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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

See also Middlemarch, New Zealand.

Middlemarch is a novel by George Eliot, a pseudonym for the female author Mary Ann Evans. It was first published in 1871. It is set in the 1830s in Middlemarch, a fictional provincial town in England, based on Coventry. Widely seen as Eliot's greatest work, it is almost unanimously acclaimed as one of the great Victorian era novels.

Virginia Woolf described Middlemarch as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people". [1]

Plot summary

In Middlemarch, Eliot interweaves the stories of various friends, acquaintances, and relations in the fictional town of Middlemarch at a crucial time in English history. She demonstrates genuine compassion for each of her characters, yet she seeds her portraits with critical—even cynical—assessments of human hypocrisy and weakness. She is particularly tart on the topic of gender relations and the limited role of women.

The central character, Dorothea Brooke, is a beautiful and serious-minded young woman who yearns for knowledge and the power to help others. Eliot begins the novel by comparing her aspirations to those of Saint Theresa of Avila. Dorothea rejects a kindly but uninquisitive titled young man in favour of the Reverend Edward Casaubon, a clergyman in late middle-age who, she imagines, will teach her and engage her in great works. Her marriage proves a terrible mistake, as Casaubon disdains her efforts to assist him in his research, resents her youthful vigour and wit, and Dorothea begins to realize the meanness of his intellectual ambitions. Meanwhile, she makes the acquaintance of his poor cousin, Will Ladislaw, who truly admires her and who matches her in passion and ambition, but who is still trying to find his place in the world.

When Casaubon dies suddenly, Dorothea inherits his large fortune and tries to use it for the good of others, despite her indignation on finding, in the terms of his will, that she is specifically forbidden to marry Will Ladislaw, on pain of disinheritance. In the end, she gives up the inheritance in order to find true happiness with Will.

Dorothea's charitable works bring her into contact with Tertius Lydgate, a young doctor who plans to run a new charity hospital in anticipation of epidemic typhus reaching Middlemarch. He has dreams of achieving great medical advances while helping the poor in a small community where he can become closely acquainted with his patients. Lydgate falls in love with the pretty but vain and selfish Rosamond Vincy, and against his best judgement marries her; their financial improvidence puts Lydgate in debt to the disreputable but outwardly pious banker Nicholas Bulstrode, whose attempts to conceal certain seedy behaviour and connections in his past that he would condemn in anyone else, lead him eventually into real evil. Bulstrode never clears his name but finds true sympathy from his wife. Lydgate's idealistic dreams of making great advancements in medicine are destroyed by unwitting entanglements in local politics and the material and social strivings of his wife, which oblige him to leave Middlemarch and become a London doctor who caters to lucrative, wealthy clients, while stifling his own lofty goals.

Meanwhile, Fred Vincy, Rosamond's irresponsible brother, takes a step down socially and economically—but a step up in terms of integrity, love, and hard work—as he allies himself with the Garth family and, after much travail through the course of the novel, marries plain but kindhearted Mary Garth, somewhat of a polar opposite to Rosamond. Along with Dorothea, whose pursuit of great works of charity and godly deeds is deemed socially unacceptable, Mary is a possible stand-in for Eliot herself. She is sensible and loving, and when she publishes an historical volume for boys, nobody believes that a woman could have written it.

Middlemarch also contains a brilliant exploration of class distinctions and the impact they have on the lives of the characters. At the centre of this storyline stands the Vincy family, well-to-do leaders in the town, although Mrs. Vincy (Rosamond and Fred's mother) is the daughter of an inn keeper, clearly a blot on the family escutcheon. Their hope that Fred will become a clergyman--a real step up in class identity--throws their aspirations and prejudices into sharp relief. This line, in which he must choose between social advance or decline (marriage to Mary Garth, clearly a step beneath the Vincys) has a great connection to Mrs. Oliphant's wonderful mid-century novel Phoebe Junior, which explores the class implications of the division between Church and chapel. It also seems to prefigure the love stories in D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover and E.M. Forster's Maurice--in each of which the artificial lines of class threaten real love and true connection.

Characters in "Middlemarch"

  • Dorothea Brooke — A beautiful, intelligent, wealthy young woman who aspires to do great and godly work. Spurning signs of wealth in the form of jewels or fancy clothes, she embarks upon projects such as redesigning cottages for the tenants of her miserly, careless uncle. She can seldom get anyone to take her ideas seriously, and she decides to marry the Reverend Edward Casaubon, many decades her senior, in order to help him with the writing of his great research. The marriage is quickly revealed to be a mistake, as Casaubon does not take her seriously and resents her. She finds in the Reverend's cousin Will Ladislaw a kindred spirit, and the two become friends. After Casaubon's death, the two fall in love but fight their attraction due to the scandalousness of their relationship--Casaubon included in his will the provision that if she were to marry Ladislaw, she would be disinherited. Eventually they marry and move to London.
  • Tertius Lydgate — An idealistic young doctor of small financial means, he hopes to make great advancements in medicine through his research and charity hospital in Middlemarch. He ends up entangled with Rosamond Vincy, and they marry. His pride and attempts to show that he is not answerable to any man end up backfiring and he eventually leaves town. He quickly falls out of love with his wife and ends up sacrificing all of his high ideals in order to make a living that will please Rosamond.
  • Rev. Edward Casaubon — A middle-aged to elderly clergyman who is obsessed with finishing his scholarly research, to the exclusion of other people and things. He marries Dorothea Brooke, leading to a loveless marriage. His unfinished book The Key to All Mythologies is intended as a monument to the tradition of Christian syncretism.
  • Mary Garth — The practical, plain, and kind daughter of Caleb and Susan Garth, her family's financial situation has forced her work as Mr. Featherstone's nurse. She and Fred Vincy were childhood sweethearts, but she refuses to marry him so long as he is set on being a clergyman, believing that it would be ridiculous and hypocritical of him.
  • Mr. Brooke — The often befuddled and none-too-clever uncle of Dorothea and Celia Brooke. He has a reputation for being the worst landlord in the county, but tries to stand for parliament on a Reform platform.
  • Celia Brooke — Dorothea's more sensible younger sister who can't understand Dorothea's idealism and ascetism.
  • Sir James Chettam — A neighbouring landowner, Sir James is in love with Dorothea and tries to ingratiate himself to her by helping her with her plans to improve conditions for the tenants. When she marries Casaubon, he eventually comes to marry Celia Brooke.
  • Rosamond Vincy — Vain, beautiful and shallow, Rosamond has a high opinion of her charms and a low opinion of Middlemarch society. She marries Tertius Lydgate because she believes that he will make something great of himself, but comes to resent his medical practice. When her husband encounters financial difficulties, she thwarts his efforts to remedy the situation, unable to bear the idea of being disgraced in the eyes of the world.
  • Fred Vincy — Rosamond's brother. He has loved Mary Garth since they were children. His family is hoping that he will find a secure life as a clergyman but he knows that Mary will not marry him if he does become one. Brought up with expectations from his uncle Mr. Featherstone, he has a tendency to be spendthrift and irresponsible but later longs to find a profession at which he can be successful.
  • Will Ladislaw — A young cousin of Mr. Casaubon, he is poor 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. Causaubon's fortune.
  • Mr. & Mrs. Cadwallader — Neighbours of the Brookes. Mr. Cadwallader is a clergyman and Mrs. Cadwallader is a pragmatic lady who looks upon Dorothea's marriage and Mr. Brookes's parliamentary endeavors with suspicion.
  • Mr. & Mrs. Vincy — A respectable manufacturing family. They have a high opinion of their social position especially when compared to that of the Garths.
  • Mr. Caleb Garth — Mary Garth's father. He is a kind, honest, and generous businessman who is involved in farm management. He is fond of Fred and eventually takes him under his wing.
  • Mr. Farebrother — A poor but clever clergyman and amateur naturalist. He is a friend of Lydgate and Fred Vincy, and loves Mary Garth.
  • Nicholas Bulstrode — Wealthy banker married to Mr. Vincy's sister. He is a devout Christian who tries to impose his beliefs in Middlemarch society. However, he also has a sordid past which is desperate to hide.
  • Mr. Featherstone — Old landlord of Stonecourt who married Caleb Garth's sister and later on took Mr. Vincy's sister as his second wife when his first wife died.
  • Mr. Hawley — Foul-mouthed businessman and enemy of Bulstrode.
  • Mr. Mawmsey — Grocer.
  • Dr. Sprague — Middlemarch doctor.
  • Mr. Tyke — Clergyman.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

A BBC dramatisation of the novel, shown in 1994, had a cast including Michael Hordern, Robert Hardy, Rufus Sewell and Patrick Malahide.


  1. ^ The Common Reader: George Eliot Virginia Woolf, The Times Literary Supplement, 20 November 1919


  • Neale, Catherine (1989). George Eliot, Middlemarch. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-077173-5.
  • Dentith, Simon (1986). George Eliot. Brighton, Sussex: Harvester Press. ISBN 0-7108-0588-8.
  • 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.
  • Ashton, Rosemary (1983). George Eliot. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-287627-9.
  • Garrett, Peter K. (1980). The Victorian Multiplot Novel: Studies in Dialogical Form. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-02403-7.
  • Swinden, Patrick (ed.) (1972). George Eliot: Middlemarch: A Casebook. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-02119-3.
  • Carroll, David (ed.) (1971). George Eliot: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & K. Paul. ISBN 0-7100-6936-7.
  • Daiches, David (1963). George Eliot: Middlemarch. London: Arnold.
  • Harvey, W. J. (1961). The Art of George Eliot. London: Chatto & Windus.
  • Beaty, Jerome (1960). Middlemarch from Notebook to Novel: A Study of George Eliot's Creative Method. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
  • Kettle, Arnold (1951). An Introduction to the English Novel, Volume I: To George Eliot. London: Hutchinson.
  • Leavis, F. R. (1948). The Great Tradition: George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad. London: Chatto & Windus.


  • A primary school in Eliot's hometown of Nuneaton is named after the book.

External links

  • Middlemarch, available freely at Project Gutenberg
  • Middlemarch - complete book in HTML one page for each chapter.
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