This is, in lots of ways, the quintessential nineteenth century English novel: a panorama of lives which cross the class, gender and economic divide.
Eliot has a leisurely style but this allows her to get securely beneath the skins of even her minor characters and create men and women who we recognise, love, are irritated by, just as we are in real life.
At the heart of the book are Dorothea Brooke, a beautiful idealist who just wants to do good but can't quite work out how; and her opposite, Doctor Lydgate, who also loses his direction in life. Both are ambitious, albeit in different ways, and both are, to some extent, thwarted and diverted. It's especially interesting that Eliot doesn't make them into a couple, and marries them each off to other people.
There are many such parallels and similarities which play out in the book, moments of crisis, for example, where someone is tempted and has to make a decision which they then have to live with (Mary Garth, Bulstrode). But one of the thing I like about Eliot is that her books don't fall into predictable patterns: indeed, one of her themes is the endless potentiality of life which can turn on momentary decisions.
For all her realism, Eliot is in tight control of her story and inserts a narrative voice into the text which draws on the specific to make general points about life.
Eliot might not have the sparkle and wit of Austin, or the gothic intensity of the Brontes, but she's supremely intelligent and not afraid to show it.
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