By George Eliot (Author), Rosemary Ashton (Introduction)
George Eliot's Victorian masterpiece: a magnificent portrait of a provincial town and its inhabitants
George Eliot’s novel, Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life, explores a fictional nineteenth-century Midlands town in the midst of modern changes. The proposed Reform Bill promises political change; the building of railroads alters both the physical and cultural landscape; new scientific approaches to medicine incite public division; and scandal lurks behind respectability. The quiet drama of ordinary lives and flawed choices are played out in the complexly portrayed central characters of the novel—the idealistic Dorothea Brooke; the ambitious Dr. Lydgate; the spendthrift Fred Vincy; and the steadfast Mary Garth. The appearance of two outsiders further disrupts the town’s equilibrium—Will Ladislaw, the spirited nephew of Dorothea’s husband, the Rev. Edward Casaubon, and the sinister John Raffles, who threatens to expose the hidden past of one of the town’s elite. Middlemarch displays George Eliot’s clear-eyed yet humane understanding of characters caught up in the mysterious unfolding of self-knowledge. This Penguin Classics edition uses the second edition of 1874 and features an introduction and notes by Eliot-biographer Rosemary Ashton. In her introduction, Ashton discusses themes of social change in Middlemarch, and examines the novel as an imaginative embodiment of Eliot's humanist beliefs.
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In 1819, novelist George Eliot (nee Mary Ann Evans), was born at a farmstead in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England, where her father was estate manager. Mary Ann, the youngest child and a favorite of her father's, received a good education for a young woman of her day. Influenced by a favorite governess, she became a religious evangelical as an adolescent. Her first published work was a religious poem. Through a family friend, she was exposed to Charles Hennell's An Inquiry into the Origins of Christianity. Unable to believe, she conscientiously gave up religion and stopped attending church. Her father shunned her, sending the broken-hearted young dependent to live with a sister until she promised to reexamine her feelings. Her intellectual views did not, however, change. She translated David Strauss' Das Leben Jesu, a monumental task, without signing her name to the 1846 work. After her father's death in 1849, Mary Ann traveled, then accepted an unpaid position with The Westminster Review. Despite a heavy workload, she translated Ludwig Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity, the only book ever published under her real name. That year, the shy, respectable writer scandalized British society by sending notices to friends announcing she had entered a free "union" with George Henry Lewes, editor of The Leader, who was unable to divorce his first wife. They lived harmoniously together for the next 24 years, but suffered social ostracism and financial hardship. She became salaried and began writing essays and reviews for The Westminster Review. Renaming herself "Marian" in private life and adopting the nom de plume "George Eliot," she began her impressive fiction career, including: Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Romola(1863), and Middlemarch (1871). Themes included her humanist vision and strong heroines. Her poem, "O May I Join the Choir Invisible" expressed her views about non supernatural immortality: "O may I join the choir invisible/ Of those immortal dead who live again/ In minds made better by their presence. . ." D. 1880.