Middlemarch – 1: Miss Brooke

A group of readers who met via Tristan and the Classics (an excellent booktube channel) voted to read George Eliot’s Middlemarch over the course of July and August. Having already missed out on two readalongs of books on my list—namely, Steinbeck’s East of Eden and Tolstoy’s Resurrection—I was determined to join the group this time for an English novel that’s long been on my radar. As a teenager, I was captivated by the story in the 1994 TV miniseries, and thus I began Middlemarch with the highest of hopes.

NOTE: This is an in-depth book review and CONTAINS SPOILERS.

Promising Beginnings

The book was published in the 1870s but takes place about 40 years earlier. It follows a number of characters (in both senses of the word) who live and fall in love in Middlemarch, a fictional town in the English midlands. At nearly 800 pages, it is a veritable chunkster and well suited for a slow-paced readalong.

Book I is named after the main protagonist, Dorothea Brooke. She is an idealistic young woman with an almost Puritanical religiosity, a conviction to improve the lives of tenants, and a fascination with learning and self-improvement. At the age of nineteen, she falls for an older father-figure in the person of Reverend Edward Casaubon, whom everyone except Dorothea considers to be a decrepit academic. Dorothea hopes that by marrying Casaubon, she can find a kindred spirit for her own scholarly pursuits and someone to lift her up from the limitations of conventional female life. Meanwhile, she is pursued by Sir James Chettam, who, between Dorothea and her more lighthearted sister Celia, is eager to find himself a congenial wife among his immediate neighbors.

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