Eliot said that her plots signified less than her treatment of the actions did, and her readers usually agree. The dominant organizing force in Middlemarch is the narrative voice, introducing characters and scenes, analyzing confrontations, sketching backgrounds and motives, posing questions to check a reader’s too-easy inferences, and casting over all the Wise Woman’s insight into people as they are, not as one might wish them to be. The narrative voice is often sympathetic, often ironic, often sadly reporting realistic consequences of ill-considered choices and illusory expectations.

The narrator introduces scenes of vivid drama that place the reader into first one, then another, of the small groups that comment on one another and compose the mental and moral climate of provincial life. The community judges Mr. Brooke’s mind to be too “rambling”; readers hear for themselves his half-starts about having once “gone into” almost everything. Similarly, the reader sees and hears directly Old Featherstone’s attempt in his dying hours to beat Mary Garth into submission; Mrs. Dollop’s unscientific assessment of Lydgate’s introduction of autopsies, delivered with other uninformed opinions at the Tankard public house in Slaughter Lane; Caleb Garth’s firm severing of his employment by the disgraced Bulstrode; the intense climactic exchange between Dorothea and Rosamond; Henrietta Noble’s loving pleas; and Mrs. Cadwallader’s witty denunciations of an...

(The entire section is 608 words.)