By George Eliot
To my dear Husband, George Henry Lewes,
in this nineteenth year of our blessed union.
Who that cares much to know the history of man, and how the mysterious
mixture behaves under the varying experiments of Time, has not dwelt,
at least briefly, on the life of Saint Theresa, has not smiled
with some gentleness at the thought of the little girl walking
forth one morning hand-in-hand with her still smaller brother,
to go and seek martyrdom in the country of the Moors? Out they toddled
from rugged Avila, wide-eyed and helpless-looking as two fawns,
but with human hearts, already beating to a national idea; until domestic
reality met them in the shape of uncles, and turned them back from
their great resolve. That child-pilgrimage was a fit beginning.
Theresa's passionate, ideal nature demanded an epic life: what were
many-volumed romances of chivalry and the social conquests of a
brilliant girl to her? Her flame quickly burned up that light fuel;
and, fed from within, soared after some illimitable satisfaction,
some object which would never justify weariness, which would reconcile
self-despair with the rapturous consciousness of life beyond self.
She found her epos in the reform of a religious order.
Dorothea Brooke is a beautiful and idealistic young woman set on filling her life with good deeds. She pursues the pompous Edward Casuabon, convinced that he embodies these principles, and becomes trapped in an unhappy marriage. Then there is Tertius Lydgate, an anguished progressive whose determination to bring modern medicine to the provinces is muddied by unrequited love. They, and a multitude of other brilliantly drawn characters, reside in the town Middlemarch – the background to George Eliot’s incomparable portrait of Victorian life.
An eternal masterpiece of candid observation, emotional insight and transcending humour, Middlemarch is a truly monumental novel.