The Basic Couple
When Virginia Woolf said of Middlemarch that it was among the few English novels ‘for grown-up people’, she didn’t explain what she meant. It’s clear that the novel looks back critically (and forgivingly) at the moral youthfulness that lands Dorothea in a marriage to an older man whose scholarly seriousness is uncompromised by wit or sexual charm; but Woolf seems to have pitied Dorothea for hanging on to some of the same earnestness in her second marriage, ‘seeking wisdom and finding one scarcely knows what’. Maturity may remain too hard to attain, in life and art, for its fictional representation to have been achieved very often. If novels for grown-ups have been rare in England, it has been doubted whether in the US we have produced any at all.