4 thoughts on “Victorian Reviews of Middlemarch: Observations and Reflections

  1. Pingback: English B1918 S18: The Victorian Novel – Renata Kobetts Miller, Ph.D.

  2. Wendy Meza

    The review that I chose to work on was one of many positive reviews for George Eliot’s Middlemarch. This review was written a little after the first book of the novel was published, which is the reason that the reviewer only focused on ‘Book I: Miss Brooke’. However, the reviewer had plenty to say about those 120 pages.

    To start off, the reviewer notes that he/she would usually be upset that George Eliot’s work is being published in parts because of how amazing it is to read anything that she writes. However, contrary to that, Middlemarch is the perfect novel to publish in parts because it gives the reader the chance to digest the story. Of course, after finishing the first part of the publication, readers will want more. But the anticipation and the two month wait will allow readers to find the true meaning in the pages they do have their hands on.
    To the reviewer, the “true meaning” of the novel itself can be found in the prelude; “Many Theresas have been born who found themselves no epic life…perhaps only a life of mistakes” Those the characters in this novel may make mistakes, Eliot will show how this is human nature.
    Another point that the reviewer makes is that those who read Middlemarch (or any other work of hers) only for the story/plot would be missing out on what makes her work so legendary; the dialogue and the description of characters. Not only that, but Eliot is able to transport us in and out of the “mid-England district in which her scene is laid”. Through these short trips and the profoundness of the characters, we learn about the provincial life.
    Overall, this reviewer loves Middlemarch so far, as it enhances all the qualities that make George Eliot an amazing writer.

    “Literary” The Examiner, 02 Dec. 1871, pp. 12–13,
    https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000054/18711202/005/0011?browse=true. 26 March 2018.

    -Wendy Meza


  3. Wilson Valentin

    On January 13, 1873, The Evening Standard published a discussion of George Eliot’s past work (Mill on the Floss and Romola in particular) in an attempt to build a case that even though Middlemarch, had impressed the editors “with the power and genius of the writer,” it should be “condemned rather than praised.”

    The columnist claims that Eliot is a gifted writer who allows readers to know her characters more intimately than they could ever know anyone in real life; that she excels at showing the habits of an entire class or segment of a community, and that her prose is “powerful, clear, incisive.” But also feels that in Middlemarch Eliot is too reflective and self-composed and never allows “the muse to master her.” These failings are attributed to her recent scientific studies, which have led her to write psychological reflections that show the author’s wit at the expense of a reader’s comprehension.

    This is the third time that I’ve read Middlemarch. The first two times I read it for pleasure and found it enjoyable and true. Now, coming to it as required reading that I had to deeply absorb at a specific pace, I did find certain passages much more challenging. This review sends me back to those initial experiences and makes me wonder how the columnist approached the book. I wonder if its perceived failings should be attributed to Eliot or to the columnist and I can’t justify discounting its many merits over a few challenging sections.

    Work Cited: “Living Men of Letters: George Eliot.” The Evening Standard 13 Jan. 1873: 5. Print.

    — Wilson Valentin


  4. Thomas Collins

    On December 16, 1871, a review of the first installment of Middlemarch by George Eliot appeared in The Graphic. The reviewer claims that the prelude, which discusses the frustrations of “later-born [Saint] Theresas,” reveals “perhaps too much of Dorothea in the beginning; for we cannot help reading her with a key” (Middlemarch xiii; Graphic). The reviewer, remarking on only the beginning, could not have known that Casaubon’s manuscript, A Key to All Mythologies, would never be finished, yet it is ironic that the reviewer criticizes Eliot for employing a technique—attempting to construct a totalizing viewpoint—that she critiques throughout the novel. Writing that “too much intention [is] disclosed,” the reviewer argues that Eliot editorializes to the detriment of Middlemarch (Graphic).
    Is it too much to wonder whether this reviewer might have accepted the “intention” of Middlemarch had it been written by a man (Graphic)? Citing the supposed anomaly of Dorothea’s “theoretic as well as practical desire for good,” as well as her “high principle and . . . the woman . . . under” it, the reviewer suggests that women are unprincipled and lack the ability to think critically about social problems (Graphic). When the reviewer writes, “we shall see the woman more clearly in the next book,” reference is made to Dorothea’s crying about her passionless marriage (Graphic). The reviewer equates femininity with emotionality, as opposed to reason. Eliot discredits this binary, as Dorothea is most reasonable when her feeling leads her to question her marriage to Casaubon.

    Works Cited

    Eliot, George. Middlemarch. Edited by Bert G. Hornback, Norton, 1977.
    “‘Middlemarch.’” The Graphic, 16 Dec. 1871, http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/9000057/18711216/027/0015?browse=False.

    -Thomas Collins


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