For the last several months I've been reading George Eliot's masterpiece Middlemarch, as part of the year long "Mission Impossible" project sponsored by the Evanston Public Library. I wrote about Middlemarch last fall, and since then have almost finished but not quite yet. It is so engrossing that I am no longer sticking to the assigned readings, as it is more rewarding to race ahead.
One author I've always meant to read but never have is Anthony Trollope. That finally changed after absorbing Adam Gopnik's tribute to Trollope a few weeks ago. Gopnik's enthusiasm prompted the purchase of Trollope's Phineas Finn, the coming-of-age story of a rural young man who assumes a seat in Parliament. (A purchase which occurred at the Seminary Coop, one of the most glorious of Chicago's bookstores.)
This particular Gopnik sentence sings: "What makes Trollope a novelist rather than a polemicist is that, although he is on the side of reform, he is capable of empathetic engagement with its victims." Trollope's quest for reform is very specific to the political conditions of Britain in his lifetime. But the writer's imperative for empathy is universal.
The novel is the art form best suited to plumbing the depths of the human psyche, as it allows for a degree of interiority and exposition that is harder to achieve in other art forms. We are indeed living in a golden age of television, and I will miss Mad Men greatly. Nonetheless we will always need novels.