“This particular web”: George Eliot’s Middlemarch

Rosamond Vincy and Tertius Lydgate in Middlemarch
Rosamond Vincy and Tertius Lydgate in Middlemarch

There’s a good reason George Eliot named her greatest novel after the fictional English provincial town in which it is set: Middlemarch is arguably the book’s most powerful force. Through the novel’s multiple plots and sets of characters, Eliot explores how individuals are shaped by, and seek to shape, “this particular web” of community. Her narrator brings a scientist’s sensibility to the project, noting that “there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it.” Indeed, Eliot’s town often seems to have a will of its own, as when the narrator remarks of an enthusiastic young physician that “Middlemarch, in fact, counted on swallowing Lydgate and assimilating him comfortably.”

Because Middlemarch follows characters over a significant sweep of time, Eliot can consider the consequences of ambition, idealism, pride, and selfishness in depth. Her narrator examines everyday choices with moral seriousness, demanding that we attend not only to the motivations and decisions of characters, but also that we scrutinize our own daily lives. In Middlemarch Eliot contends that our responses to those we live among have an inescapably ethical dimension: It is “we insignificant people with our daily words and acts” that are daily preparing the possibilities for generations to come.

During our week together, we will discuss the wide range of questions raised by this incomparably rich novel and consider what it has to say to us today.

To learn more, read Nancy’s blog post Why Middlemarch Can Change Your Life.

“[Middlemarch is] both a field of force, a trap like a spider web, and a pattern of invisible connecting links between humans meeting each other’s eye.”

– A.S. Byatt



Nancy Carr is a writer, editor, and discussion leader in Chicago with many years of experience at the Great Books Foundation. She is passionate about Victorian literature in general and Middlemarch in particular. This novel is Nancy’s all-time favorite literary work because in it Eliot uniquely combines intellectual brilliance with profound moral imagination.

Middlemarch by George Eliot
(Harper Perennial, 2015)
ISBN-13: 978-0062356147

Participants are required to obtain the specified edition to facilitate the group’s ability to find and cite portions of the text during discussion. Details will be provided at registration.


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