Places: Middlemarch

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1871-1872

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Mid-nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedMiddlemarch

Middlemarch. MiddlemarchFictional English village in which much of the novel’s action is centered. The book opens on the Middlemarch estate of the Brooke family, Tipton Grange, home to the orphaned sisters, Dorothea and Celia Brooke, and their uncle. The adjoining estate of Sir James Chettam, Freshitt Hall, whose land lies close to Tipton Grange, attaches property and money to the novel’s purpose. For this reason, Sir James is the logical suitor for the elder sister, Dorothea. Her interest lies, however, in the scholarly Reverend Edward Casaubon, of Lowick, five miles away. Again, property and prosperity make Lowick significant, insofar as no reform is needed in this affluent neighborhood. The novel’s action, however, moves skillfully to nearby Middlemarch as well as abroad, always returning to Middlemarch as the heart of the tale.

The moral center of the novel is located in the rambling, homely house with an orchard in front of it, a little way outside the town, where the Garth family resides. They are of the kind and quality that Eliot considered the true source of Britain’s strength. Their farmhouses, their family, and their family relationships play a significant role in shaping the atmosphere and tone of this novel.

Stone Court

Stone Court. Estate near the center of Middlemarch in which another drama of money and property is played out by the miserly uncle Featherstone, who holds the purse strings of many relatives and affects the lives of Mayor Vincy’s son and daughter.

Houndsley

Houndsley. Town just outside Middlemarch. In this “unsanitary” town, gambling and bad faith dealings are carried on, where horses are bought and sold, many of them deficient in quality. There, the mayor’s son incurs debts that soon have a rippling effect in the novel. This undercurrent of bad debts and bad faith spills over into the lives of the major and minor characters, again underscoring the importance that Eliot gives to money and property.

*Rome

*Rome. Leading Italian city that provides a symbolic setting for the brief honeymoon of the poorly matched couple, Dorothea and Casaubon. The strong contrast between the lush, warm art works in this sensuous city and the couple’s cold relationship reveals serious shortcomings in Dorothea’s scholarly husband and foreshadows the failure of their marriage.

*Paris

*Paris. France’s capital and leading city, in which the youthful medical student Tertius Lydgate is shown in a flashback that demonstrates his weakness for the wrong kind of woman–a young actor. Eliot uses the Paris incident to prepare readers for Lydgate’s next misstep, when he chooses Middlemarch’s town beauty, Rosamond, for his wife.

*Bath

*Bath. English resort town, where Lydgate retires with his demanding wife to treat wealthy patients with gout after being spurned by the town of Middlemarch. Bath provides a plush setting to signify the loss of aspirations for medical reform.

*London

*London. Capital of Great Britain where Dorothea lives after her first husband, Casaubon, dies, and she marries Will Ladislaw, who pursues a political career. The more anonymous location of London allows Dorothea to leave behind the censorious Middlemarch. To the Middlemarchers, London meant living “in a street,” giving up the luxury of an estate, living among poverty and crime.

BibliographyAnderson, Quentin. “George Eliot in Middlemarch.” In George Eliot: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by George R. Creeger. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970. Provides a thorough discussion of Eliot’s background and preparation of the novel, the provincial panorama she creates, and the plot development that proceeds in an interplay between public opinion and self-regard. Also includes a bibliography.Barrett, Dorothea. Vocation and Desire: George Eliot’s Heroines. New York: Routledge, 1989. Examining the conflicts between women’s needs for creative fulfillment and limitations imposed by nineteenth century England, this book offers helpful insights into the struggles of Dorothea.Beer, Gillian. George Eliot. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986. This critical biography reviews in detail “the Woman Question” in nineteenth century publications and explains several allusions in Middlemarch. Includes historical background, a bibliography, and an index.Blake, Kathleen. “Middlemarch and the Woman Question.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 31 (1976): 285-312. This article treats the novel as Eliot’s response to contemporary ideas about the “nature of women.”Bellringer, Alan W. George Eliot. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. Detailed discussion of the interactive web of the province. Argues that the novel’s morality is scientific, hypothetical, experimental, and provisional. Includes a bibliography.Carroll, David, comp. George Eliot: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971. Carroll reprints a selection of reviews showing contemporary and later response to Eliot’s works.Eliot, George. The George Eliot Letters. Edited by Gordon S. Haight. 9 vols. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954-1978. With indispensable notes by the editor, these volumes show the reader Eliot’s carefully created voice as she addressed a variety of acquaintances. The work of collecting letters by Eliot and Lewes is being continued by William Baker.Haight, Gordon. George Eliot: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. This book gives essential facts that serve as background for studying Eliot’s fiction.Hardy, Barbara. “The Woman at the Window in Middlemarch.” In Dorothea’s Window: The Individual and Community in George Eliot, edited by Patricia Gately, Dennis Leavens, and Cole Woodcox. Kirksville, Mo.: Thomas Jefferson Press, 1994. This essay shows how the recurrent window image first isolates Dorothea, then unites her with the world of useful work.Heilman, Robert B. “‘Stealthy Convergence’ in Middlemarch.” In George Eliot: A Centenary Tribute, edited by Gordon S. Haight and Rosemary T. VanArsdel. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1982. Explores attempts to control the past and future as they relate to the plot.Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977. This excellent survey places Eliot’s work in the continuous tradition of similar works.Stiritz, Susan. “An Enigma Solved: The ‘Theresa’ Metaphor.” In Dorothea’s Window: The Individual and Community in George Eliot, edited by Patricia Gately, Dennis Leavens, and Cole Woodcox. Kirksville, Mo.: Thomas Jefferson Press, 1994. This article explains Eliot’s comparison of Dorothea to St. Theresa of Avila, with reference particularly to a woman’s discovery and acceptance of her sexuality.Uglow, Jennifer. George Eliot. New York: Pantheon Books, 1987. Shows Eliot in her fiction demolishing gender stereotypes and the illusion of norms, replacing these with insistence on individuality. Analyzes Ladislaw as a figure of light and change who, as the awakener of Dorothea’s senses, is an appropriate husband for her.
Categories: Places