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Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life
Middlemarch 1.jpg
Title page, first ed., Vol. 1, William Blackwood and Sons, 1871 (First volume of eight)
Author George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)
Language English
Genre Novel, Historical novel[1]
Published 1871–2
Publisher William Blackwood and Sons
Media type Print
Preceded by Felix Holt, The Radical (1866)
Followed by Daniel Deronda (1874–6)

Middlemarch, subtitled A Study of Provincial Life, is a novel by English author George Eliot, first published in eight instalments (volumes) during 1871–2. Set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during the period 1830–32,[2] the novel contains multiple plot strands, with a large cast of characters and distinct (though interlocking) narratives. Significant themes include the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism, self-interest, religion, hypocrisy, political reform, and education.

Although containing comical elements, Middlemarch is a work of realism; amongst the historical events and changes it makes reference to are the Great Reform Bill, the beginnings of the railways, the death of King George IV, and the succession of his brother, the Duke of Clarence (the future King William IV). In addition, the work incorporates contemporary medical science and examines the deeply reactionary mindset found within a settled community facing the prospect of unwelcome change.

Eliot began writing the two pieces that would eventually form Middlemarch during the years 1869–70 and completed the novel in 1871. Although the first reviews were mixed, it is now widely regarded as her best work and one of the greatest novels in English.[3]


Composition and publication[edit]

Middlemarch originates in two unfinished pieces that Eliot worked on during the years 1869 and 1870: the novel "Middlemarch"[a] (which focused on the character of Lydgate) and the long story "Miss Brooke" (which focused on the character of Dorothea).[4] The former piece is first mentioned in her journal on 1 January 1869 as one of the tasks for the coming year. In August she began writing, but progress ceased in the following month amidst a lack of confidence about it and distraction caused by the illness of Lewes's son Thornie, who was dying of tuberculosis.[5] Following his death on 19 October 1869, all work on the novel stopped; it is uncertain at this point whether or not Eliot intended to revive it at a later date.[6] In December she writes of having begun a story on a subject that she had considered "ever since I began to write fiction".[7] By the end of the month she had written 100 pages of the story and entitled it "Miss Brooke". Although a precise date is unknown, the process of incorporating material from "Middlemarch" into the story she had been working on was ongoing by March 1871.[8][4]

George Eliot

Eliot's most recent novel, Felix Holt, had been published more than two years earlier and had not sold well.[9] Despite this, the projected new novel was to be set in the same pre-Reform Bill England as Felix Holt, and would again deal with the reform issue, although less centrally.

Lewes, who acted as Eliot's literary agent, suggested to the publisher John Blackwood that the novel be brought out in eight two-monthly parts, borrowing from the method of Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables.[10] The eight books duly appeared throughout 1872, the last instalments appearing in successive months: November and December 1872.[11]


The story is written as a third person narrative, centering on the lives of the residents of Middlemarch, a Midlands town during the 1830s. Dorothea Brooke appears set for a comfortable and idle life as the wife of neighbouring landowner Sir James Chettam, but to the dismay and bewilderment of her sister Celia and her uncle Mr Brooke, she marries Edward Casaubon. Expecting to find fulfilment by sharing in his intellectual life, Dorothea realises his animosity towards her ambitions during an unhappy honeymoon in Rome. Slowly she realises that his great project is doomed to failure and her feelings change to to pity. Dorothea forms a warm friendship with a young cousin of Casaubon's, Will Ladislaw, but her husband's antipathy towards him is clear and he is forbidden to visit. In poor health, Casaubon attempts to extract from Dorothea a promise that, should he die, she will "avoid doing what I should deprecate and apply yourself to do what I desire". He dies before she is able to reply, and she later learns of a provision to his will that, if she marries Ladislaw, she will lose her inheritance.

Meanwhile the young doctor Tertius Lydgate arrives in Middlemarch. Through his voluntary hospital work he meets the town's financier, Mr. Bulstrode, and through him Bulstrode's niece, the mayor's beautiful daughter Rosamond Vincy; Rosamond is attracted to Lydgate, particularly by what she believes to be his aristocratic connections. They marry, and in Lydgate's efforts to please Rosamond is soon deeply in debt and forced to seek help from Bulstrode. He is partly sustained through this by his friendship with Camden Farebrother.

Meanwhile Rosamond's brother, Fred, is reluctantly destined for the Church. He is in love with his childhood sweetheart, Mary Garth, who will not accept him until he abandons the Church and settles on a more suitable career. At one time Fred had been bequeathed a considerable fortune by Mr Featherstone, but Featherstone later rescinded this will. However, Featherstone, on his deathbed, begs Mary to destroy this second will. Mary refuses and begs Featherstone to wait until the morning when a new legal will can be drawn up, but he dies before being able to. In debt, Fred is forced to take out a loan guaranteed by Mary's father, Caleb Garth. Then, when Fred cannot pay the loan, Caleb Garth's finances become compromised. This humiliation shocks Fred into reassessing his life, and he resolves to train as a land agent under the forgiving Caleb.

The novel focuses on these three interwoven narratives, alongside the comic attempt by Mr Brooke to enter Parliament as a sponsor of Reform, until the last third. Then a new thread emerges, with the appearance of John Raffles, who knows of Bulstrode's shady past and plans to blackmail him. In his youth, the church-going Bulstrode engaged in questionable financial dealings; he also owes the foundation of his fortune to a marriage to a much older, wealthy widow. Bulstrode's terror of public exposure as a hypocrite leads him to hasten the death of the mortally sick Raffles by giving him access to forbidden alcohol and large amounts of opium. But Raffles had already spread the word. Bulstrode's disgrace engulfs Lydgate, as knowledge of the financier's loan to the doctor becomes known, and he is assumed to be complicit with Bulstrode. Only Dorothea and Farebrother maintain faith in Lydgate, but Lydgate and Rosamond are encouraged by the general opprobrium to leave Middlemarch. The disgraced and reviled Bulstrode's only consolation is that his wife stands by him as he, too, faces exile.

The final plot strand concerns Ladislaw. The peculiar nature of Casaubon's will leads to suspicion that Ladislaw and Dorothea are lovers, creating an awkwardness between the two. Ladislaw is secretly in love with Dorothea, but keeps that to himself, having no desire to involve her in scandal or to cause her disinheritance. He remains in Middlemarch, working as a newspaper editor for Mr Brooke; when Brooke's election campaign collapses, he decides to leave the town and visits Dorothea to make his farewell. But Dorothea has also fallen in love with Ladislaw, whom she had previously seen only as her husband's unfortunate relative. However, the peculiar nature of Casaubon's will led her to begin to see him in a new light. Renouncing Casaubon's fortune, she shocks her family again by announcing that she will marry Ladislaw. At the same time, Fred, who has been successful in his career, marries Mary.

The finale summarise the protagonists' fortunes over the following 30 years or so, and book ends as it began, with Dorothea: "Her full nature […] spent itself in channels which had no great name on the Earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts."


Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw
Mary Garth and Fred Vincy
Rosamond Vincy and Tertius Lydgate
  • Dorothea Brooke — Is an intelligent, wealthy woman with great aspirations. Dorothea avoids displaying her wealth and embarks upon projects such as redesigning cottages for her uncle's tenants. She marries the elderly Reverend Edward Casaubon, with the idealistic idea of helping him with his research project, The Key to All Mythologies. However, the marriage was a mistake, as Casaubon does not take her seriously and resents her youth, enthusiasm, and energy. Her requests to assist him makes it more difficult for him to conceal that his research is years out of date. Because of Casaubon's coldness during their honeymoon, Dorothea becomes friends with his relative, Will Ladislaw, Some years after Casaubon's death she falls in love with Will and marries him.
  • Tertius Lydgate — An idealistic, talented, but naïve young doctor, but though of good birth he is relatively poor. Lydgate hopes to make great advancements in medicine through his research. However, he ends up in an unhappy marriage to Rosamond Vincy. His attempts to show that he is not answerable to any man fails and he eventually has to leave town. He ends up sacrificing all of his high ideals in order to please his wife.
  • Rev. Edward Casaubon — A pedantic, selfish, elderly clergyman who is obsessed with his scholarly research. Because of this his marriage to Dorothea is loveless. His unfinished book The Key to All Mythologies is intended as a monument to the tradition of Christian syncretism. However, his research is out of date because he does not read German. He is aware of this but will not admit this to anyone.
  • Mary Garth — The practical, plain, and kind daughter of Caleb and Susan Garth, she works as Mr. Featherstone's nurse. She and Fred Vincy were childhood sweethearts, but she refuses to allow him to woo her until he shows himself willing and able to live seriously, practically, and sincerely.
  • Arthur Brooke — The often befuddled and none-too-clever uncle of Dorothea and Celia Brooke. He has a reputation as the worst landlord in the county, but stands for parliament on a Reform platform.
  • Celia Brooke — Dorothea's younger sister is a great beauty. She is more sensual than Dorothea and does not share her sister's idealism and asceticism, and is only too happy to marry Sir James Chettam, when Dorothea rejects him.
  • Sir James Chettam — A neighbouring landowner, Sir James is in love with Dorothea and helps her with her plans to improve conditions for the tenants. When she marries Casaubon, he marries Celia Brooke.
  • Rosamond Vincy — Is vain, beautiful, and shallow, Rosamond has a high opinion of her own charms and a low opinion of Middlemarch society. She marries Tertius Lydgate because she believes that he will raise her social standing and keep her comfortable. When her husband encounters financial difficulties, she thwarts his efforts to economise, seeing such sacrifices as beneath her and insulting. She is unable to bear the idea of losing status in Middlemarch society.
  • Fred Vincy — Rosamond's brother. He has loved Mary Garth from childhood. His family hopes that he will advance his class standing by becoming a clergyman, but he knows that Mary will not marry him if he does so. Brought up expecting an inheritance from his uncle Mr Featherstone, he is spendthrift. He later changes because of his love for Mary, and finds, by studying under Mary's father, a profession through which he gains Mary's respect.
  • Will Ladislaw — A young cousin of Mr Casaubon, he has no property because his grandmother married a poor Polish musician and was disinherited. He is a man of great verve, idealism and talent but of no fixed profession. He comes to love Dorothea, but cannot marry her without her losing Mr Casaubon's property.
  • Humphrey Cadwallader and Eleanor Cadwallader — Neighbours of the Brookes. Mr. Cadwallader is a Rector. Mrs. Cadwallader is a pragmatic and talkative woman who comments on local affairs with wry cynicism. She disapproves of Dorothea's marriage and Mr. Brooke's parliamentary endeavours.
  • Walter Vincy and Lucy Vincy — A respectable manufacturing family. They wish their children to advance socially, and are disappointed by both Rosamond's and Fred's marriages. Mr. Vincy's sister is married to Nicholas Bulstrode. Mrs. Vincy was an innkeeper's daughter and her sister was the second wife of Mr. Featherstone.
  • Caleb Garth — Mary Garth's father. He is a kind, honest, and generous businessman who is a surveyor and land agent involved in farm management. He is fond of Fred and eventually takes him under his wing.
  • Camden Farebrother — A poor but clever vicar and amateur naturalist. He is a friend of Lydgate and Fred Vincy, and loves Mary Garth. His position improves when Dorothea appoints him to a living after Casaubon's death.
  • Nicholas Bulstrode — Wealthy banker married to Mr. Vincy's sister, Harriet. He is a pious Methodist who tries to impose his beliefs in Middlemarch society; however, he also has a sordid past which he is desperate to hide. His religion favours his personal desires, and is devoid of sympathy for others.
  • Peter Featherstone — Old landlord of Stone Court, a self-made man who married Caleb Garth's sister and later took Mrs. Vincy's sister as his second wife when his first wife died.
  • Jane Waule - A widow and Peter Featherstone's sister, has a son, John.
  • Mr. Hawley — Foul-mouthed businessman and enemy of Bulstrode.
  • Mr. Mawmsey — Grocer.
  • Dr. Sprague — Middlemarch doctor.
  • Mr. Tyke — Clergyman favoured by Bulstrode.
  • Rigg Featherstone — Featherstone's illegitimate son who appears at the reading of Featherstone's will and is given his fortune instead of Fred. He is also related to John Raffles, who comes into town to visit Rigg but instead reveals Bulstrode's past. His appearance in the novel is crucial to the plot.
  • John Raffles — Raffles is a braggart and a bully, a humorous scoundrel in the tradition of Sir John Falstaff, and an alcoholic. But unlike Shakespeare's fat knight, Raffles is a genuinely evil man. He holds the key to Bulstrode's dark past and Lydgate's future.

Critical reception[edit]

Contemporary reviews[edit]

The Examiner, The Spectator and Athenaeum reviewed each of the eight books that comprise Middlemarch as they were published during December 1871 to December 1872;[12] such reviews hence speculated as to the eventual direction of the plot and responded accordingly.[13] Contemporary response to the novel was mixed. Writing during it serialisation, the Spectator '​s reviewer R. H. Hutton criticised the work for what he perceived as its melancholic quality.[14] Athenaeum, reviewing after its 'serialisation', found the work overwrought and thought that it would have benefited from hastier composition.[b][15] Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine '​s reviewer W. L. Collins noted the work's most forceful impression to be its ability make the reader sympathise with the characters.[16] Edith Simcox of Academy offered high praises, hailing the work as a landmark event in fiction owing to the originality of its form; she rated it first amongst Eliot's oeuvre, which meant it "has scarcely a superior and very few equals in the whole wide range of English fiction".[17] In 1873, the poet Emily Dickinson wrote in a letter to her cousins Louise and Fannie Norcross:[18]

"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 was one. The mysteries of human nature surpass the "mysteries of redemption," for the infinite we only suppose, while we see the finite

In separate centuries, Florence Nightingale and Kate Millett both remarked on the eventual subordination of Dorothea's own dreams to those of her admirer, Ladislaw.[19] However, in the epilogue George Eliot herself acknowledges the regrettable waste of Dorothea's potential, blaming social conditions.

Later responses[edit]

The immediate success of Middlemarch may have been proportioned rather to the author's reputation than to its intrinsic merits. ... [the novel] seems to fall short of the great masterpieces which imply a closer contact with the world of realities and less preoccupation with certain speculative doctrines.

Leslie Stephen, George Eliot (1902)[20]

Critical reception towards Middlemarch remained in the early twentieth century as divided it had been during and after its initial publication; hence the critic Leslie Stephen was less than favourable towards the novel,[20] whilst his daughter Virginia Woolf gave the book unstinting praise, describing Middlemarch as "the magnificent book that, with all its imperfections, is one of the few English novels written for grown-up people".[21] Critic F. R. Leavis' discussion of the novel within his The Great Tradition has been hailed as the beginning of the critical consensus that exists towards the novel, in which it is hailed not only as Eliot's finest work but as one of the greatest novels in English. V. S. Pritchett, in The Living Novel, wrote, "No Victorian novel approaches Middlemarch in its width of reference, its intellectual power, or the imperturbable spaciousness of its narrative […] I doubt if any Victorian novelist has as much to teach the modern novelists as George Eliot […] No writer has ever represented the ambiguities of moral choice so fully".[22] Critic Jerome Beaty argues that one could read Middlemarch as George Eliot's Reform novel, although political history is represented only "indirectly".[23] Both author C.S. Lewis and Nobel Laureate Peter Medawar proclaimed 'Middlemarch' to be the best of all English Novels.[24] While the contemporary novelists Martin Amis and Julian Barnes have both described it as probably the greatest novel in the English language.[25][26]

Popular since its first publication,[27] the novel has remained a favourite with readers, and In 2003 it was listed at number 27 on the BBC's The Big Read.[28] In January 2007, Middlemarch was number 10 in "The 10 Greatest Books of All Time", based on a ballots of 125 selected writers.[29]

Legacy and adaptations[edit]

Middlemarch has been adapted for multiple television and film projects.



  1. ^ The title of this earlier work is put in quotes in order to distinguish it from the eventual novel of the same title.
  2. ^ The novel was completed before being published in eight instalments (volumes).


  1. ^ Mason, Michael York (1971). "Middlemarch and History". Nineteenth-Century Fiction 25 (4): 417–431. Retrieved 24 March 2015.  (subscription required)
  2. ^ Carolyn Steedman, "Going to Middlemarch: History and the Novel", Michigan Quarterly Review XL, no. 3 (Summer 2001). Retrieved 13 April 2013
  3. ^ Leavis, The Great Tradition
  4. ^ a b Swinden (1972), p. 12.
  5. ^ Ashton, p. 300
  6. ^ Ashton, p. 295
  7. ^ Swinden (1972), p. 29.
  8. ^ Ashton, pp. 311–12
  9. ^ Ashton, p. 287
  10. ^ Ashton (1994), p. viii.
  11. ^ Donald Gray, p. 191
  12. ^ Swinden (1972), p. 13.
  13. ^ Swiden (1972), p. 14.
  14. ^ Hutton, R. H. "Review of Middlemarch", Spectator, 1 June 1872.
  15. ^ Athenaeum, 7 December 1872.
  16. ^ Collins, W. L. Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, December 1872.
  17. ^ Simcox, Edith, Academy, 1 January 1873.
  18. ^ Linscott, Robert N., 1959. Selected Poems and Letters of Emily Dickinson, Anchor Books, Random House, New York, p. 242
  19. ^ Millet (1972), Sexual Politics, Nightingale quoted in George Eliot and Gender, Kate Flint 2001
  20. ^ a b Stephen, Leslie (1902). George Eliot (2010 ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 172–184. 
  21. ^ Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader, 1925, p. 175.
  22. ^ "Journal of the History of Medicine" (PDF). Oxford Journals. January 1981 .
  23. ^ Beaty, Jerome. "History by Indirection: The Era of Reform in Middlemarch." Victorian Studies. 1.2, 1957, p. 179
  24. ^ Memoir of a Thinking Radish, Peter Medawar, Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 88
  25. ^ Long, Camilla. Martin Amis and the sex war, The Times, 24 January 2010, p. 4: "They’ve [women] produced the greatest writer in the English language ever, George Eliot, and arguably the third greatest, Jane Austen, and certainly the greatest novel, Middlemarch..."
  26. ^ Guppy, Shusha (Winter 2000). "Julian Barnes, The Art of Fiction No. 165". The Paris Review (157). Retrieved 18 May 2011 .
  27. ^ Dolin Tim. George Eliot. Oxford UP, 2005. 99.
  28. ^ "BBC – The Big Read". BBC. April 2003, Retrieved 28 October 2012
  29. ^ Grossman, Lev (15 January 2007). "The 10 Greatest Books of All Time". Time. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  30. ^ "Middlemarch". Screenonline. British Film Institute. Retrieved 21 March 2015. 
  31. ^ "What's On: Middlemarch: 'Dorothea's Story'". OrangeTreeTheater.co.uk. 


  • Adam, Ian, ed. (1975). This Particular Web: essays on Middlemarch. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 
  • Ashton, Rosemary (1983). George Eliot. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-287627-9. 
  • Ashton, Rosemary (1994). "Introduction". In Eliot, George. Middlemarch. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-141-43954-9. 
  • Beaty, Jerome (1960). Middlemarch from Notebook to Novel: A Study of George Eliot's Creative Method. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 
  • Beaty, Jerome (December 1957). "History by Indirection: The Era of Reform in "Middlemarch"". Victorian Studies 1 (2): 173–179. ISSN 0042-5222. 
  • Bloom, Harold, ed. (2009). George Eliot. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea. ISBN 9781438116006. 
  • Carroll, David, ed. (1971). George Eliot: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & K Paul. ISBN 0-7100-6936-7. 
  • Chase, Karen, ed. (2006). Middlemarch in the Twenty-First Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  • Daiches, David (1963). George Eliot: Middlemarch. London: Arnold. 
  • Dentith, Simon (1986). George Eliot. Brighton, Sussex: Harvester Press. ISBN 0-7108-0588-8. 
  • Garrett, Peter K (1980). The Victorian Multiplot Novel: Studies in Dialogical Form. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-02403-7. 
  • Graver, Suzanne (1984). George Eliot and Community: A Study in Social Theory and Fictional Form. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-04802-4. 
  • Harvey, WJ (1961). The Art of George Eliot. London: Chatto & Windus. 
  • Harvey, W. J. (1967). "Criticism of the Novel: Contemporary Reception". In Hardy, Barbara Nathan. Middlemarch: Critical Approaches to the Novel (2013 ed.). London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781472536143. 
  • Kettle, Arnold (1951). An Introduction to the English Novel, Volume I: To George Eliot. London: Hutchinson. 
  • Leavis, FR (1948). The Great Tradition: George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad. London: Chatto & Windus. 
  • Neale, Catherine (1989). George Eliot, Middlemarch. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-077173-5. 
  • Swinden, Patrick, ed. (1972). George Eliot: Middlemarch: A Casebook. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-02119-3. 
  • Tillotson, Geoffrey, ed. (1951). Criticism and the Nineteenth Century Novel. London. 
  • Trainini, Marco, Vendetta, tienimi compagnia. Due vendicatori in «Middlemarch» di George Eliot e «Anna Karenina» di Lev Tolstoj, Milano, Arcipelago Edizioni, 2012, ISBN 8876954759.

Further reading[edit]

Contemporary Reviews[edit]

  • Hutton, R. H. Spectator 1 June 1872.
  • Hutton, R. H. British Quarterly Review 1 April 1873.
  • Athenaeum 7 December 1872.
  • Collins, W. L. Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine December 1872.
  • Simcox, Edith, Academy 1 January 1873.
  • Colvin, Sidney, Fortnightly Review 1 January 1873.
  • Bentzon, TH. Revue des Deux Mondes February 1873.
  • Broome, F. N. The Times 7 March 1873.
  • Henry James, Galaxy March 1873. [1]

External links[edit]