Middlemarch by George Eliot (Mary Evans): 8.5/10. I read this back in the Autumn and greatly enjoyed it. Very victorian and deeply interested in the analysis of motive and feeling -- event is most definitely secondary. Ultimately also a heart-warming book which satisfies Miss Prism's aphorism to a tee: 'The good end happily, the bad unhappily, that is what fiction means'. However this is no criticism: the plotting is so gently done and accompanied by such delicacy and detail in delineation of character and thought that there is no danger of it fundamentally altering the merits of the book.
A few choice quotes
Mrs Casaubon's discovery of Will with Rosamond precipitates an outburst from Will (p.778-9)
It would have been safer for Will in the first instance to have taken up his hat and gone away; but he had felt no impulse to do this; on the contrary, he had a horrible inclination to stay and shatter Rosamond with his anger. It seemed as impossible to bear the fatality she had drawn down on him without venting his fury as it would be to a panther to bear the javelin-wound without springing and biting. And yet--how could he tell a woman that he was ready to curse her? He was fuming under a repressive law which he was forced to acknowledge: he was dangerously poised, and Rosamond's voice now brought the decisive vibration. In flute-like tones of sarcasm she said--
"You can easily go after Mrs. Casaubon and explain your preference."
"Go after her!" he burst out, with a sharp edge in his voice. "Do you think she would turn to look at me, or value any word I ever uttered to her again at more than a dirty feather?--Explain! How can a man explain at the expense of a woman?"
"You can tell her what you please," said Rosamond with more tremor.
"Do you suppose she would like me better for sacrificing you? She is not a woman to be flattered because I made myself despicable-- to believe that I must be true to her because I was a dastard to you."
He began to move about with the restlessness of a wild animal that sees prey but cannot reach it. Presently he burst out again--
"I had no hope before--not much--of anything better to come. But I had one certainty--that she believed in me. Whatever people had said or done about me, she believed in me.--That's gone! She'll never again think me anything but a paltry pretence-- too nice to take heaven except upon flattering conditions, and yet selling myself for any devil's change by the sly. She'll think of me as an incarnate insult to her, from the first moment we--"
Will stopped as if he had found himself grasping something that must not be thrown and shattered. He found another vent for his rage by snatching up Rosamond's words again, as if they were reptiles to be throttled and flung off.
"Explain! Tell a man to explain how he dropped into hell! Explain my preference! I never had a preference for her, any more than I have a preference for breathing. No other woman exists by the side of her. I would rather touch her hand if it were dead, than I would touch any other woman's living."
Rosamond, while these poisoned weapons were being hurled at her, was almost losing the sense of her identity, and seemed to be waking into some new terrible existence. She had no sense of chill resolute repulsion, of reticent self-justification such as she had known under Lydgate's most stormy displeasure: all her sensibility was turned into a bewildering novelty of pain; she felt a new terrified recoil under a lash never experienced before. What another nature felt in opposition to her own was being burnt and bitten into her consciousness. When Will had ceased to speak she had become an image of sickened misery: her lips were pale, and her eyes had a tearless dismay in them. If it had been Tertius who stood opposite to her, that look of misery would have been a pang to him, and he would have sunk by her side to comfort her, with that strong-armed comfort which, she had often held very cheap.
The Narrator essays some thoughts about the pains of gaining a clear awareness of what lies ahead for our future selves (p. 784):
We are on a perilous margin when we begin to look passively at our future selves, and see our own figures led with dull consent into insipid misdoing and shabby achievement. Poor Lydgate was inwardly groaning on that margin, and Will was arriving at it. It seemed to him this evening as if the cruelty of his outburst to Rosamond had made an obligation for him, and he dreaded the obligation: he dreaded Lydgate's unsuspecting good-will: he dreaded his own distaste for his spoiled life, which would leave him in motiveless levity.