Saturday, August 29, 2015

George Eliot's "Middlemarch": Audiobook review

I am reviewing Juliet Stevenson's reading of the entire book, over thirty hours. She captures the nuances of expression in George Eliot's ruminating, satiric, painful, and idealistic visions as filtered through an omniscient narrator who creates a chronicle of this small English town's families. You get, this being a high-Victorian novel about the years just before the Queen ascended her throne, an immersion into the gentry. The poor tend to be backdrops, and the goings on of a doctor, a banker, a scholar, and their wives comprise the stories.

My favorite character is Causabon, who attracts Dorothea early on. Their relationship is fraught with sadness as well as dreams. Eliot pins down the lure of learned lore in an unforgettable way, even as she lets us see the folly of the grand scheme the couple follow.

This is one of the most famous novels in English, so the summaries of the plotlines and interspersed chapters examining the protagonists can be found easily. Stevenson captures the varied accents, male and female, deftly. A woman's voice open to emotion but steeled by intellect fits Eliot's own outlook well. This novel, true to triple-decker form does go on, and modern readers may need more patience than that of audiences long ago for such steady attention to the intricate observations Eliot conveys.

Hearing this, one gets caught up in the flow. The immense detail may or may not be lost on a listener rather than a reader. The various languages of the quotes opening each chapter are communicated faithfully and Stevenson and Eliot match each other in terms of the tone this novel takes, sometimes arch, sometimes sensitive, sometimes impassioned. It's a lot to follow.

Having studied this novel decades ago in college and then always meaning to return to it, I found this on audio a pleasant experience. No spoilers, but highlights are three deaths that play crucial roles here. All captured with wheezes, faltering voices, and growing weightiness well by Stevenson. Now, it is her voice I will hear in these pages if I see them again. (Amazon US 6-20-15 + Audible)

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