Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
In the context of postrevolutionary England’s sluggish attempts at political reform, George Eliot details in Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life the range of a tradition-bound provincial mentality unable to comprehend and unwilling to accept change. She begins by uniting two narratives begun separately, both about self-deluded idealists, Dorothea Brooke of the landed gentry and Tertius Lydgate, newly arrived in insular Middlemarch, the quintessential country town of petty snobberies, power plays for social status, and gossipmongering. Integrating additional plots, Eliot embodies her theme: a narrow medium of ignorance, prejudice, and bigotry limits individual opportunity and growth; persons with “great souls,” such as Dorothea, Will, Garth, and Farebrother, may transcend that medium to contribute to social improvement and partially realize their own potential. Noble motives may be frustrated, however, by those trapped in self-interest, such as Casaubon and Rosamond, or thwarted by provincial minds unequipped by knowledge or training to evaluate new ideas and approving only of those who “do as their neighbors do,” or limited by the dead hand of the past—outmoded customs and laws, especially those governing property inheritance.
Eliot’s portrayal of marriage issues treats what the nineteenth century called “the Woman Question”—controversies about the “nature of women,” their proper education, whether young ladies should have opinions (as Dorothea does) or submit to men’s (as Celia does), whether married women should be allowed to own property, and whether any women should be allowed to vote or work for economic independence instead of being kept in their domestic “separate sphere.” Allowing domestic contentment to the conventional Celia and, later, the creatively realistic Mary, Eliot invalidates generalizations: In Laure and Rosamond, she boldly combats Coventry Patmore’s popular “Angel in the House” stereotype, but she evokes sympathy for the angelic, if aspiring, Dorothea, who is suffering...
(The entire section is 838 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Middlemarch. Fictional English village in which much of the novel’s action is centered. The book opens on the Middlemarch estate of the Brooke family, Tipton Grange, home to the orphaned sisters, Dorothea and Celia Brooke, and their uncle. The adjoining estate of Sir James Chettam, Freshitt Hall, whose land lies close to Tipton Grange, attaches property and money to the novel’s purpose. For this reason, Sir James is the logical suitor for the elder sister, Dorothea. Her interest lies, however, in the scholarly Reverend Edward Casaubon, of Lowick, five miles away. Again, property and prosperity make Lowick significant, insofar as no reform is needed in this affluent neighborhood. The novel’s action, however, moves skillfully to nearby Middlemarch as well as abroad, always returning to Middlemarch as the heart of the tale.
The moral center of the novel is located in the rambling, homely house with an orchard in front of it, a little way outside the town, where the Garth family resides. They are of the kind and quality that Eliot considered the true source of Britain’s strength. Their farmhouses, their family, and their family relationships play a significant role in shaping the atmosphere and tone of this novel.
Stone Court. Estate near the center of Middlemarch in which another drama of money and property is played out by the miserly uncle Featherstone, who holds the purse...
(The entire section is 539 words.)
Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Consistent with Eliot’s avowed realism, Middlemarch offers no easy solutions for women who aspire beyond the limits set by their world; it also does not suggest that those who accept the role prescribed for them should do otherwise. To have done so would have been to simplify complex issues at a time when even to raise the questions this novel treats was to threaten the order affirmed by God and nature. The mind of George Eliot could not do the first, and her artistic creed would not allow her to do the second. As an artist, Eliot cultivates her readers’ sympathies for the oppression of Dorothea by an unfeeling, selfishly demanding husband; similarly, in Lydgate’s defeat by Rosamond’s politely obstinate refusal to feel for him, Eliot shows the possible consequences for a man who trusts the popular stereotype.
Many, but not all, contemporary readers understood that Eliot was addressing questions that concerned Victorian feminists and satirizing popular generalizations about women as she portrayed a variety of individuals. Because Eliot remained aloof from the heated public controversies, however, because she and George Henry Lewes deliberately cultivated her public image as that of the Victorian Sybil above partisan stances, and because of a half-ironic allusion by her first male narrator to his “conservative-reforming” spirit, the weight of critical tradition accepted Eliot’s realistic portrayals of her society as a conservatism that she advocated rather than the slow plodding she had deplored in her essays of the 1850’s. Virginia Woolf did recognize Eliot’s feminist sympathies, and Woolf, Henry James, D. H. Lawrence, and James Joyce were among the writers who were influenced by her daring suggestions about female sexuality. It was not until the feminist movement of the 1970’s, however, that Eliot’s attempts to reform ideas about women won serious and sustained recognition. Since then, closer readings of Eliot’s fiction, with a more complex understanding of the revolutionary woman behind the public image, have enabled the increasing numbers of published feminist literary critics to make Eliot’s often subtle feminism more accessible to readers.
Prelude and Book One: Miss Brooke Questions and Answers
Prelude and Chapters 1-6
1. What is the reason Celia wants to divide their deceased mother's jewelry with Dorothea?
2. Who are the guests at dinner?
3. What gift does Chettam bring Dorothea?
4. What does Brooke bring Dorothea from his visit to Casaubon?
5. For what purpose does Casaubon want to marry Dorothea?
6. What is Dorothea's reason for marrying Casaubon?
7. What attempts does Brooke make to dissuade Dorothea from her decision?
8. In what way does Dorothea respond to Casaubon's proposal?
9. In what manner does Chettam express his dismay at Dorothea's engagement?
10. Why is...
(The entire section is 445 words.)
Chapters 7-12 Questions and Answers
1. What is the first indication that Dorothea and Casaubon may have decided to marry too hastily?
2. For what reasons does Brooke allow Dorothea to accept Casaubon's proposal?
3. What is Chettam's purpose in asking Cadwallader to intervene?
4. When do Dorothea and Ladislaw first meet?
5. Why is Tucker answering all the questions about Lowick?
6. What is Mrs. Vincy's argument against Mary?
7. How are both the Vincys and the Garths related to Featherstone?
8. Why are all Featherstone's siblings gathered at Stone Court?
9. What is it that Featherstone discusses with Fred?
10. What evidence do we have...
(The entire section is 478 words.)
Book Two: Old and Young Questions and Answers
1. Why does Bulstrode mention Tyke in discussing the new fever hospital with Lydgate?
2. What is Farebrother's rationale for disliking Bulstrode?
3. Explain Bulstrode's reluctance to write the letter Featherstone requested.
4. How are Lydgate and Farebrother alike?
5. What need is there for Farebrother to play whist and billiards?
6. Why is Lydgate determined to avoid romantic attachments?
7. What are Mary's objections to marrying Fred?
8. What are Lydgate's reasons for voting for Tyke?
9. How would you summarize the debate about coroners at Vincy's dinner party?
10. As a mother, what does Mrs....
(The entire section is 501 words.)
Chapters 19-22 Questions and Answers
1. Why is Dorothea at the Vatican?
2. What is Naumann's reaction when he first sees Dorothea?
3. How does Ladislaw respond to Naumann on seeing Dorothea?
4. For what reason does Ladislaw refuse to ask Dorothea to sit for the portrait?
5. When she is alone, why does Dorothea sob?
6. What is it that prompts the argument between the Casaubons?
7. How would you describe the differences between Ladislaw's and Casaubon's outlooks on the world?
8. What is the purpose of Ladislaw's offer to return the next day?
9. For what reason does Ladislaw refer to Casaubon's refusal to learn German?
10. What prompts...
(The entire section is 472 words.)
Book Three: Waiting for Death Questions and Answers
1. What does Diamond have to do with Fred repaying the loan?
2. Why does Mrs. Garth become so angry?
3. What is Mary's reaction to Fred's news?
4. What is Fred's purpose in declaring Mary will never have to speak to him again?
5. After Fred leaves, why does Caleb go to Stone Court?
6. What is Wrench's mistake when Fred becomes ill?
7. In what manner does Rosamond involve Lydgate in Fred's illness?
8. How do Rosamond and Lydgate become well acquainted?
9. Why isn't Mrs. Vincy watching out for her daughter's interests?
10. What were the circumstances under which Celia...
(The entire section is 405 words.)
Chapters 29-33 Questions and Answers
1. About what do Dorothea and her husband argue?
2. In what way does Casaubon put a stop to the dispute?
3. For what reason are all his siblings at Featherstone's home?
4. In what manner do Featherstone's siblings treat Mary?
5. What is the purpose of Mrs. Vincy's presence at Stone Court?
6. How has it happened that Lydgate is Casaubon's physician?
7. In private, about what does Lydgate speak to Dorothea?
8. What request does Featherstone make of Mary?
9. What is Featherstone's objective in wanting his iron chest?
10. To what resolution does this last conflict between Mary and her uncle come?...
(The entire section is 410 words.)
Book Four: Three Love Problems Questions and Answers
1. Who is conducting Featherstone's funeral?
2. Which people have gathered at Lowick Gate?
3. Why has Brooke come there?
4. What are the provisions of the will Featherstone's lawyer thought he would be reading?
5. Why are these terms revoked?
6. What is Fred's reaction when the latest will is read?
7. What is Vincy's purpose in wanting Rosamond to wait to be married?
8. What is Lydgate doing while unaware of Vincy's decree?
9. What prompts Ladislaw to visit Dorothea?
10. In what manner does Casaubon respond to Ladislaw's latest visit?
(The entire section is 430 words.)
Chapters 38-42 Questions and Answers
1. What is Brooke planning to do?
2. Why are Chettam and the Cadwalladers opposed to this plan?
3. What proposal does Chettam bring to Brooke?
4. What attempts does Chettam make to convince Brooke to do as he wants?
5. About what does Ladislaw speak to Dorothea?
6. For what reason does Brooke leave with Dorothea?
7. In what manner does Dagley treat Brooke?
8. How is Mary saved from taking a position of which she is not fond?
9. What is Farebrother's message to the Garths from Fred?
10. For what purpose has Raffles come to Stone Court?
1. Brooke has decided to stand...
(The entire section is 350 words.)
Book Five: The Dead Hand Questions and Answers
1. What does Dorothea's asking Lydgate about her husband's condition further weakens her marriage?
2. Why is Ladislaw distressed that Dorothea finds him visiting with Rosamond?
3. What request does Lydgate make of Dorothea?
4. What is the local opinion of the new doctor?
5. How is Bulstrode harming Lydgate's progress in Middlemarch?
6. Farebrother offers Lydgate what advice?
7. Ladislaw decides he must take what course of action?
8. Why isn't Ladislaw readily accepted in his new home?
9. How does Ladislaw spend his time?
10. Why does Lydgate withhold information from...
(The entire section is 448 words.)
Chapters 48-53 Questions and Answers
1. What is Casaubon's usual method of having his wife work with him?
2. What are the circumstances of Casaubon's death?
3. Casaubon adds what codicil to his will?
4. What warning did Dorothea have of this codicil?
5. For what reason does Ladislaw think he should leave Middlemarch?
6. What is Brooke's motive in resisting the idea of sending Ladislaw away?
7. What is the purpose in Farebrother's going to see Mary?
8. Of what is it that Mary has a fleeting impression?
9. Why is Bulstrode at Stone Court?
10. What astounding information do we know of Bulstrode's past?
(The entire section is 438 words.)
Book Six: The Widow and His Wife Questions and Answers
1. What motive does Dorothea have in rejecting the suggestion to have a companion once she returns to Lowick Manor?
2. Why isn't Dorothea disturbed by the discussion about remarriage before the end of the year of a widow's mourning?
3. For what reason is Caleb at the site of the fracas?
4. How is it that Fred happens to be nearby when the farm laborers threaten the railway workers?
5. For what does Fred ask Caleb?
6. What are Mrs. Garth's initial objections?
7. What is Fred's purpose in going to the parsonage?
8. In what manner did Rosamond lose her baby?
9. After Ladislaw...
(The entire section is 369 words.)
Chapters 59-62 Questions and Answers
1. What has happened to the siblings?
2. Why does Lydgate tell Rosamond not to mention the codicil to Ladislaw?
3. For what reason does Rosamond tell Ladislaw about the codicil?
4. What are the circumstances under which Ladislaw and Raffles meet?
5. About what does Raffles question Ladislaw?
6. What is the purpose in Raffles seeking Bulstrode?
7. What is Bulstrode's motive in sending for Ladislaw?
8. What response does Ladislaw have to Bulstrode's proposition?
9. Why does Ladislaw want to see Dorothea?
10. How do Ladislaw and Dorothea accidentally meet?
1. There is...
(The entire section is 322 words.)
Book Seven: Two Temptations Questions and Answers
1. What do the Middlemarch locals have to say about Lydgate on New Year's Day?
2. Of what does Farebrother speak privately to Lydgate?
3. What is Lydgate's plan as a partial solution to his money woes?
4. In what way does Rosamond thwart her husband's plan?
5. For what reason has his uncle sent Lydgate a nasty letter?
6. What is the purpose of Fred's being at the Green Dragon?
To convince Lydgate to leave the Green Dragon, Fred uses what lie?
8. What is the content of Farebrother's discussion with Fred?
9. Lydgate receives what news from Bulstrode?
10. After their...
(The entire section is 483 words.)
Chapters 68-71 Questions and Answers
1. Why has Raffles returned to Stone Court?
2. For what reason does Caleb decline to work for Bulstrode?
3. Lydgate has left what instructions concerning Raffles?
4. In what manner does Bulstrode fulfill these instructions?
5. What has Mrs. Abel to do with Raffles' death?
6. What motive does Bulstrode have in changing his mind about the loan to Lydgate?
7. Farebrother has what purpose in stopping Lydgate to speak with him privately?
8. What is Hawley's logic in piecing together what he thinks has happened?
9. What happens to Bulstrode at the town meeting?
10. How is Lydgate further implicated in...
(The entire section is 513 words.)
Book Eight: Sunset and Sunrise Questions and Answers
1. What is foremost in Dorothea's mind when he hears of Lydgate's troubles?
2. In sending for Lydgate, what is Dorothea's supposed purpose?
3. Why hasn't Lydgate told Rosamond of his troubles yet?
4. What has happened to Bulstrode?.
5. How is Rosamond made even more distraught?
6. In what manner has it happened that the Lydgates' maid doesn't know Ladislaw is at their home?
7. What does Dorothea bring with her to the Lydgates' home?
8. Why doesn't Dorothea stay to speak with Rosamond as she had promised?
9. When Dorothea arrives at the Farebrothers' what happens?
(The entire section is 449 words.)
Chapters 81-86 and Finale Questions and Answers
1. For what reason does Rosamond see Dorothea?
2. What is Dorothea's method in convincing Rosamond that Lydgate is the injured party?
3. What does Dorothea have to say about the Lydgates' relationship?
4. During her meeting with Rosamond, why is Dorothea so sad?
5. In what way does Rosamond try to help Dorothea?
6. What is the purpose in Miss Noble's coming to Lowick Manor?
7. What information does Ladislaw give Dorothea?
8. What reaction did Chettam have to the news of Dorothea's impending marriage?
9. How is the reconciliation between the former Brooke sisters achieved?
10. How did Fred and Mary...
(The entire section is 473 words.)
Compare and Contrast
Chronology of George Eliot's Works
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Anderson, Quentin. “George Eliot in Middlemarch.” In George Eliot: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by George R. Creeger. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970. Provides a thorough discussion of Eliot’s background and preparation of the novel, the provincial panorama she creates, and the plot development that proceeds in an interplay between public opinion and self-regard. Also includes a bibliography.
Barrett, Dorothea. Vocation and Desire: George Eliot’s Heroines. New York: Routledge, 1989. Examining the conflicts between women’s needs for creative fulfillment and limitations imposed by nineteenth...
(The entire section is 544 words.)