One of the most accomplished and prominent novels of the Victorian era, Middlemarch is an unsurpassed portrait of nineteenth-century English provincial life. Dorothea Brooke is a young woman of fervent ideals who yearns to effect social change yet faces resistance from the society she inhabits. In this epic in a small landscape, Eliot's large cast of precisely delineated characters and the rich tapestry of their stories result in a wise, compassionate, and astute vision of human nature. As Virginia Woolf declared, George Eliot "was one of the first English novelists to discover that men and women think as well as feel, and the discovery was of great artistic moment."
Introduction by E. S. Shaffer
(Book Jacket Status: Not Jacketed)
Excerpted from Middlemarch by George Eliot. Copyright © 2000 by George Eliot. Excerpted by permission of Modern Library, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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?