Saturday, March 12, 2016

My Night in a Nineteenth Century Novel

I had a great reading day yesterday.  I had thought it might be a great writing day, but by the end of the day, I was too tired to do much.  Happily, there were books to read.
In the early morning hours, I got an e-mail from my partner-in-reading, the one who inspired my reading of Hard Times and Inferno.  We had decided that we were going to read Middlemarch next, and my partner-in-reading had downloaded the audiobook from the library for the trip she was taking yesterday.
I didn't want to be left behind, so I slipped away from the very quiet office yesterday morning to go to the downtown Main branch of the public library.  I got Middlemarch, along with My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead and The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller.  I was glad to pick up Jane Smiley's Golden Age, the 3rd book in the trilogy I started reading almost a year ago.  I picked up some books on journaling, because I'm leading a workshop next month--I could do it without the books, but I was in the library, and they were there, so I got them.
Throughout the day in the office, when I needed a break, instead of heading over to Facebook, I read another canto or two of Dante's Inferno.  I am so intrigued by Mary Jo Bang's translation; she's making such interesting choices in how she weaves contemporary references, and how well it works.  I plan to finish that book this week-end.  My partner-in-reading finished long ago and went on to read Purgatorio.  I'm trying not to feel inadequate.
I got home and tried to do some writing, but nothing was coming easily, despite the fact that I had mapped it out in my head earlier, both a short story (for my activists at age 50 collection) and my latest piece for the Purgatory project.  I decided to abandon the struggle.  I did some grading of late submissions from my online students.  I finished completing my e-mail address list for book promotion.  And then it was time to read.
I am in the middle of so many books:  the one about the Inklings, Inferno, and on Thursday night, I read the introduction to Mary Karr's book about the memoir.  But I wanted to read Middlemarch--and I was hooked from the first chapter.
I had forgotten how funny the book is.  I had forgotten the appeal of Dorothea--and how interesting that she's appealing.  In the hands of a different novelist, she'd be the self-righteous prig who was being set up for a horrible come-uppance.
I remember the plotline enough to remember that yes, indeed, Dorothea will have her come-uppance.  But we won't cheer.  At least, I won't.  Poor Dorothea.  When I first read the book, long ago in 1988, I didn't see what a bad choice she was making.  Now, even if I didn't know the plot, I'd still say, "She wants to marry that pitiful man?"  And I see myself in her more than I once did.  Oh yes I do.
I went to bed last night thinking I'd read something lighter, in bed, just before I turned off the light.  But I really wanted more Middlemarch.  So I got up, padded out to the living room, got the book, returned to bed, and read another chapter.
Last night was such a different experience from grad school, when I was reading the book as one of the last ones for the Victorian Novel class, and I had a tight timeline.  I did not stop to delight in the language or to savor any of the scenes.  I had to finish the book.  I had a paper to write.
And that paper, which had nothing to do with Middlemarch, would go on to be the cornerstone of my dissertation--I wrote about domestic violence in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.
It is wonderful to revisit these Victorian novels again, now that I have a few more decades of experience and time to savor.  It's interesting that I still feel like there's not enough time to read.  Never enough time to read.

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