Middlemarch: A Story of Provincial Life by George Eliot (1874)

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Adapted from the 1996 Barnes and Noble edition of Middlemarch: A Story of Provincial Life (1874) by George Eliot: Dorothea Brooke is a beautiful young woman of the gentry, but her passion for knowledge and her fervent spirituality set her apart from her surroundings — a Victorian society that believes a woman’s highest ambition should be to marry a well-to-do young man.

Tertius Lydgate is a brilliant doctor who has dedicated his energies to medical research, but his unbending idealism and lofty goals rankle the conventional thinking of the townspeople.

Despite their extraordinary character, both are destined to marriages that are not only unfulfilling, but that also strike at their ambitions and dreams. Dorothea marries an aging scholar, believing she can pursue an unfettered life of higher learning with him. Lydgate marries a beautiful, socially ambitious woman, who leads them to live beyond their means.

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Middlemarch by George Eliot

Middlemarch by George Eliot on Amazon

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Their struggles form the emotional core of this complex story of desire and frustration, duty and moral choice, freedom and societal strictures. In this masterpiece of exposition, George Eliot scrupulously builds a richly textured picture of a provincial Victorian town.

But it is no static portrait. She populates the town with people whose struggles with love, relationships and their own ambitions are instantly recognizable.

By turns satirical, suspenseful, enlightening and evocative, Middlemarch remains one of the great works of world literature.

 

An excerpt from Chapter 3 of Middlemarch

…  It was three o’clock in the beautiful breezy autumn day when Mr. Casaubon drove off to his Rectory at Lowick, only five miles from Tipton; and Dorothea, who had on her bonnet and shawl, hurried along the shrubbery and across the park that she might wander through the bordering wood with no other visible companionship than that of Monk, the Great St. Bernard dog, who always took care of the young ladies in their walks.

There had risen before her the girl’s vision of a possible future for herself to which she looked forward with trembling hope, and she wanted to wander on in that visionary future without interruption. She walked briskly in the brisk air, the color rose in her cheeks, and her straw bonnet (which our contemporaries might look at with conjectural curiosity as at an obsolete form of basket) fell a little backward.

She would perhaps be hardly characterized enough if it were omitted that she wore her brown hair flatly braided and coiled behind so as to expose the outline of her head in a daring manner at a time when public feeling required the meagreness of nature to be dissimulated by tall barricades of frizzed curls and bows, never surpassed by any great race except the Feejeean.

This was a trait of Miss Brooke’s asceticism. But there was nothing of an ascetic’s expression in her bright full eyes, as she looked before her, not consciously seeing, but absorbing into the intensity of her mood, the solemn glory of the afternoon with its long swathes of light between the far-off rows of limes, whose shadows touched each other.

All people, young or old (that is, all people in those ante-reform times), would have thought her an interesting object if they had referred the glow in her eyes and cheeks to the newly awakened ordinary images of young love: the illusions of Chloe about Strephon have been sufficiently consecrated in poetry, as the pathetic loveliness of all spontaneous trust ought to be.

Miss Pippin adoring young Pumpkin, and dreaming along endless vistas of unwearying companionship, was a little drama which never tired our fathers and mothers, and had been put into all costumes. Let but Pumpkin have a figure which would sustain the disadvantages of the shortwaisted swallow-tail, and everybody felt it not only natural but necessary to the perfection of womanhood, that a sweet girl should be at once convinced of his virtue, his exceptional ability, and above all, his perfect sincerity.

But perhaps no persons then living—certainly none in the neighborhood of Tipton—would have had a sympathetic understanding for the dreams of a girl whose notions about marriage took their color entirely from an exalted enthusiasm about the ends of life, an enthusiasm which was lit chiefly by its own fire, and included neither the niceties of the trousseau, the pattern of plate, nor even the honors and sweet joys of the blooming matron.

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