I read it for the second time a few years later, as part of a college course on the Victorian novel, and on that occasion I purchased the Oxford World's Classics edition recommended by the professor. I developed an intimate relationship with this book -- even under the most tranquil of circumstances (like, say, the reception area of a nursing home after 7 p.m.), Middlemarch takes a long time to read, so I probably toted it with me everywhere for quite a while. And I made notes in the margins as I read, underlining particularly insightful passages or especially well-turned phrases -- and if you've read any Eliot, you'll know that means I wrote on practically every page. Especially given how closely I identify with Dorothea Brooke. (Seriously -- in section, when people expressed frustration with the character, I felt personally insulted. But that's another post altogether.) So I left my mental footprints, and my copy now stands as a personal record of my experience of the book. And I figured, when I read it again -- and I knew I would -- the experience would be enhanced by the memory of my previous journey through Eliot's world.
And then, a little more than three-quarters of the way through, I noticed something funny. On page 624, chapter LXV, I encountered this sentence:
Perhaps there might be a particular note to her enclosed; but Lydgate was naturally addressed on the question of money or other aid, and the fact that he was written to, any, the very delay in writing at all, seemed to certify that the answer was thoroughly compliant.What's that "any" doing there? That doesn't make sense... And then I realized it ought to be "nay." Somewhere in the text-setting/editing process, the letters were transposed. Sloppy, but it happens, I figured, so I forgot about it. Until I got to Chapter LXXVII, page 725, and read this:
With these exceptions she had sat at home in languid melancholy and suspense, fixing her mind on Will Ladislaw's coming as the one point of hope and interest, and associating this with some new urgency on Lydgate to make immediate arrangements for leaving Middlemarch and going to London, till she felt assured that the coming would be a potent cause of the going, without at all seeing regarded as a peculiar folly in Rosamond. And it is precisely this sort of sequence which causes the greatest shock when it is sundered: for how. This way of establishing sequences is too common to be fairly to see how an effect may be produced is often to see possible missings and checks: but to see nothing except the desirable cause, and close upon it the desirable effect, rids us of doubt and makes our minds strongly intuitive.I read that and said, "Huh?" (possibly aloud), and then reread it, my mind strongly intuiting that this was not exactly what Eliot had written. It was profoundly disorienting to feel Eliot's lucid prose give way beneath me like that, her analytical tone suddenly turned to word salad. I was able to find the correct text online, and I sent an email to my TA to point out the mistake; as I recall, she was greatly amused, especially by the "for how" dangling there after that colon. It is wonderful, isn't it? That authoritative colon, promising an explanation of some sort, and then: utter nonsense. She'd been reading in her own (intact) copy of the novel, published by a different imprint, so she had an excuse for not noticing the error, but apparently no one else had ever noticed, in the entire history of the course (at least as far as the professor knew), which was troubling. Could it possibly be the case that, by the time they got to page 725 (only 60 pages to go!), my classmates were no longer reading carefully? (Or at all?)
Here is the correct passage, in case you're curious:
...till she felt assured that the coming would be a potent cause of the going, without at all seeing how. This way of establishing sequences is too common to be fairly regarded as a peculiar folly in Rosamond. And it is precisely this sort of sequence which causes the greatest shock when it is sundered: for to see how an effect may be produced is often to see possible missings and checks; but to see nothing except the desirable cause, and close upon it the desirable effect, rids us of doubt and makes our minds strongly intuitive.I felt betrayed by Oxford UP. I had come to treasure my copy of Middlemarch, having invested so much in it, and now I wasn't sure I could trust it. If they could make a mistake like that, how could I be sure they hadn't left out entire sentences, even chapters? Evidently the final draft never passed through a proofreader's hands. Could they not hear Ms. Evans spinning in her grave? Were they not afraid that the ghost of George Henry Lewes would rise up and give them a hard time? But seriously -- proofreaders are important, y'all. Even when you're publishing classics that have been published many times before. Even when the author is dead, and the book is long, and you're pretty sure nobody will ever read past page 600. At least one person should read all the way to the end before you publish it. You need a proofreader. (Contact me for my rates!)
This whole thing reminds me of not one but two Monty Python sketches: one you can read (and if you're a theatre lover, you definitely should), and one you can watch.