Middlemarch by George Eliot
I first picked up George Eliot’s Middlemarch when I was about 15. And put it down again after a page or two.
Now, many years later, I decided to try again. (What can I say, I’m stubborn. I have come late to a few of the classics only to find that Catcher in the Rye, or Farenheit 451, or Portrait of A Lady are brilliant and their characters are wonderful, so why did it take me so long…)
Middlemarch is a superb novel. In fact, it has gone on that list of novels I would not want to live without. I have to give it the sort of status I give Anna Karenina, Light in August and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. An almost perfect book complete with the flaws that endear us to its author.
(It’s almost impossible to get away from ourselves in writing- but on those few occasions Tolstoy or Eliot do show through, it’s worth it.)
This – for example from Middlemarch. Perhaps one of the most beautiful pieces of writing humans have ever managed: “Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great effect on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not as ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”