Writing at the very moment when the foundations of Western thought were being challenged and undermined, George Eliot fashions in Middlemarch (1871-2) the quintessential Victorian novel, a concept of life and society free from the dogma of the past yet able to confront the scepticism that was taking over the age. In a panoramic sweep of English life during thr years leading up to the First Reform Bill of 1832, Eliot explores nearly every subject of concern to modern life: art, religion, science, politics, self, society, human relationships. Among her characters are some of the most remarkable portraits in English literature: Dorothea Brooke, the heroine, idealistic but naive; Rosamond Vincy, beautiful and egoistic: Edward Casaubon, the dry-as-dust scholar: Tertius Lydgate, the brilliant but morally-flawed physician: the passionate artist Will Ladislaw: and Fred Vincey and Mary Garth, childhood sweethearts whose charming courtship is one of the many humorous elements in the novel's rich comic vein. Felicia Bonaparte has provided a new Introduction for this updated edition, the text of which is taken from David Carroll's Clarendon Middlemarch (1986), the first critical edition. ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.
Mary Ann (Marian) Evans was born in 1819 in Warwickshire. She attended schools in Nuneaton and Coventry, coming under the influence of evangelical teachers and clergymen. In 1836 her mother died and Marian became her father's housekeeper, educating herself in her spare time. In 1841 she moved to Coventry, and met Charles and Caroline Bray, local progressive intellectuals. Through them she was commissioned to translate Strauss's Life of Jesus and met the radical publisher John Chapman, who, when he purchased the Westminster Review in 1851, made her his managing editor.
Having lost her Christian faith and thereby alienated her family, she moved to London and met Herbert Spencer (whom she nearly married, only he found her too 'morbidly intellectual') and the versatile man-of-letters George Henry Lewes. Lewes was separated from his wife, but with no possibility of divorce. In 1854 he and Marian decided to live together, and did so until Lewes's death in 1878. It was he who encouraged her to turn from philosophy and journalism to fiction, and during those years, under the name of George Eliot, she wrote Scenes of Clerical Life, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner, Romola, Felix Holt, Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda, as well as numerous essays, articles and reviews.
George Eliot died in 1880, only a few months after marrying J. W. Cross, an old friend and admirer, who became her first biographer. She was buried beside Lewes at Highgate. George Eliot combined a formidable intelligence with imaginative sympathy and acute powers of observation, and became one of the greatest and most influential of English novelists. Her choice of material widened the horizons of the novel and her psychological insights radically influenced the novelist's approach to characterization. Middlemarch, considered by most to be her masterpiece, was said by Virginia Woolf to be 'one of the few English novels written for grown-up people'.