as a translator of Spinoza’s Ethics. It seems more realist and unsentimental, e.g. in its view that marriage is not necessarily and inevitably the way to happiness. The idea that persisting in poor choices in marriage is a form of building castles in the air and then attempting to live in this, seemed quite relevant to me.
I wonder how many novels before this portrayed marriage as a complicated and difficult thing we don’t necessarily go into with clear thinking.
Also, I liked the quote:
‘That by desiring what is perfect good, even when we don’t quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are part of the divine power against evil — widening the skirts of light and making the struggle with darkness narrower.’
I interpret this in an ethical and moral sense rather than a traditional religious one. Perhaps this is a sense of Spinozaist Conatus?
20/7/2013 While reading a biography of Tolstoy I was struck by this reminiscence by Tolstoy’s son Sergey. ‘At that time he read a lot of English family novels and sometimes joked about them saying, “These novels always end up with him putting his arm round her waist, then they get married, and he inherits an estate and a baronetcy. These novelists ends their novels with him and her getting married. But a novel should not be about what happens before they get married, but what happens after they get married.”‘
This seems very much the point of MIddlemarch, and I wonder if Tolstoy ever read it.