In What Is It About Middlemarch? at Vulture.com a writer who is not a supporter of the general principle that literature is morally improving makes an argument for the change in perceptions that reading Middlemarch can bring about.
The article quotes Virginia Woolf who wrote that Middlemarch was ‘one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.’ If this sounds a bit sedate we can look to what Emily Dickinson wrote in a letter:
‘What do I think of Middlemarch?’ What do I think of glory except that in a few instances this ‘mortal has already put on immortality.’ George Eliot is one.’
There is no ideal degree structure. The modular one we use (and which is very common) makes it very difficult to fit in longer novels such as Eliot’s. 5 ECTS divisions allow flexibility in the composition of the degree, but they also ensure that it unlikely that longer or challenging texts such as Middlemarch (longer but easy to read), Joyce’s Ulysses, or The Lord of the Rings will ever appear on the syllabus. Some of the students now are the lecturers of the future so the academic prospects of longer novels don’t look very healthy.
As a final remark I shouldn’t say anything, however brief, about reading longer works without addressing an observation that seems to appear every second week in popular articles about changing reading habits. The internet generation cannot, it is said, deal with extended reading, a fact blatantly contradicted by the success of the later and longer Harry Potter novels, or a casual glance at the size of science fiction and fantasy novels that are both large enough to be used as furniture and often in interminable series (a trilogy is now short). The obvious fact is that people can give sustained attention to anything they’re interested in, and it is both silly and condescending to treat any generation of readers as congenital invalids.