ETA: How could I forget that this 800-page book qualifies as another completed item for the Tea and Books Reading Challenge??
Wow, where to start? I loved this book. I can't believe it took me this long to get around to reading it, and I'd have to think Girl Detective, who chose it for the May selection of her Gods and Monsters book club.
At first glance, it's a book about marriage, and seeking the perfect marriage depending on what you and/or your society thinks is perfect. Sounds just right for 1800s British literature. But Eliot turns that convention on its head by having the marriages (there are two she's tracking in this novel) occur early on, and then spends the bulk of the story looking at the "ever after". Which, no spoiler, doesn't seem to involve the word "happily".
This is a very approachable, readable book. Yes, it's long--800+ pages--but it's broken into eight sections of similar length. And it's a good story, with a solid plot and vivid characters. And it's not just about marriage, but about society in general, and the politics and controversies of the times, and art, and religion, and morality. And humor. Eliot is brilliant at understanding people and what drives them, and she's got a lot of affection for her characters, but she's also got a great deal of sly humor.
And the writing. My copy is full of markings and dog-ears of passages I loved, and when (not if) I read it again, I suspect I'll mark even more. Such as:
"Women were expected to have weak opinions; but the great safeguard of society and of domestic life was, that opinions were not acted on. Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them."
"If youth is the season of hope, it is often so only in the sense that our elders are hopeful about us; for no age is so apt as youth to think its emotions, partings, and resolves are the last of their kind. Each crisis seems final, simply because it is new. We are told that the oldest inhabitants in Peru do not cease to be agitated by the earthquakes, but they probably see beyond each shock, and reflect that there are plenty more to come."
And the final paragraph, which I won't spoil here, is the most satisfying, profoundly moving paragraph I think I've ever read.
My only caveat: don't buy the Barnes & Noble classic edition shown above. That's the one I read, and it's full of typos. Mostly of the "spellcheck won't catch them" variety, but a few of the others too.