Historicising The Recent Past


Historicising the Recent Past
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"those long days measured by my little feet..."

MARY ANN EVANS WAS BORN in 1819 at South Farm in Arbury, Nuneaton – a small market town in Warwickshire to the north of Coventry. Her father, Robert Evans, managed the lands and farms of the Arbury Estate for the Newdigate Family, the owners of Arbury Hall.

In 1841, when her brother Isaac became estate manager, Mary Ann (then 21) accompanied her retired father to a house in Foleshill, a village now a part of Coventry.

Mary Ann had already become a famous writer under the pseudonym George Eliot when Middlemarch was first published. The novel is set in a fictional version of Coventry as she remembered it in her younger days and borrows many details from local history and scandals.

Exhibit 1 - South Farm, birthplace of George Eliot, by Thomas Wakeman, (1919), Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery. Wakeman painted a number of landscapes showing sites of importance in Eliot’s life and works.

Middlemarch takes place in the early 1830s, in the lead-up to the Great Reform Act of 1832, an act that gave the vote to small landowners, tenant farmers, shopkeepers, and householders who paid a yearly rental of over £10. Though this increased the electorate from around 366,000 to 650,000 (about 18% of the adult male population), the act did little to improve the lives of many. The working classes were still denied the right to vote and the act formally excluded women, by explicitly defining a voter as a ‘male person’.

Taking up her pen in the years that followed the Second Reform Act of 1867 — the first piece of legislation to enfranchise working-class men — Eliot approaches Middlemarch, notably subtitled ‘A Study of Provincial Life’, as a historian of the memorable past, intimately afforded with knowledge of what is to come. Her story is set in a period when she would have been approaching her teens: when Coventry, was a silk-ribbon manufacturing town; and when Coventry society was largely led by a select group of manufacturing families.

This was an epoch in recent memory, a time that would neither overwhelm her reader with the strangeness of a bygone era nor divert them with present-day concerns. Setting her story in the 1830s enabled Eliot to both hypostatize the past and bring the humanity of her characters to the fore.



how was M received
Brother and Sister [sonnet sequence], (3. Jul. 1869), manuscript, British Library, Add MS 34038.
This is the manuscript for ‘Brother and Sister’, a sonnet sequence which recreates Eliot’s Warwickshire childhood. She wrote the 11 sonnets in July 1869, when she was writing the initial first three chapters for Middlemarch. This Shakespearean reworking of her relationship with her brother Isaac (that later found a home in The Mill on the Floss) doubles as a testament to the intellectual and aesthetic strength of one’s childhood memories.
how was M received
how was M received
"High aspiration and domestic reality"
Stanley Millet, tracing a sequence of revisions across Chapters XI-XVI, and noting Eliot's many numberings and renumberings (of both pages and chapters), suggests the manuscript bears evidence of Lydgate gradually coming to the fore as the direct counterpart of Dorothea.

This emphasis replaced an earlier focus (in the embryonic "Middlemarch") on Fred Vincy's and Lydgate's attempts to determine their “proper vocation” and evolved into a more complex, rewarding theme: ‘the interrelationship of high aspiration and "domestic reality”’ (57).
Childhood
EXHIBIT 2
Brother and Sister [sonnet sequence], (3. Jul. 1869), manuscript, British Library, Add MS 34038.
This is the manuscript for ‘Brother and Sister’, a sonnet sequence which recreates Eliot’s Warwickshire childhood. She wrote the 11 sonnets in July 1869, when she was writing the initial first three chapters for Middlemarch. This Shakespearean reworking of her relationship with her brother Isaac doubles as a testament to the intellectual and aesthetic strength of one’s childhood memories.

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Veracious Imagination

Eliot’s great artistic breakthrough was to create novels that feel like real life. She makes us sympathise with her characters and try to understand their choices even though the stories are set in the past and many characters are selfish or flawed.

The objects on display in 'Finding Middlemarch' help us to understand the enduring appeal of Middlemarch as well as contextualise the time in which it was wrought.

Central to the exhibition, is an acknowledgement of the parallel temporalities that have informed Eliot’s writing. How might readers in the 1870s have construed the relationship between their epoch and the time of the first Reform Bill? How would Eliot’s treatment of the past have informed their understanding of the present? Moreover, moving into our final chapter into the modern-day we ask — how are some of the dilemmas faced by characters in Middlemarch still relevant? In what ways do we deal with the same difficulties, face the same choices or rebel against the same prescribed roles recognised by Eliot all those years ago?

As she argued in ‘Historic Imagination’, a memorandum, posthumously published in Essays and Leaves from a Notebook (1884): ‘the exercise of a veracious imagination in historical picturing [can] … help the judgment greatly with regard to present and future events.’ Through ‘veracious imagination’, she theorised, one could work out in detail ‘the various steps by which a political or social change was reached, using all extant evidence and supplying deficiencies by careful analogical creation’. In other words, Eliot thought that the best way to understand present-day politics was for one to imaginatively inhabit the lived experiences of previous decades. Exercising empathy through literature, she believed, could provide insight into the intricacies of both previous cultures and the culture that was to come.


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Rediscovering Eliot's Coventry

In Middlemarch Eliot repackages the history of Coventry as a story of middle England on the brink of massive social and industrial transformation. As a town of high-skilled weaving and watchmaking workshops, surrounded by rich farmland and coal deposits, Coventry went through rapid cycles of boom and depression in Eliot’s lifetime. At the same time the relationship between the town’s industrialists and the surrounding farmers and wealthy landowners was transformed.

The Coventry of the 1830s was a province on the precipice of seismic change. Like Middlemarch, it was a town troubled by the imminent horrors of the cholera epidemic, apprehensive about the new railway lines already in construction, and briskly falling into step with the march of modernity — as the town’s textile trade transformed from a cottage industry made up of artisan, hand-loom weavers to a mechanised machine-led enterprise. Like George Eliot, who moved to Coventry shortly after the founding of the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital, Lydgate arrives in Middlemarch as the New Fever Hospital is reaching completion.

In 1820, a decade before the novel is set, William Cobbett described Coventry as follows:

'Coventry ... is a City containing about twenty thousand souls, and the business of which is, principally, Watch-making and Ribbon-weaving. It is in the County of Warwick, and is within a few miles of the centre of England. The land all around it, for many many miles, is very rich indeed ... and yet, good God! What a miserable race of human beings! What a ragged, squalid, woe-worn assemblage of creatures!

Exhibits 3, 4 and 5 all present the cultural divide between the provincial outskirts and the metropolitan centre, a major theme in Middlemarch.

‘Coventry from the East’ juxtaposes a tranquil patchwork field of grazing animals, framed by trees and a ramshackle fence with a constellation of close-knit buildings, newly grafted upon the land.


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Exhibit 3 - ‘Coventry from the East’, (c. 19thC), the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.


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J. M. W. Turner's ‘Coventry; viewed from a hill-side’ (1832), depicts the city in the decade Middlemarch is set. The technological marvel that is modern Coventry, illuminated by the heavens rises between the countryside fields of old. John Ruskin, famed art critic and advocate of "truth to nature", described it in his first volume of Modern Painters (1842):

"Impetuous clouds, twisted rain, flickering sunshine, fleeting shadow, gushing water and oppressed cattle, all speak the same story of tumult, fitfulness, power, and velocity. Only one thing is wanted, a passage of repose to contrast with it all; and it is given. High and far above the dark volumes of the swift rain-cloud, are seen on the left, through their opening, the quiet, horizontal, silent flakes of the highest cirrus, resting in the repose of the deep sky."


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Exhibit 4 - Coventry, Warwickshire; viewed from a hill-side on which cattle, donkeys and sheep are grazing, horses pulling carriages at right by Joseph Mallord William Turner, (1832), watercolour © The Trustees of the British Museum.


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Sara Sophia Hennell (1812-1899) was a close friend of George Eliot. She met Mary Ann for the first time in 1842 at Rosehill, Coventry, the home of her sister Cara Bray (1814-1905) and her sister’s husband, prosperous ribbon manufacturer and social reformer Charles Bray (1811-1884).

Hennell’s 1833 watercolour of Coventry, immortalised her first visit to city, on a trip to her Uncle Sam’s in Hill Street. Her work, like the previous two exhibits, evokes the sense of a momentous cultural threshold about to be crossed. The animals, hay wagon and cart highlight the contrast between the countryside around the city and the urban centre, signified by the three spires of Coventry looming in the distance.


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Exhibit 5 - Coventry, by Sara Hennell (1833), the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.


how was M received
EXHIBIT 7
‘Coventry, 1819’ – The Album of a Visit by William Henry Brooke
Between December 1819 and January 1820, William Henry Brooke made a survey of Coventry, which provides a fascinating record of how the city looked in the year George Eliot was born. Bablake Hospital, Old Golden Cross Inn, Greyfriars Hospital, Whitefriars Gate, and St Mary's Guildhall (the location of Hetty's trial in Adam Bede) all feature.
how was M received
EXHIBIT 7
‘Coventry, 1819’ – The Album of a Visit by William Henry Brooke
Between December 1819 and January 1820, William Henry Brooke made a survey of Coventry, which provides a fascinating record of how the city looked in the year George Eliot was born. Bablake Hospital, Old Golden Cross Inn, Greyfriars Hospital, Whitefriars Gate, and St Mary's Guildhall (the location of Hetty's trial in Adam Bede) all feature.
how was M received
EXHIBIT 6
‘Coventry, 1819’ – The Album of a Visit by William Henry Brooke
Between December 1819 and January 1820, William Henry Brooke made a survey of Coventry, which provides a fascinating record of how the city looked in the year George Eliot was born. Bablake Hospital, Old Golden Cross Inn, Greyfriars Hospital, Whitefriars Gate, and St Mary's Guildhall (the location of Hetty's trial in Adam Bede) all feature.

Brooke (1772-1860) was a pupil of the prolific history painter Samuel Drummond (1765-1844) and under his influence he progressed rapidly, exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1810.

In 2011 the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum obtained the topographical album, following an appeal that raised £12,000 to keep the historic item in Coventry for future generations.

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Posterior gate of Whitefriars Monastery
‘Coventry’ – The Album of a Visit by William Henry Brooke, (1819), the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.

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Album Cover, N. 12 Long tour, 1819
‘Coventry’ – The Album of a Visit by William Henry Brooke, (1819), the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.

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Summer Court, Bablake Hospital
‘Coventry’ – The Album of a Visit by William Henry Brooke, (1819), the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.

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Inner Court Greyfriars Hospital
‘Coventry’ – The Album of a Visit by William Henry Brooke, (1819), the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.

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Gateway of the Old White Horse Inn & The Old Golden Cross Inn on the corner of Pepper Lane
‘Coventry’ – The Album of a Visit by William Henry Brooke, (1819), the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.

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‘Coventry’ – The Album of a Visit by William Henry Brooke, (1819), the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.

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Passage leading to St Mary's Guildhall
‘Coventry’ – The Album of a Visit by William Henry Brooke, (1819), the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.

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The Old Black Bull Inn
‘Coventry’ – The Album of a Visit by William Henry Brooke, (1819), the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.

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St Mary's Guildhall, and the posterior gate of Whitefriars Monastery, Coventry - c. 1819, by William Henry Brooke, and c. 2019 via Wikimedia Commons.

Many of the locations featured in William Henry Brooke’s album are still visible today. Drag the slider to see the same locations two hundred years apart.

Can you take a picture of modern Coventry that corresponds with a painting from the past? Locations still to capture include: Bablake Hospital, Old Golden Cross Inn, (corner of Pepper Lane), Gateway of the Old White Horse Inn (Bayley Lane), Greyfriars Hospital, and the Old Black Bull Inn (Smithford Street). You can visit our Google Map to find an approximate location of the artist's vantage point and post your photo on Twitter under the hashtag #FindingMiddlemarch.


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When George Eliot’s first stories, Scenes of Clerical Life, were published there was great speculation about who the author behind the pseudonym was. So many details were drawn from local lives in the town of Nuneaton that everyone there knew it had to be someone from the neighbourhood. It is only the chance rediscovery of John Astley’s diaries that lets us see just how much Eliot took from what she overheard as a young girl about scandals in the neighbourhood.



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Book open at first page. Handwritten text reads: 'Memorandum book of occurrences at Nuneaton. 1810.

Exhibit 7 - Nuneaton Diary by John Astley (1810-45), Nuneaton Library.

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Handwritten pages.

Exhibit 7 - Nuneaton Diary by John Astley (1810-45), Nuneaton Library.

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Handwritten pages.

Exhibit 7 - Nuneaton Diary by John Astley (1810-45), Nuneaton Library.

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Handwritten pages.

Exhibit 7 - Nuneaton Diary by John Astley (1810-45), Nuneaton Library.

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Two books stacked with brown covered.

Exhibit 7 - Nuneaton Diary by John Astley (1810-45), Nuneaton Library.

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Manuscript
EXHIBIT 8 (SLIDE 1/3)
From
Mind
to Manuscript
George Eliot first envisioned the idea for a detailed study of provincial life in 1867, though she began the first three chapters in 1869 her pen began to falter, and she soon found her story stalling, In December 1870, having abandoned her previous enterprise, she wrote a hundred pages of a new story centred on ‘Miss Brooke’. As her handwritten manuscript testifies, Eliot then had the idea of interweaving the two storylines.
Mind thek
Manuscript
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The Trials of Weaving and Interweaving...
Peppered with quizzical marginalia, crossings-out and decisive amendments the manuscript is comprised of hundreds of loose leaves later bound together into volumes. Mary ‘Dove’ becomes Mary Garth, ‘Tristam’ becomes Tertius Lydgate, (indicating his identity as a third child) and 'Misterton' becomes Middlemarch.

As Jerome Beaty notes, the first nine chapters of the manuscript, belonging to the original ‘Miss Brooke’ tale are written on different paper, watermarked ‘Parkins and Gotto’ (a second type of paper, watermarked ‘T & J H 1869,’ is used throughout the remaining parts of the manuscript).
Mind thekd
Manuscript
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"High aspiration and domestic reality"
Stanley Millet, tracing a sequence of revisions across Chapters XI-XVI, and noting Eliot's many numberings and renumberings (of both pages and chapters), suggests the manuscript bears evidence of Lydgate gradually coming to the fore as the direct counterpart of Dorothea.

This emphasis replaced an earlier focus (in the embryonic "Middlemarch") on Fred Vincy's and Lydgate's attempts to determine their “proper vocation” and evolved into a more complex, rewarding theme: ‘the interrelationship of high aspiration and "domestic reality”’ (57).
Mind thekd
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how was M received
From Mind to Manuscript...
George Eliot first envisioned the idea for a detailed study of provincial life in 1867, though she began the first three chapters in 1869 her pen began to falter, and she soon found her story stalling, In December 1870, having abandoned her previous enterprise, she wrote a hundred pages of a new story centred on ‘Miss Brooke’. As her handwritten manuscript testifies, Eliot then had the idea of interweaving the two storylines.
how was M received
The Trials of Weaving and Interweaving...
Peppered with quizzical marginalia, crossings-out and decisive amendments the manuscript is comprised of hundreds of loose leaves later bound together into volumes. Mary ‘Dove’ becomes Mary Garth, ‘Tristam’ becomes Tertius Lydgate, (indicating his identity as a third child) and 'Misterton' becomes Middlemarch.

As Jerome Beaty notes, the first nine chapters of the manuscript, belonging to the original ‘Miss Brooke’ tale are written on different paper, watermarked ‘Parkins and Gotto’ (a second type of paper, watermarked ‘T & J H 1869,’ is used throughout the remaining parts of the manuscript).
how was M received
"High aspiration and domestic reality"
Stanley Millet, tracing a sequence of revisions across Chapters XI-XVI, and noting Eliot's many numberings and renumberings (of both pages and chapters), suggests the manuscript bears evidence of Lydgate gradually coming to the fore as the direct counterpart of Dorothea.

This emphasis replaced an earlier focus (in the embryonic "Middlemarch") on Fred Vincy's and Lydgate's attempts to determine their “proper vocation” and evolved into a more complex, rewarding theme: ‘the interrelationship of high aspiration and "domestic reality”’ (57).
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Middlemarch: a study of provincial life [manuscript] (c. 1871), Jonathan Garnault Ouvry, British Library, Add MS 34034

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Middlemarch: a study of provincial life [manuscript] (c. 1871), Jonathan Garnault Ouvry, British Library, Add MS 34034

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Middlemarch: a study of provincial life [manuscript] (c. 1871), Jonathan Garnault Ouvry, British Library, Add MS 34034

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Middlemarch: a study of provincial life [manuscript] (c. 1871), Jonathan Garnault Ouvry, British Library, Add MS 34034

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Middlemarch: a study of provincial life [manuscript] (c. 1871), Jonathan Garnault Ouvry, British Library, Add MS 34034

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Middlemarch: a study of provincial life [manuscript] (c. 1871), Jonathan Garnault Ouvry, British Library, Add MS 34034

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Middlemarch: a study of provincial life [manuscript] (c. 1871), Jonathan Garnault Ouvry, British Library, Add MS 34034

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There are just under 100 named characters in Eliot’s Middlemarch. This sense of a world packed with people with their own lives, daily business and points of view on the action is crucial for the immersive feeling of reading the novel.






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Fossilised Memories

Fossil hunting was a popular pastime during Eliot’s younger days when great discoveries took place about the age of the earth and the existence of dinosaurs. But the fossil record also suggested past and future mass extinction events were possible. For Eliot the process of fossilisation was a way for her to think about how she used memory and the past in her writing.

Exhibit 9 - An ammonite fossilised amid rock, the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.

This pteridosperm fossil was found in the Warwickshire coalfield. The specimen contains one large leaf in the centre, surrounded by leaf and stem debris. It originates from the Carboniferous period some 300 million years ago, when the land around Coventry, Bedworth and Nuneaton was covered in a forested swamp and long before the dinosaurs walked the Earth.

Taking the advice of Philip Henry Gosse’s A Naturalist’s Rambles on the Devonshire Coast, Eliot and her partner, George Henry Lewes, set off in 1856 for Devon to practice natural history along the shoreline. During this time, Eliot honed her increasingly precise naturalist’s eye: observing and taxonomizing those she met as surely as she did her specimens.

Exhibit 10 - A Pteridosperm fossil, the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.

In an 1839 letter to her friend Maria Lewis Eliot considered her literary mode through the materiality of a fossil.

She writes that her ‘mind is more than usually chaotic [...] like a stratum of conglomerated fragments [...] encrusted and united with some unvaried and uninteresting but useful stone’.

Her thoughts present ‘such an assemblage of disjointed specimens ...all arrested and petrified and smothered by the fast thickening [of] everyday accession’; while her memories — impressions or traces of a once-living thing, compressed by the thickening sediment of ‘actual events, relative anxieties, and household cares’ — fossilise amid the strata of her mind.


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Quarrying from the Past...

Quarrying fossils and stones also played a part in Eliot’s research process. She called her notebooks in which she recorded everything she learned from old newspapers and her contacts about the history of Coventry her ‘Quarry for Middlemarch’.

From 1868 until the novel’s completion in 1872, George Eliot regularly consulted what she called her Quarry for Middlemarch — a small, leather notebook packed with detailed particulars to furnish her imagined provincial town. Extending the elaborate geological metaphor she had earlier used in 1839 to describe her compositional process, these ‘quarries’ served as an imaginative site for narrative excavation — a repository where she could keep track of all the careful contextual mining that comprised her historical research.

Jottings include relevant dates (such as when Fred would have taken his degree examinations), the ages and ancestry of various characters, potential mottoes and quotes for chapter epigraphs, and notes on the central themes that underpin Middlemarch’s many plots. Such information was vital when it came to embedding her characters in a specific time and locality.

Much of the ‘quarry’ is made up of quotes or extracts relating to scientific or medical matters. As we shall explore later on in the exhibition, this strong bedrock of scientific knowledge proved invaluable — from notes on the cholera epidemic of the 1830s, to information that helped solidify tensions between the Middlemarch Infirmary and the New Fever Hospital.

As Eliot noted in her journal in September 1869, this included any information that she judged necessary to ‘imagining the conditions of [her] hero’.

Exhibit 11 - Eliot, George, 1819-1880. Quarry for Middlemarch [cover and map], MS Lowell 13. Houghton Library, Harvard University. See Medical Reform for further selected pages.


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Middlemarch is acutely aware of its identity as a work of fiction that will eventually be read in different ways by a diverse range of individuals, each with their own predilections and prejudices.

It is a novel that purposefully views events from the perspective of multiple individuals — Dorothea lonely in her blue-green boudoir at Lowick Manor, Mary Garth tirelessly attending to Old Featherstone at Stone Court, Lydgate wholly in the thrall of the billard-room at The Green Dragon.

As we can see from the small, private map drawn in her Quarry, Eliot evidentially took great care in envisioning various characters’ relative proximity to one another — in creating a realistic, localised frame through which she could imagine their lives.

Twenty-first-century students of Eliot have continued this practice of literary mapping…

Exhibit 12 — A Fictional Map of Middlemarch (2015) by contemporary illustrator Caitlin Kuhwald, watercolour and digital.


how was M received

CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS

How was Middlemarch received?
Critics and admirers alike commented on George Eliot’s historicizing eye for detail, on her great love of particularities, and on the inextricable manner in which the fates of her characters intertwine…
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Edith Simcox
CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS
Edith Simcox
a British writer, trade unionist, and proto-feminist suffragette who identified as one of George Eliot’s (self-appointed) “spiritual daughters.” Her passionate review zoomed in on the emotional veracity of Eliot’s “study of provincial life”.
"As 'a study of provincial life,' if it were nothing more, Middlemarch would have a lasting charm for students of human nature in its less ephemeral costumes; besides the crowds of men and women whom we have all known in real life, where, however, to our dimmer vision, they seemed less real and life-like than in the book […]It is not natural to most men to know so much of their fellow-creatures as George Eliot shows them, to penetrate behind the scenes in so many homes, to understand the motives of ambiguous conduct, to watch “like gods knowing good and evil” the tangled course of intermingled lives, the remote mainsprings of impulse and the wide-eddying effects of action. Even with the author’s assistance it is not easy to maintain the same height of observant wisdom for long, and since the intricacy of the subject is real, a feeling of even painful bewilderment in its contemplation is not entirely unbecoming."
- Edith Simcox, “Middlemarch,” Academy 4 (1 January 1873): 1-4
henry hames
CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS
Henry James
author of The Portrait of a Lady, The Ambassadors, and The Turn of the Screw, gave a somewhat mixed review. Describing Eliot as a “generous rural historian," James suggested she attempted “say too many things, and to say them too well,” a tendency he attributed to her attempt to appeal more to a “scientific audience.” Will Ladislaw, he denounced as “the only eminent failure in the book”: a character that lacked “sharpness of outline and depth of color, [who was], in short, roughly speaking, a woman’s man.” For James, Dr. Lydgate, a “vividly consistent, manly figure” emerged as the “real hero of the story”. Like Simcox, he praises the emotional exactness of Eliot’s creation: he goes on to suggest “there is nothing more powerfully real […] in all English fiction, that the “painful fireside scenes” between Dr. Lydgate and Rosamond.
"Middlemarch is at once one of the strongest and one of the weakest of English novels. (...) [it] is a treasure-house of details, but an indifferent whole. (...) All these people, solid and vivid in their varying degrees, are members of a deeply human little world, the full reflection of whose antique image is the great merit of these volumes."
- Henry James, Galaxy, 1873.
The Atlantic

CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS

A Library of Novels
For Arthur George Sedgwick, reviewing for The Atlantic Monthly, the detailed particulars that make up Middlemarch proved maddening. “Out of the history of Dorothea's marriage and domestic life, Lydgate's marriage and domestic life, Bulstrode's crimes and hypocrisy, the love-affair of Mary and Fred, and the adventures of Ladislaw, a library of novels might be made; while on the humor, the observation, reflection, and suggestion contained in the book a regiment of writers of social articles might support themselves for a lifetime.” Attempting, he writes sardonically, to “play the critic of such works as these, one cannot help feeling that to properly analyze and explain George Eliot, another George Eliot is needed”.
It would be a mere waste of time to go into a minute criticism of Middlemarch. The plots are too numerous, the characters too multitudinous, and the whole too complicated. (...) An author whose novels it has really been a liberal education to read, one is more tempted to admire silently than to criticise at all."
- Arthur George Sedgwick, The Atlantic Monthly, 1873.
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CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS
The social formation of Middlemarch...
Penned in the weeks Eliot was releasing Middlemarch’s final chapters, this review in The Times praises Eliot’s eye for capturing the past, applauding Middlemarch's focus on "the isolated life of a provincial neighbourhood about the time of the passing of the first Reform Bill: before railways had broken down the barriers and disturbed the traditions of rural existence". The town, they write, is masterfully “laid bare in a complete section cut clean from summit to base of its ancient stratification".
[Middlemarch]’s name is taken from the town in and about which its scenes are laid. It is “a study of provincial life,” and the local colouring, the flavour of the soil of a midland country, is imparted to places and people, to life and manners, with strange felicity and fidelity. Yet these four volumes, as we need hardly say, though provincial in the outward form of their story, have depths and meanings “of the widest” interest. Under George Eliot’s pen a few square miles of fields and villages become the world. The game we watch may be played upon the checkers of a small board, but we are conscious all the while that its problems are profoundly identical with the issues and mysteries of human life. The nominal stakes are the fortunes of a few country people, but the pieces stand proxy for the destinies of humanity.
- THE TIMES (March 7, 1873)


Finding Middlemarch
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