“Character isn’t cut in marble – it is not something solid and unalterable. It’s something living and changing, and may become diseased as our bodies do.“
-George Eliot (Middlemarch)
Writing is never a full-time fun and pleasant job, and this I had accepted long time back; but lately I realized reading is neither. Oh yes! what till now I had always enjoyed doing (I’m afraid enjoyed even more than writing) vexed me a little in past month. In case you wonder what gave my reading such a bend: Middlemarch by George Eliot did me the honors. This was my first read of a bulky classic- a novel up to 1,000 pages; and I succeeded to finish it in, more or less, a month.
But does it really matter how many pages did I read and in how much time? No. Not at all. Why should you be concerned with what I read? Right, you shouldn’t be and probably you won’t be too. So let us talk about something of our mutual interest.
Reading Middlemarch was a whole new experience for me unlike reading John Grisham, or Khaled Hosseini, or Jhumpa Lahiri, or in that case any book that I had read till now; and if my experience weren’t different, then Middlemarch must have had failed in serving its purpose. (Just to make things clear to you-this isn’t going to be my review on Middlemarch. So, if you’re looking forward for a review in this post, you might only face disappointment. If you still are interested, here is my Goodreads review.)
Being a non-literature student, books I mostly used to read were the ones prevalent around or of the writers whose work is not old more than 50 years, but never did I go beyond that. Reading classics was always there in the back of my mind, but I never tried my hands on (or probably eyes on) it, until now.
Middlemarch wasn’t my first choice of venturing my journey through the world of classics; it was ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens rather. But I dropped the book only after 2 pages. Yes, I already had enough in those 2 pages that I realized I would never be able to understand it. A girl, who throughout her life had studied in English-medium schools, declared herself incapable of reading an English classic.
A day or two passed, and I pulled myself together again. I decided to drop Dickens (which was merely of 300 pages) and went for one which was three-times bulkier than that; and this is how Middlemarch came into picture.
When I started reading Middlemarch, I felt like a toddler who was still learning to speak; in my case it was learning to comprehend what was being read.
Again, I was ready to quit reading Middlemarch, too, after a few pages, but, as you can see now, I didn’t. It occurred to me not only once but couple of times within the initial pages that I rather should quit and head towards something lighter and easier. Did I quit? No. Duh!
But that shouldn’t imply that journey had been easy. Trust me, it took me around 80 pages to get a gist of what I was actually reading.
It occurred to me only after 80 pages that I was not (am not) dumb, that I was (I am) capable of reading and actually comprehending a classic written fifteen decades ago. And even after those initial 80 pages, I kept on encountering many lines or right down to whole paragraphs that made me to re-consider my reading choice.
To start with, the way English was written at that time was of a completely different world (not entirely but to a prominent level); not right or wrong to what we read and write today, but different. So, to get the hang of such language had had to take some time.
Just like everything around, grammar is transient too; grammar, too, changes with time and so does vocabulary. And Middlemarch acquainted me to the distinctive grammar and vocabulary of those times. Writers back then had a strong inclination towards using punctuation marks, that too in abundance, and I loved it.
Then there was this peculiar way (peculiar for a person living in twenty-first century), among people of addressing each other in that era; there was whole different dialect-when ‘pray’ used to mean ‘please’ and a lot more.
Lot have I said about the hindrances while reading a classic. But is it all hard and rough reading one? If it were, I probably wouldn’t have (couldn’t have) finished 900 pages.
“In marriage, the certainty, ‘She’ll never love me much’, is easier to bear than the fear, ‘I shall love her no more’.”
– George Eliot (Middlemarch)
Be it nineteenth century or twenty-first, humans have always been same, emotions that they go through have always been the same, dilemmas that they face have always been same; mean people, generous people, begrudging people were then too. And that is why, no matter in which century a novel was weaved, no matter whether it were a male or a female who crafted it, anybody reading it, until and unless he/she is a human, will be able to relate to it, resonate with it.
I’m glad I read a classic for the first time at this point of time. You may ask why? Because this-the point of life where I’m right now-I’m going to have the experience of my first classic read with me forever as a vivid memory. And this bog-post is there too in case I give up to Alzheimer or any of its related cousins.
My first experience with a classic- an adjustment initially, mutual understanding subsequently. Above everything else I understood what I read, I enjoyed what I read!
“The perceived nature of any object of observation seems to depend on the strength of the lens through which it is viewed. And the quality of the viewing medium depends not only on individual subjectivity but on the cultural codes through which the individual’s perceptions are organised and interpreted.”
– from Middlemarch
So, how and when was it for you the first time? Which was your first classic read? Or do you not like reading classics at all? Leave me a line or two or more, in comments section. I’m excited to know your story.
PS– It’s been a few days since I had written this post (and not published it here), and within that time I finished Pride And Prejudice too. And that, I must say, was a heavenly experience!
IF YOU ARE A FIRST- TIME VISITOR OF MY BLOG, DO REFER ‘First-Timers’. IT WOULD HELP YOU IN EXPLORING THE PLACE.
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