Middlemarch is a rural village in England in the 1820's. It's a normal town with all the gossip and intrigue that engulfs a small town. There are politics, religion, and medicine to discuss, as well as the whispered scandals and romances.
Dorothea Brooke is an idealistic young woman who is very religious. She dresses severely, studies her bible, and is naive in many ways. Her sister, Celia, goes along with her sister's wishes but has a broader, more sensible view of life. They live in Tipton Grange with their older uncle. Mr. Brooke owns land in the area, is a landlord of a number of rented properties, is a bit eccentric, a bachelor, traveled in his youth, and is very interested in the local politics. He is considering running for Parliament.
Dr. Tertius Lydgate has just arrived in Middlemarch. He has bought the practice of the doctor who just retired. He studied in France and has new scientific ideas that he is certain will benefit the practice of medicine. He also doesn't believe he should give drugs, but instead prescribe them and let the patient get the medicines at the local hospital. He doesn't plan to marry for a few years so he can perform his experiments and get himself securely settled.
Dorothea meets Mr. Causabon, a 50-ish bachelor preacher whose lifelong work has been to write The Key to All Mythology. She is certain she can be useful to his work and his ministry. When he asks her to marry him she quickly agrees. In her self-glory and self-effacing, she doesn't see the loneliness of his lifestyle, his self-righteousness, or the jealousy of his cousin. She only sees how she can be more religious and righteous herself by giving him all her assistance and love.
Meanwhile Lydgate meets the Vincy family when the oldest son, Fred, gets dangerously ill. Mr. Vincy is the mayor of Middlemarch and is a businessman, not one of the landed gentry. The family lives comfortably. Rosamund, the daughter, is used to being pampered and getting what she wants. One thing she doesn't want is to marry a man from Middlemarch. Lydgate fits her ideal. She determines to marry him.
Those are the main two story lives from Middlemarch. But there are many more stories - Dorothea's rejected lover; Mr. Brooke and his bid for Parliament; the miserly bachelor Featherstone who is dying and manipulating all the people who hope to inherit; the poor vicar who supports his mother, aunt, and sister; Fred Vincy and his bid to make his own way in the world, the land manager and his family; and the self righteous banker who is backing the hospital and buying up land in the Middlemarch area.
This is a rich novel full of human passions and woes, social commentary, sermonizing, love, heartbreak, selfishness, selflessness, reality checks, and daily living. The first half is way too dense and hard to follow for modern readers. I'm sure when Middlemarch came out in its serial fashion in the 1880's it was a great book for the time. People would have read it aloud to each other, been in synch with the language, and would have discussed it between sections just as people discuss the television show Lost or the Harry Potter novels today. I felt that the last third helped make up for the first half, but that the first half, especially, could use some major editing today, especially when George Eliot started proselytizing. It would help to read it in small portions and discuss with others as you go. But if you're wanting to read a classic "just because" and are alone, this isn't the one for our times. Try Silas Marner instead.
Learn a little more about George Eliot.
These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
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