Middlemarch is written by Mary Ann Evans whose pen name was George Elliot. She chose a man’s name thinking her work as a female will not be accepted. The story was published in eight parts from 1871 to 1872. In 1872 it was once again published in four volumes. It is the masterpiece of Middlemarch. Her work has touched upon almost all the class of society in the town of Middleamarch- from the landed gentry to labourers. The story however moves around two characters Dorothy Brooke and Tertius Lydgate whose idealism is thwarted and both of them marry different people that turns out to be disastrous.
Dorothea is an intelligent woman who marries a scholar many years older, Edward Casaubon. She is initially fascinated because she believes that she would have a partner who was not frivolous and superficial but he turns out to be a man of words alone with no time or emotion for anything else. He treats as his secretary and nothing more. Soon she begins to doubt his words about his work. To make things worse he doubts her friendship with Ladislaw, his cousin. Though she is disappointed in the marriage she stays in the marriage. He falls sick but forbids Ladislaw from visiting him fearing Dorothea and Ladislaw will fall in love. Casaubon wants Dorothea to promise that she would not marry Ladislaw after his death. He dies before hearing that promise. After his death she realises that Casaubon has disinherited her from his will if she married Ladislaw. Dorothea and Ladislaw stay apart for some time but eventually marry. Ladislaw becomes a politician and Dorothea has to once again live a life of sacrifice but she is happy.
The other main character is Lydgate. He is progressive doctor who is very passionate about his profession and research. He arrives in Middlemarch and finds Dorothea very intelligent and a good company but his idea of wife was one who would be subservient to her husband. So he marries Rosy Vincy who according to him fit the bill. Like Dorothea’s marriage after the initial days Lydgate’s marriage also loses its charm. Rosy is a woman who wants to keep moving up the social ladder and she is disappointed that her husband is giving her that opportunity as he was not getting rich as she imagined to get. Her expensive lifestyle forces Lydgate on the brink of financial crisis.
To tide over the financial crisis he seeks a loan from Nicholas Bulstrode, a banker, which is refused. Now comes another character John Raffle who knows the past of Bulstrode and blackmails him. To keep Raffles in good spirits he gives him a lot of money and even looks after him when he falls ill. Now Bulstrode takes the help of Lydgate. He offers to give Lydgate the loan he had asked earlier. Bulstrode does not follow the instructions of medication for Raffle and Raffle dies. The true story f Bulstrode and Raffle comes to light and everyone thinks Lydgate was also responsible for Raffles death. The only one who believes Lydgate is Dorothea. She I skind to him and helps himas much as possible. Lydgate and Rosamond leave for London. There Lydgate becomes popular and wealthy; Rosamond is happy. However Lydgate thinks he is a failure and he dies at the age of 50.
There is Fred Vincy, brother of Rosamond, who is training to be a clergy but is in love with Mary Garth. There is a landowner, a rector, the Vincys who are business people as Caleb Gath. There is another and a grocer. So George Elliot has got people of different walks of life making the main plot of Middlemarch a little more interesting.
The story is set in a fictional town in England, Middlemarch. The events take place in 1830s. There are some flashbacks to France and references to Rome but it is mostly set in Middlemarch. There are many stories running to parallel to the main plot. The narrator is a third person who knows all that is happening and this style is used by many over time and is an effective style of narration. There are many characters and the plot is also very lengthy in Middlemarch, so only a third person narration can be done.
The genre of the Middlemarch is historical fiction. The characters of the novel are from a time before the period when she wrote it. Also all the characters are fictional. Some opine that dating forty years before the current time is not really history but Sir Walter Scott’s first novel was about events and characters sixty years before his time. So Middlemarch is a historical fiction. Eliot was a scholar a little like Dorothea and the words and sentences are very descriptive. There are historical, literary, cultural and scientific references in her novel. Her writing is controlled and in the end all the plots come to its destined end. There is a prelude which is about St. Theresa of Avila. Before every chapter there is an epigraph in the form of quotes from works of other writers before her time. Eliot’s content and style has gotten her the name “Victorian Sage”.
The story has a scientific tone. Lives of different people are documented but it is not a dry documentation. The body of the document is augmented with love and hate, hope, fear and despair. The novel is sometimes cynical, critical, playful, hopeful and depressing. It is wholesome reading. Spirituality is a theme which stands out in Middlemarch. There is Fred who is training to be a clergy. There is rector and vicar in the story. There is talk about being clergy. There is a model clergy and there is some who is not. Fred did not want to become one. Spirituality does not refer to mention of religion but there are philosophical thoughts as well. There is Will who does not take tainted money from Bulstrode. Mistakes are done but there is atonement of mistakes and that is a spiritual progress. A woman broke the existing practises by writing a big novel with a scientific temperament in this Middlemarch.