Middlemarch Summary

George Eliot


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Middlemarch Summary

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English author George Eliot’s Middlemarch, A Study of Provincial Life first appeared as a work of serialized fiction in eight volumes from 1871 to 1872. It takes place in the fictional town Middlemarch from 1829 to 1832. As was common of the fiction in Eliot’s time, the story contains multiple storylines and a vast collection of characters. Thematically, politics, religion, the place of women in society, and hypocrisy are all among the concepts utilized for character motivation. Although actual events such as the Reform Act of 1832 and the passing of the throne from King George IV to his brother King William IV are referenced, Middlemarch is categorized purely as a work of fiction. The book was the result of two different projects by Eliot. One was an earlier unfinished novel, also titled Middlemarch, while the other was a story titled “Miss Brooke.” By the time Middlemarch reached publication, George Eliot was widely regarded as the greatest English writer of fiction following the deaths of William Makepeace Thackeray in 1863 and Charles Dickens in 1870.

Rural life in the England of the early portion of the nineteenth century serves as the backdrop for Middlemarch. Murder, secrets of the past, and marital infidelities are among the events that challenge the relationships and interactions of the characters and their understanding of the world in which they live. Dorothea Brooke is a strong willed woman who hopes to change her society for the better. Dorothea serves as the novel’s central character. She has been enamored of an aged priest, Reverend Edward Casaubon, whom she marries. Soon, she realizes that the idealistic image she held of him was not his true self. Edward comes to believe that, as Dorothea becomes critical of him, she is also being swayed by negative information about Edward being fed to her by his cousin Will Ladislaw. This leads to Edward developing strong feelings of jealousy towards Ladislaw. Ultimately, Edward amends his will so that Dorothea will be disinherited should she marry Ladislaw after Edward’s death.

The beautiful Rosamond Vincy, meanwhile, has focused her attention on wooing the town’s new doctor, Teritus Lydgate. Doctor Lydgate shares an attitude that is similar to that of Dorothea in that his goal is not to amass wealth, but rather to focus on providing his services to help the poor people of his new town. Lydgate’s fiancée, on the other hand, does not share his altruistic approach to life, and in time, she plunges the couple into unmanageable debt. Lydgate is forced to borrow money from Nicholas Blustrode, a wealthy banker. The situation surrounding the loan makes it appear as if the loan were a bribe in the eyes of other people in the town. Dorothea, having had the personal experience of a difficult marriage, is able to help Rosamond and Lydgate understand each other better.

Other characters in the novel include Mary Garth and Fred Vincy. Fred and Mary have been attracted to each other since childhood. Mary is certain that Fred is the only man she could ever have a future with, but at the same time, is in no rush as she hopes that time will help him grow into the type of man she wants him to be. Fred has a debt that he is unable to repay; adding to the difficulty of the situation is the fact that an inheritance he was counting on did not materialize. He has not been able to come to grips with the reality of his life, nor has he been able to commit to a career that he feels comfortable with. Mary’s father is able to help Fred by making him an apprentice charged with watching over the Tipton Grange and Freshitt estates. Through some dealing, Caleb Garth is able to make it possible for Fred to live at Stone Court. Stone Court is the land that Fred thought he was going to inherit one day. Fred tends to the land, farming it, and eventually, he is able to purchase it. After he is able to do so, Mary finally agrees to marry him.

Throughout the novel, a romance grows between Dorothea and Will Ladislaw. Will’s interest in, and admiration for, Dorothea grows with time after initially being less than impressed with her. Dorothea has valued the friendship she has shared with Will, but when she finds out that Edward has taken action to block her from ever marrying Will, her attraction to him gets stronger. Publically, they do everything they can to keep their feelings for each other private, but eventually, they announce their plans to get married, which surprises the others in the town. Dorothea puts the possibility of having true love above the riches she stood to gain.

In total, George Eliot wrote six novels in addition to Middlemarch, including Silas Marner. George Eliot was the pen name of Mary Anne Evans, who selected a male pseudonym in the Victorian era as a way of avoiding the stereotype that women only wrote light romances.