George Eliot & 'Middlemarch'

Come with me into a world of passion and ambition, corruption and secrets, loyalty and faithlessness, and discover why Middlemarch is considered one of the world’s greatest works of fiction.

Virginia Woolf described George Eliot’s Middlemarch as “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people”. Do you agree? I think Woolf is being too simplistic, but I strongly feel that no intelligent person should go through life without reading this extraordinary book.

The history of Middlemarch is unique – George Eliot initially wrote it as separate stories and it was first published in 8 instalments between 1871 and 1872, in bi-monthly parts. It was then published as a novel in 1872. In spite of the history of its composition, modern criticism praises the novel for its unity and tight organisation. It is considered her finest and most substantial book.

“What do I think of ‘Middlemarch’? What do I think of glory?”
– Emily Dickinson

To be born a female with a formidable brain and a plain face was a terrible handicap in Victorian England. In any age George Eliot would have been extraordinary, but in the Victorian era she challenged conventional norms, she extended the boundaries of fiction, she rejected religion and, eventually, she gained acceptance as a great writer in spite of the scandal of her life choices. I have always admired her enormously.

If you know and love Middlemarch you would probably enjoy The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot by Rebecca Mead. Mead first read the book at the age of 17, and re-reads it every five years and her book is an exploration of her very passionate relationship with Eliot’s classic. She shows how reading Middlemarch can make you think more carefully about marriage and friendships, and how to find more value in ordinary life. I did not always agree with everything Mead wrote, but I found her book thought-provoking and interesting.

This is a long and wordy novel, but a great one. How relevant is its message today? What did you think of the final chapter of Middlemarch – were you happy with the fates of the major characters? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

Learn more about George Eliot’s life and work, the themes, styles and characters in the book, and perhaps enjoy sharing discussion questions with your book group – or even here with me. My Reader’s Guide has all this and more about this memorable novel. I always love to hear what you think. Leave a comment.

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