George Eliot

A woman’s attempt to break out of the traditional isolation and intellectual-poverty of marriage and very concrete patriarchal and legal structures which limit her real-world choices; a doctor campaigning for reform of the medical system, his unhappy marriage and descent into debt; a restless young man whose big dreams crash up against the realities of life and love and work; philanthropy and secrets of the past, education and opportunity, social reform and the constraints of tradition – Middlemarch is a novel about the struggles and ideals of its day, shooting for realism, at times just preachy, but one of the all-time greats of the English novel.

George Eliot was, as is widely known, the alias of Mary Anne Evans, who wrote under a male pseudonym to facilitate greater access to publication and wider reception of her work. The product of several separate stories later woven together and published first in serial form, her Middlemarch is only the best-known of a series of much-remembered and still-significant novels, including Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss. And more, too – an essayist, poet, student and writer of theology and philosophy, and one-half of an open marriage that produced several children by several different lovers, Eliot/ Evans’ private life scandalized polite society when it’s details came to light.

Frequently criticized for its many didactic moments, and considered by some to be as much a manifesto for reform as a novel, Middlemarch is also wildly popular even today, and regularly considered among the very greatest novels of all time.