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Middlemarch by George Eliot Analysis

One of the main characters of the novel is the narrator who tells the story from the multiple points of view of the characters, while adding her own reflective wisdom. This vantage point gives us compassionate insight into each character but within a certain social context, for the narrator stands for the collective wisdom gleaned from all the lives put together. This narrator is “omniscient” and anonymous, though we can think of her as close to George Eliot’s own viewpoint.
Immediately, the narrator begins to uncover the fact that most people are lost in their own illusions of reality, one of the themes of the book. She brilliantly weaves together the intersecting illusions of all the characters, showing us the profile of the town of Middlemarch, a fictitious small town in the rural English midlands in the early nineteenth century. Middlemarch stands for English life just before the impact of the industrial revolution. The time is just before the great Reform Bill of 1832. Life is still somewhat simple and conventional here in this backwater, and the citizens are not interested in anything but daily concerns. This sets the stage for their clashes with the more extraordinary and farsighted characters, Dorothea and Lydgate and Will Ladislaw who stand for the forces of change.
While it could be rather farcical that the beautiful Dorothea, who is constantly compared to the Blessed Virgin, is marrying Casaubon, the “dried bookworm of fifty,” Eliot treats Dorothea’s “soul hunger” as a real and tragic phenomenon in this society. She has no teacher or even comrade to whom she may tell of her own exalted thoughts and wishes. Even her sister Celia, though adoring her, criticizes her, and does not understand her need for living her religious vision in daily life. Dorothea thinks that Casaubon will understand and teach her, while he, it is clear, expects an obedient and self-abnegating wife. The narrator gives us foreshadowing of this problematic marriage by explaining Dorothea’s short-sightedness and “theoretic” nature, desire for “intensity and greatness.” Casaubon also has trouble with his vision and needs a secretary to help him with his life work, The Key to All Mythologies.

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