Middlemarch, A Study of Provincial Life is a novel by the English author George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), first published in eight installments (volumes) in 1871–72. The novel is set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during 1829–32, and follows several distinct, intersecting stories with a large cast of characters. Issues include the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism, self-interest, religion, hypocrisy, political reform, and education. Despite comic elements, Middlemarch is a work of realism encompassing historical events: the 1832 Reform Act, the beginnings of the railways, and the death of King George IV and succession of his brother, the Duke of Clarence (King William IV). It incorporates contemporary medicine and examines the reactionary views of a settled community facing unwelcome change. Eliot began writing the two pieces that would form Middlemarch in the years 1869–70 and completed the novel in 1871. Although initial reviews were mixed, it is now seen widely as her best work and one of the great novels in English.
Middlemarch originates in two unfinished pieces that Eliot worked on during the years 1869 and 1870: the novel “Middlemarch” (which focused on the character of Lydgate) and the long story “Miss Brooke” (which focused on the character of Dorothea). The former piece is first mentioned in her journal on 1 January 1869 as one of the tasks for the coming year.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary Anne Evans (22 November 1819 – 22 December 1880; alternatively Mary Ann or Marian), known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator, and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She wrote seven novels, including Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Romola (1862–63), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda (1876), most of which are set in provincial England and known for their realism and psychological insight.
Although female authors were published under their own names during her lifetime, she wanted to escape the stereotype of women’s writing being limited to lighthearted romances. She also wanted to have her fiction judged separately from her already extensive and widely known work as an editor and critic. Another factor in her use of a pen name may have been a desire to shield her private life from public scrutiny, thus avoiding the scandal that would have arisen because of her relationship with the married George Henry Lewes.
Eliot’s Middlemarch has been described by the novelists Martin Amis and Julian Barnes as the greatest novel in the English language.