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Definition: Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Novel by George Eliot, first published in 1871–72. Set in the fictitious provincial town of Middlemarch, the novel has several interwoven plots played out against a background of social and political upheaval.


Middlemarch, A Study of Provincial Life


Eliot, George

Summary Article: Middlemarch:
From The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English

A Study of Provincial Life A novel by George Eliot, published in 1871-2.

Initially the narrative concentrates on the blighted marriage of the wealthy young Puritanical idealist, Dorothea Brooke, to the middle-aged pedant, Dr Edward Casaubon, labouring fruitlessly on his Key to All Mythologies. Upon his death, affection develops between Dorothea and her former husband's cousin, Will Ladislaw, whom she eventually marries. Another strand traces the career of the equally idealistic Dr Tertius Lydgate, devotee of scientific progress and the new medicine, and his marriage to the local mayor's daughter, Rosamund Vincy, whose foolish social ambitions ruin his life. A third narrative depicts the down-to-earth relationship between Rosamund's brother Fred and Mary Garth, daughter of the honest estate manager, Caleb Garth. The affairs of Bulstrode, the rich hypocritical banker who harbours a grim secret, are also followed to their humiliating end. These narratives involve many sharply observed minor characters: Dorothea's uncle Mr Brooke, a characteristic early 19th-century landowner and source of much unintentional humour; Mrs Cadwallader, the witty wife of the Rector, himself hardly a fisher of souls; Sir James Chettam, a stolid local squire who marries Dorothea's sister, Celia; Mrs Bulstrode, a woman of dignity and integrity, and the billiard-playing vicar, Camden Farebrother. Beyond them is a huge gallery of briefer portraits of servants, auctioneers, clergymen, businessmen, housewives, labourers, tenants, medical men, schoolmistresses, children and apothecaries. Even those who appear fleetingly are fused into a portrait of English economic, social, and religious life during the pre-Reform years 1829-32.

All the characters and the narrative strands in which they play their part serve George Eliot's purpose of examining the ‘web of society’ and asking whether it merely destroys or is eventually improved by ardent but flawed souls like Dorothea and Lydgate.

The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, © Cambridge University Press 2000

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