Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1642
Dorothea Brooks, a pious young woman, lives with her younger sister and uncle at Tipton Grange. She thinks she is in love with a deeply intellectual older man, Casaubon. After marrying him, she discovers he is not what she wanted nor is the marriage, but it is what she has. Her husband's second cousin, Ladislaw, visits them on their honeymoon trip, innocently prompting jealousy in the older man. Casaubon adds a codicil to his will that requires his young widow to relinquish the substantial money and property he will leave her should she marry Ladislaw at anytime after his death. He dies soon after.
Rosamond Vincy is taken with the new young doctor, Lydgate, who thinks he does not yet have the right to marry because he hasn't made his fortune. He had been studying innovations in medicine in Paris, and has come to Middlemarch to head the new fever hospital (an unpaid position) and attempt to build the practice he has bought. She marries him, and manages to spend them into debt. Instead of being supportive when their debts come due, she keeps her thoughts to herself. She seeks separation-.-first from their problems and then from her husband.
It is the widowed Dorothea, after, accidentally finding Rosamond unchaperoned with Ladislaw, who explains to her that Rosamond and Lydgate must talk with each other and endure their problems together. Unbeknownst to Dorothea, Rosamond has fantasies concerning Ladislaw as her resource. Dorothea thinks that Ladislaw prefers Rosamond. Dorothea did not hear him say she is the only woman he loves when she came upon them together, alone, in Lydgate's home.
Fred Vincy has failed his exams rather than graduate and be forced to become a member of the clergy by his father. Mary explains that she would not marry him if he became a clergyman when he didn't want to. She also would not marry a man devoted to gambling and hunting. He'd already asked Caleb, Mary's father, to co-sign a loan to pay a gambling debt. He lost the money to repay the loan on a bad horse trade Mary could not have such irresponsibility in a husband, and she is very upset that her father must now repay Fred's gambling debt. After an illness, much angst, and a return to school for his degree, Fred realizes he would like to do what Mary's father does-manage estates-and he works with Caleb, learning the trade.
Ladislaw has come to Middlemarch to be near Dorothea. While respectful of her marriage to his second cousin (who had been supporting him as a familial duty), he was falling in love with her. Her husband had ordered her not to invite him to their home, but her uncle-Brooke-hired him to help at Tipton Grange and they did run into each other. Ladislaw hears of the codicil to Casaubon's will and vows to leave Dorothea in peace. It takes him over two months to actually leave. He later returns. After being found by Dorothea with his hands intimately on Rosamond's face, he vows to leave again rather than have Dorothea penniless. She doesn't want that, and tells him. They marry.
Bulstrode, head of the board of directors at the new fever hospital, had been married before to the daughter of a questionable family, which just happened to be Ladislaw's mother's family. Before being married, Bulstrode had hired Raffles to find Ladislaw's mother, who had run away to the stage. He'd done this at Ladislaw's grandmother's request, so that her daughter could inherit the business from her deceased father (Bulstrode's first wife's first husband) before she gave it to Bulstrode upon their marriage. Raffles did find the girl, but Bulstrode managed to suppress this information. Raffles shows up at Stone Court to attempt to gain an income from his estranged stepson, who has just inherited Featherstone's home, but Riggs refuses him. Raffles recognized Bulstrode and renewed his blackmailing of him. Later, Raffles becomes ill and asks to be taken to Bulstrode's home, where Lydgate comes to attend him.
Bulstrode does not follow Lydgate's medical instructions, Raffles dies, and Lydgate is under suspicion until Dorothea clears the matter and his reputation. Lydgate realizes people think the 1,000 pound loan he took from Bulstrode was a bribe to "hush" the murder of Raffles. He accepted a loan from Dorothea to cover the debt and cut all communication with Bulstrode. Caleb, whom Bulstrode had attempted to engage to manage his estate while he fled his disgrace, also refused to have any dealings with Bulstrode.
The Life and Work of George Eliot
George Eliot was born Mary Ann Evans in Warwickshire, England, on November 22, 1819, to Robert Evans, Sr., a carpenter turned estate manager, and his second wife, the former Christiana Pearson. Ms. Evans' living siblings were an older half-brother and sister, Robert and Fanny, from her father's first marriage. She also had another older sister and brother, Christinia and Isaac, from the union between her father and mother. Politics, religion, and education were very important to the young Polly, as she was nicknamed. Her schooling began at age four, with a series of boarding schools, which her older siblings attended. Each school was more academically oriented than the last, which was pleasing to the intellectual and unattractive young girl. Her schooling temporarily ended when her mother died of breast cancer. She was brought home to keep house for her father because one of her sisters was already married and the other planned to marry within the year. Ms. Evans was 16 at this time.
Her father allowed her to order any books she chose. When she was 20, Signor Joseph Brezzi was hired to tutor her in German and then Italian. Although she was not at school, with friends such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, the publisher John Blackwood, and Mme. Eugene Bodichon (a champion of unpopular causes), her education continued. In the summer of 1841, after she moved with her father to Coventry, she studied astronomy and geology. She became a Freethinker, which prompted her father to ask her to leave his house. She was also very involved in women's issues and did not see the need for marriage. She had affairs with her neighbor, Charles Bray, despite her friendship with his wife, Cara, and with John Chapman, although she lived in his boarding house along with his wife and mistress. She and her father reconciled, provided that she make a token appearance in church periodically to save the family's reputation. She nursed him for the rest of his life, at the same time studying whatever interested her.
Upon his death, she called herself "Marian" and moved to London. She lived on her small inheritances from her father and aunt and her wages as the (secret) editor for Chapman's Westminster Review. This show of independence caused a further breach in the family. She fell in unrequited love with the confirmed bachelor editor of The Economist, Herbert Spencer, in 1852.
Fairly soon after, she met the love of her life, George Lewes, who was married but felt free to have affairs. His wife broke the terms of their open marriage arrangement by having three children with her lover.
Ms. Evans and Mr. Lewes were forced to go abroad since they were openly living together while not married. He feared she would lose any chance of having writing assignments accepted if they stayed. Back in England by March of 1855, Mr. Lewes took over as her literary agent, a new concept in the literary world. He obtained a legal separation from his wife in retaliation for her having deliberately incurred substantial debt as punishment for his abandoning her. This did not absolve him from responsibility for her debts. Mr. Lewes began to circulate Ms. Evans' manuscripts as having been written by a shy, but talented, friend of his. Ms. Evans realized it was time for her to have a nom de plume. She chose George in tribute to her lover, and Eliot from the name of a place she had seen on a local map in her father's office. Mr. Lewes continued to be aggressive in representing her by introducing new marketing concepts, a royalty system used today, and the kind of advertising commonly and contemporarily referred to as "hype."
It was at their summer house in Surrey that both Mr. Lewes and Ms. Evans met and welcomed John Cross into their lives as a beloved quasi-nephew. Ms. Evans had met John Cross in Rome on April 18, 1869, though she was already acquainted with the Cross family.
George Lewes became seriously ill and died on November 30, 1878. After the end of the mourning period for Mr. Lewes, Ms. Evans proposed to Mr. Cross, despite his being 20 years younger than she. A distraught Mr. Cross, finding no way to refuse, married Ms. Evans at St. George's Church on May 6, 1880. With Mr. Cross's history of mental illness and suicide attempts, this was not an easy marriage for the few months it endured.
Marian Evans Lewes Cross died of acute laryngitis on December 22, 1880 and was buried beside George Lewes.
Estimated Reading Time
Middlemarch will take approximately 26 hours to read. The book may easily be broken into the parts designated by the author. The Prelude and Book One will take approximately three and a half hours to read; Book Two-three hours; Book Three-two hours; Book Four-three and a half hours; Book Five-four hours; Book Six-three and a half hours; Book Seven-three and a half hours; and Book Eight and the Finale-three hours.
Each person reading the book will find some sections more interesting than others and will choose to spend more time on them. The original was printed in several issues of a magazine, and the book was not designed to be read in one marathon session. Do not allow the length of time necessary to read the book to diminish your enjoyment of the novel.