Synopses & Reviews
One of the best loved and most accomplished of Victorian novels, _Middlemarch_ was originally published in serial form (1871-2) and remains an unsurpassed portrait of human nature, character, passion, ambition, and country life.
About the Author
Mary Ann Evans was born on November 22, 1819, at Chilvers Coton, Warwickshire, England, the last child of an estate agent. During her girlhood, she went through a phase of evangelical piety, but her strong interest in philosophy and her friendship with religious freethinkers led to a break with orthodox religion. When one of these friends married in 1843, Mary Ann took over from his wife the task of translating D.F. Strausss The Life of Jesus Critically Examined
(1846), a work that had deep effect on English rationalism. After her fathers death she settled in London and from 1851 to 1854 she served as a writer and editor of the Westminster Review
, the organ of the Radical party. In London she met she met George Henry Lewes, a journalist and advanced thinker. Lewes was separated from his wife, who had had two sons by another man, but had been unable to obtain a divorce. In a step daring for Victorian times, Mary Ann Evans began living openly with Lewes in 1854, in a union they both considered as sacred as a legal marriage and one that lasted until his death in 1878.
With Lewess encouragement, Mary Ann Evans wrote her first fictional work, “The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton,” for Blackwoods Magazine in 1857; it was followed by two more stories published under the pseudonym George Elliot-“George” because it was Lewess name and “Eliot” because, she said, it was good mouth-filling, easily pronounced word.” At the age of thirty-nine she used her memories of Warwickshire to write her first long novel, Adam Bede (1859), a book that established her as the foremost woman novelist in her day. Then came The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), and Romola (1863). Her masterpiece and one of the greatest English novels, Middlemarch, was published in 1871-72. Her last work was Daniel Deronda (1876). After Lewess death George Eliot married John Walter Cross. He was forty; she was sixty-one. Before her death on December 22, 1880, she had been recognized by her contemporaries as the greatest living writer of English fiction.
From the Paperback edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. Discuss the relationship between religious and secular, spiritual and worldly, in the novel. Is it conflicted or not? Why?
2. What is Eliot's view of ambition in its different forms-social, intellectual, political? How is this evident in the novel?
3. In her introduction, A. S. Byatt contends that Eliot was "the great English novelist of ideas." How do you interpret this? How do you think ideas-human thought-inform the plot of Middlemarch?
4. George Eliot is a pseudonym for Mary Ann Evans. How does Eliot's femaleness-and her concealing of it-add resonance to the novel, if at all? Do you see Dorothea's character differently in this regard? Do you see Middlemarch as a "women's" novel?
5. Middlemarch was originally published in serial form, a single book at a time. What kinds of concerns affected Eliot's narrative in this regard? How do these discrete segments differ from the whole?
6. Discuss the convention of marriage in the novel. Do you feel it ultimately restricts the characters? Or is it the novel's provincial setting that proves more oppressive?
7. Discuss the metaphor of Dorothea as St. Theresa. What is Eliot saying here?