Celebrating George Eliot on her 200th birthday. Did she write the greatest English novel of all time?

Some people will tell you Middlemarch it is one of the classics of English literature – or the greatest English novel ever written. Some say they can’t read.

Rohan Maitzen, who teaches English at Dalhousie University in Halifax, belongs to the first group. He spoke with Michael Enright, host of The Sunday Presswho admitted that he found the record inaccessible.

“I want to tell you that this is not an exclusive group for you to join,” Maitzen said, “and I don’t think you should approach it with such trepidation.”

Rohan Maitzen studied English at Dalhousie University in Halifax. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)

He has read the book many times since he first picked it up at the age of 18.

“I’m probably on my fourth training copy, which usually takes years, and then they fail!” he said. “At its most intimate level, Middlemarch It’s just a story about three marriages – two bad marriages and one good marriage – and if you take it out a little bit, it’s about a community at a time of great change in history.”

Maitzen is a great fan of the author, the Victorian novelist George Eliot, the pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans, whose bicentenary is on November 22, 2019.

“I think the reason he’s called that is because he did everything that other 19th century writers did. [Anthony] Trollope. He combines many stories, many characters, and he loves institutions like Trollope, the church. He has an easy and smart communication style [Jane] Austen had it. Her social commentary is as witty as Austen’s,” says Maitzen. [Charles] Dickens’. They are full of dangers and dangers [Thomas] Hardy. But it’s all in one package. “

Maitzen advises readers who struggle with Middlemarch try again and list the words.

“If you want a study plan that I use, I would say start with each house and fill in the people who live there,” he said. “One of the tasks I often set for myself when I re-read the novel is, can I rebuild related family trees? It will get easier with time, but there are some difficult relationships. . You can decide as you go. read and wrestle with all the details. Or you can trust him to open the story for you.”

Middlemarchoriginally published in parts, about 800 pages, a length that some readers may find intimidating or even longer.

“There is a kind of fetishization at this time of stories that critics often call ‘spare,’ as if it’s the least that can be done,” said Maitzen. “Obviously, that was not the norm in the 19th century.”

He says that no one has produced a good biopic about George Eliot “because her life was so remarkable that she deserves to be known.”

Rohan Maitzen considers Middlemarch to be the greatest novel of the Victorian era. (CBC/Mary-Catherine McIntosh)

Eliot’s life was humble. She was born on a small farm in Warwickshire, England, and raised as a country girl; but he was, as Maitzen said, “intellectual satisfaction” from his youth. He became an editor in London, in the heart of the city’s literary scene, working with such notables as John Stuart Mill. Mary Ann Evans, who was never married, lived with a married man. She did not want the “scandal” of her personal life to be placed on her writing and took the pseudonym George Eliot.

“Some women writers did that in the 19th century because it was not considered feminine to put yourself out in public by writing. The Brontës [sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë] for example, it was also written under first male pseudonyms,” said Maitzen. “But the pseudonym did not stick. At the time of his second full-length book The Mill on the Floss come out, it’s kind of a secret.”

Maitzen said Middlemarch affected his life in many ways as he matured as a reader.

“I read it at 18 and I identified very strongly with Dorothea. I read it now in middle age and people who tried to make their lives according to their desires, and fell, and they looked around them and said, ‘This is not what I thought would happen,’ they saw me sometimes,” said Maitzen. “And that love that he has because so much of our hope when we’re young is that the decisions we make will pay off; grow with him, or grow into him.”

Click ‘listen’ above to hear the full interview.

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