Middlemarch – Book 1 – Miss Brooke

Middlemarch is a fascinating must-read classic! I wrote here about five tips on how to read it so that you can fall in love with it. One of the tips is to read it as it was originally published, in 8 volumes. These appeared almost monthly, throughout an entire year (the original instalments schedule is a chapter in this article here).

This is the first article in a series about Middlemarch, discussing each book individually.

Middlemarch starts strong, in a Jane Austen style, full of funny remarks and compelling characters. I read it so, so fast!

Though the events in this first book remind us of Jane Austen like problems, George Eliot’s characters are a lot more peculiar and, I dare say, a bit more fascinating!

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Book 1 – The Plot

George Eliot chose to start Middlemarch by showing us two sisters, Dorothea and Celia Brooke. They are in a constant comparison to one another, one being deemed as an ethereal beauty, the other one a lot more agreeable and sensible.

Dorothea is naive and inexperienced. She lives an ascetic life, far from the practical, real world. She dreams of an encyclopaedic knowledge that would fully open her mind. Understanding that she will not get that knowledge by ordinary means (women’s education is too shallow for her needs), when the opportunity presents itself, when she meets what she perceives to be the most knowledgeable person she knows, she will do whatever she can to marry him.

The lucky man is far from perfect. Reverend Edward Casaubon is a lot older than she is, but he is very entertained by the idea that someone so young might be interested in him. He sees Dorothea as a potential helper in his studies, a menial worker happy to service him.

Edward Casaubon

Dorothea, however, is convinced he is a good man because, apart from his extensive studies, he even has the charitable heart to help his poor cousin, Will Ladislaw, despite the fact that Mr. Ladislaw seems a good for nothing, lazy young man.

✨✨✨I wrote more about why Dorothea would choose to marry Casaubon here.✨✨✨

While Dorothea fancies Edward Casaubon, her first suitor, Sir James Chettham, feels slighted. The young man felt entitled to her hand due to age, beauty and, let’s face it, proximity. However, he is immediately reoriented to courting Celia, Dorothea’s younger sister.

Sir James Chettham

Having dealt with “the noble people of Middlemarch”, George Eliot introduces us to the working class. These ones may be rich or poor, but none of them own land: the Vincys, the Garths, the Waules and the Bulstrodes. Another interesting character is Peter Featherstone. He does own land and he also owns Stone Court. He is childless and very old. His fortune is of interest to the Vincys, the Garths and the Waules!

Peter featherstone

At the center of all the inheritance gossip is also Fred Vincy, the mayor’s son and one of Peter Featherstone’s nephews. He seems to already be in debt, because he is a gambler, incapable of passing his exams to become a priest. His uncle is not at all crazy about him.

One of the most curious characters we’ll meet in this first book is doctor Tertius Lydgate. He is an outsider, just moved into town, who comes from a good family and is very ambitious. We can tell that Rosamond Vincy, the mayor’s daughter, is immediately taken with him.

The first book of Middlemarch is like a telenovela and we are left in suspense, eagerly awaiting Book 2.

Middlemarch – Book 1 – Character Maps

I hope these character maps help you keep up with it all:

Middlemarch Characters' Map - End of Book 1.
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Middlemarch – Book 1 – My Impressions

George Eliot’s humour in this novel has no equal. She manages to give an entire person’s life and main traits within a sentence. A paragraph is more than enough to make you intimate with a character’s wishes and thoughts. They all become your lifetime neighbours. I feel this is the best way I can describe reading about the Middlemarchers. I enjoy so much that no character is the same. None of them are perfect. All of them seem real.

The first book got me hooked into this universe. Getting to know so many characters at once, however, may be overwhelming. The first 6 chapters are focused on Dorothea Brooke and those around her, but just as we think we understand how this is all going to unravel, the next 6 chapters completely forget about her and focus on a new set of characters. These aren’t the noble people exactly. They are mostly well off, but what binds them, in fact, is a potential inheritance. They all seem very interested in Peter Featherstone’s money.

Money and love - Middlemarch

On a more serious note, however, in this first book, George Eliot introduces two different, important themes of the time – the political agenda of Mr. Brooke (no one knows where to place him: tory or whig?!) and where characters stand about The Catholic Relief Act of 1829. Mrs. Cadwallader even goes so far as warning Mr. Brooke of being seen as suspicious because he had already sided with Peel!

Politics and religion will definitely be discussed further in the next books of Middlemarch and the way they are approached is very entertaining, even if you have no clue about them.

Middlemarch – Book 1 – Conclusions

George Eliot is masterful in drawing us into the Middlemarch Universe. At the end of book 1, we have barely scratched the surface of these characters, but they are all intriguing and, most of them, even loveable.

Which one is your favourite character so far? Let’s chat!

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