Middlemarch: by George Eliot - Summary and Analysis

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      This novel, Middlemarch regarded by many as her masterpiece, was published in eight parts - the first on 1st December, 1871, and the last in December 1872. Nearly twenty-five thousand copies were sold at once, and it raised George Eliot to the rank of the first living novelist of England.

      Middlemarch is George Eliot's masterpiece. In it, George Eliot constructs one of the great novels of the century. She has returned from the past which she depicts in Romola to the contemporary period of English life. The novel is set in a Warwick shire town of the Reform period. The title means "middle of the marches" i.e., typically provincial. Here George Eliot condemns a society that denies ample scope to intellect and culture. The intellectual Dorothea Brooke interests Sir James Chettam, but she marries the pompous scholar, Edward Casaubon. Sir James marries her vivacious sister Celia. Casaubon's second cousin, Will Ladislaw, loving Dorothea causes Casaubon in his will to deny his property to Dorothea if she marries Will. Attending the dying Casaubon is Dr. Tertius Lydgate, a would-be medical researcher, who is drawn into the orbit of Middlemarch's influential banker, Nicholas Bulstrade. Rosamond Vincy is attracted to Lydgate and captures him. The drunken Raffles, blackmailing Bulstrode because of the banker's shady past, dies under Lydgate's treatment and causes accusations of malpractice. Dorothea supports Lydgate who moves to London and at his wife's insistence becomes a fashionable society physician. Will and Dorothea marry. Rosamond's weak brother is assured of a better future by marriage to the excellent Mary Garth.

      The novel takes its name from the town of Middlemarch in the, Midlands where the scene of the story is laid. Says Leslie Stephen, “Middlemarch is primarily a portrait of the circles which had been most familiar to her in youth, and its second title is “a study of provincial life”. Provincial life however, is to exemplify the results of a wider survey of contemporary society. One peculiarity of the hook is appropriate to this scheme. It is not a story, but a combination of at least three stories— the love affairs of Dorothea and Casaubon, of Rosamond Viney and Lydgate, and of Mary Garth and Fred Viney, which again are interwoven with the story of Bulstrode.

      The various actions get mixed together as they would naturally do in a country town. It is tiresome, of course, if a reader is to think only of the development of the plot. But when the purpose is to get a general picture of the manners and customs of a certain social stratum, and we are to be interested in all the “complex play of character and opinions of neighbors, the method is appropriate to the design. The individuals are shown as involved in the network of surrounding interests, which affect their development.”

Middlemarch is George Eliot's masterpiece.

Critical Analysis

      George Eliot fills the canvas with a host of memorable minor characters. Her technical ability is proved by her flawless dovetailing of the Dorothea and Lydgate plots originally planned as separate stories. Eliot makes an intellectual criticism of the age. The environment permits proper self-realization and creativity to the solid, non-intellectual Mary Gakth, but Dorothea with her searching constructive spirit is fated to frustration. In the modern age, the novel has been acclaimed as the greatest English novel, largely because it is the first novel in the English language concerned with intellectual life. The novel is remarkable for the structural unity achieved by the use of contrast, parallelism, and by what E. M. Forster says rhythm. The multifarious spectacles of life have been given the unity of design. The novel is great as much for its intellectual criticism as for its technical skill. Its different episodes are connected by contrasts and parallelism and its variety of characters completes the picture of the provincial life. It is epical in breadth, but dramatic in construction. Its intellectual criticism of life given the book its depth and dimension.

      Middlemarch gives us George Eliot’s most characteristic view of such matters. It is her answer to the question what on the whole is your judgment of commonplace English life? For provincialism is not really confined to the provinces. The personages who carry out the various plots of Middlemarch may be very lifelike portraits of real life, but they are seen from a particular point of view. The “prelude” gives the keynote. We are asked to remember the childish adventure of Saint Theresa setting out the seek martyrdom in the country of the Moors. There are later born Theresas, who had “no epic life with a constant unfolding of far-resonant action”.

      They have had to work amid “dim lights and tangled circumstances”. They have blundered accordingly; but “here and there is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heart-beats and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off, and are dispersed among hindrances, instead of centering on some long recognizable deed”. We are to see how such a nature manifests itself—no longer in the remote regions of arbitrary fancy, but in the commonplace atmosphere of a modern English town. In Middlemarch, there is full picture of the element of stupidity arid insensibility which is apt to clog the wings of aspiration.

      Middlemarch is “a work of extraordinary power, full of subtle and accurate observation, and gives, if a melancholy, yet an undeniably truthful portraiture of the impression made by the society of the time upon one of the keenest observers, though upon an observer looking at the world from certain distance, and rather too much impressed by the importance of philosophers and theorist.

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