Middlemarch by George Eliot
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Middlemarch presents a couple of intertwined ideas. One is that there are many who strive to leave their mark on the world for good, crusaders ready to do justice on behalf of the wronged or oppressed, but the circumstances in which they personally find themselves provide no venue for fame (or sometimes even success) along those lines. The second is that even though such crusaders, or do-gooders, do not achieve the results they envision, they nonetheless impact positively many in their immediate circle. While life throws up hindrances to save the world, they still leave the village a much better place.
Both ideas are legitimate. Chance and providence play as much a role in public fame and notoriety as do ability and character, sometimes more so. Thus, in my own field, one entrusts himself to Providence as to whether he will have the fame of a Rick Warren or John Piper or the obscurity and 30-member congregation of an Ozark mountain church.
At almost 840 pages, at times the progress of the story seems slow to this 21st-century reader; but patience has its rewards in seeing the way the various lives and decisions of the people of Middlemarch impact one another as well as the future. Chance happenings at the right or wrong moment also have their play in future developments. Eliot doesn't name such happenings "Providence" (except through the eyes of Mr. Bulstrode--a man who is most ostentatiously Christian, and who, in the end, is seen as the biggest hypocrite, though not really a villain), but I would.