I’ve been working industriously on my Middlemarch for Book Clubs website. I hope to have a “beta” version of the whole site ready to make public by the end of June, but I thought it would be helpful for me to get some feedback on a couple of pages sooner rather than later. One reason is that I’m especially concerned about finding the right tone (not too didactic, but clear and practical; enthusiastic but not gushing), as well as the right balance between too much and not enough information. But also — and this is particularly important for a page like this one on choosing an edition — I can’t be sure if I’m providing the right information. I’d be glad to know if you think I’m on the right track, or, if not, what changes or corrections or additions you’d suggest.
Middlemarch for Book Clubs: Choosing an Edition
The first thing to consider is whether you want everyone in your group to use the same edition of Middlemarch. Even if you think that this would be a good thing, it may prove impractical, as people may already own copies, or may prefer one version over another for their own reasons. My classroom experience (as well as experience in my own book club) has taught me that it can be frustrating trying to talk about a long book when people quite literally can’t get on the same page. This is one reason to encourage people to use some system of navigational aids, like post-it notes! However, because Middlemarch is divided into Books and then into chapters, it’s not that hard to find common reference points.
The next question is whether you want to use a ‘popular’ or a scholarly edition. With a novel like Middlemarch, I think it’s a good idea to have a reliable, well-edited text with thorough annotations–not because you must consult them, but because you may want to. Scholarly editions not only include thoughtful introductions and explanatory footnotes (helpful for everything from literary allusions to historical contexts) but also point out changes made to the novel over its publishing history. One of the most interesting of these in Middlemarch is a tweak to its Finale that might spark some debate among the members of your book club, especially if you’ve talked along the way about how far Dorothea is responsible for her own bad choices.
RECOMMENDED EDITIONS OF MIDDLEMARCH
Oxford World’s Classics: This is the edition I usually assign in my classes. It’s readily available, Felicia Bonaparte’s introduction is illuminating, the notes are good but not overwhelming, and the layout is readable and leaves enough room for annotations. In the current printing, there are two paragraphs out of order: bonus points for the person in your group who spots them! (I’ve notified the press and subsequent printings may be corrected.)
Penguin Classics: This is another fine, reliable edition, with a good introduction by Rosemary Ashton; it has the benefit of also being available as an e-book, which may be an advantage if some of your members use e-readers.
Norton Critical Edition: This edition is the most scholarly of the options, in that it conveniently packages a scrupulous edition of the novel with a selection of critical essays about it. If that’s the kind of thing your book club likes, this is the edition for you. If you doubt you’ll want to read the criticism, however, I recommend an edition with larger type!
Broadview Press Edition: This handsome edition of Middlemarch is supplemented by contemporary reviews and documents (rather than the mostly 20th-century critical materials included in the Norton). It is annotated in great detail, with special attention paid to the role of the visual arts in the novel; it is the only one of these editions that includes illustrations. The footnotes do occasionally almost overwhelm the novel itself. This edition is also available as an e-book.
There are [will be] links to some free electronic full-text editions of Middlemarch on the ‘Links’ page. I don’t particularly recommend these for reading the whole novel, though of course you may find them fine for your purposes. The searchable e-texts are great, however, for finding lines you remember but forgot to mark with post-its!
I read the OWC edition and thought it very fine–like you say, just the right amount of information in the intro and notes. I’m dying to know which paragraphs are out of order!
This is no doubt a personal peccadillo, but I hate the Nortons for how large and unwieldy they are–I like to carry my books with me everywhere and I generally refuse to carry Nortons and hardcovers just for the extra weight they put on my shoulder.
Weight seems a reasonably consideration! But I’m not sure the Norton weighs any more than the Broadview — I’ll have to check!
What, you didn’t notice the paragraphs out of order? 🙂
I don’t think Norton is much larger or smaller than other editions. 80% of the book is the text of the novel and the type is probably 20% smaller making a total of about 750 pages.
This seems very practical and useful advice. I think the first paragraph would work better if the order of the 2nd (Even if…) and 3rd (My classroom experience…) sentences were reversed.
One other consideration in the difficulty of agreeing a text is that some folks will want to borrow the book from a library or from a friend. Of course, the organizer can check what editions are available using the Public Library catalogue. Even my miniscule local public library (small town, 2 very small branches) has an online catalogue so it wouldn’t be hard for the organizer to check this.
I also wonder if the suggestions for using post-its and the comments on how the structure of this particular text might make this “being on the same page” problem less of a problem could go in a separate paragraph. Or even perhaps just the structure thing be noted here and then the tips be in a separate section.
I’m thinking that it needs to maintain a clear focus on the purpose which is to decide whether to use the same edition and if so how to select.
I like the kinds of information you provide for the various options. Those who decide not to impose an edition can still refer people to these notes for their decision making.
I’m glad to see you are proceeding with this project.
Good pragmatic suggestions, Jo! I see the point of the reorganizing: that would make it more businesslike with, as you say, “a clear focus on the purpose.” On the other hand, I did want a bit of a chatty vibe, so I’ll see if I can manage both.
I’ve been looking forward to the promised beta site for a while; glad it is coming together! Both my wife and I are now reading Middlemarch–she for the second time–at your suggestion. We want that site to be up before we finish, so don’t delay!
That’s exciting, Jeffry! I’m doing my best. Could you read slowly, maybe? 😉
The Broadview has illustrations. Grr. I want to trade in my Norton.
I am completely opposite Colleen here. I want to carry around more knowledge. Knowledge makes me strong.
Jo is right about many book club members borrowing the book from a library. The solution for your website is easy, however: you just have to write a helpful one-paragraph assessment of every edition of “Middlemarch” ever made! Let me know if you need any help …
I read Middlemarch in college and had mixed feelings about it (and forgot most of it). Recently told my wife she should read it (ulterior motiv: to find out if it would be worth rereading). She loved it so I was just about to start it again myself. Couldn’t find my copy so I immediately ordered a copy of the Norton which arrived yesterday. Cringed when I saw the title of your post fearing that I have picked the wrong one. Feeling vindicated, but now curious about Broadview. I know I can live without the illustrations. Not sure what I would want to see illustrated in Middlemarch.
Feedback: Tone is good, just what I expected. Information is relevant. Recommended etexts would be helpful. Kindle makes marking and taking notes easy and in some versions it even gives me the option to see other people’s notes on the book as well. Would love to know where I can find out about the alternate Finale.
Even though our Middlemarch “book club” is small we are looking forward to what else you have in store for us. Hope to see more soon!
“Illustrations” may be a bit misleading: they aren’t drawings of the story but mostly plates of art works named in or relevant to the novel — you can imagine that this is especially nice for the parts in the Vatican. One thing I could add to my site would be images of or links to images of them: aha! Another page.
I’ve recently been mulling over reading Middlemarch later this year, so I found this timely and convenient. So thanks – I’m especially grateful to know abot the site you’ve built for book clubs. Even if I’m not in one, I’m sure it will be useful.
Scott, I really hope it will prove useful too. I’m sure folks will have a lot of suggestions once they see the other parts — things to include, things to leave out, things I’ve taken way too many words to say…
Thanks to the book “My Life in Middlemarch,” I immediately began shopping around for the perfect edition of the novel to add to my extensive book collection. I chose the Oxford World’s Classic – hope the paragraphs are not out of order. I haven’t read the book in a long long time so I don’t know if I would notice the change or not haha. Thanks for the advice!
Thanks so much for this posting. I did a search for the best ANNOTATED edition of Middlemarch, and this page came up. It was JUST what I was looking for, and gave me the information to help me choose the right edition for me (even though we won’t be reading it for our book club – too many people have already read it). I hope you will do more articles of this sort – and I hope I’ll be able to find them. Thanks again for a great service! PJ
You’re so welcome! It’s always gratifying when someone finds this work directly helpful in some way. I appreciate your suggestion that I do more similar posts, too: I’ll give some thought to what else I could address.