‘People glorify all sorts of bravery except the bravery they might show on behalf of their nearest neighbours.’
An epic study of provincial life at a time when England was facing rapid industrialization and increasingly fluid social mobility, Eliot’s depiction of the small community of Middlemarch weaves an intricate web of different characters disparate lives as they strive to adapt to the changing world around them. Eliot was one of the first of her female contemporaries to write a novel that dealt with real-life issues and complex yet ordinary human life.
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The novel is most probably set in the 1820s – a number of historical references place the events in the book after the Napoleonic Wars but before the Reform Act of 1832.
It includes autobiographical elements, and reflects the disgrace that George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) herself experienced while in a lengthy relationship with a married man, George Henry Lewes.
Maggie Tulliver is the central character of the book. The story begins when she is 9 years old, 13 years into her parents' marriage. Her relationship with her older brother Tom, and her romantic relationships with Philip Wakem, a hunchbacked, sensitive, and intellectual friend, and with Stephen Guest, a vivacious young socialite in St. Ogg's and assumed fiancé of Maggie's cousin Lucy Deane, constitute the most significant narrative threads.