Middlemarch (First Edition) by George Eliot

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2015-06-26 10:40:29

Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life is a novel by George Eliot (1819-1880). The first edition of this work was published in serial form in eight parts at two month intervals between 1871 and 1872 by William Blackwood and Sons, the first one-volume edition published in 1874.

Background

This was the sixth novel of Mary Anne Evans, publishing under the masculine pseudonym George Eliot. She listed writing it on her ‘tasks for the coming year’. It was written during a time of failing health of the son of her companion George Henry Lewes, and because of this was slow to begin.

Plot, Characters, Themes

Middlemarch is set in the 1830s in pre-Reform Bill provincial England. The plot centres on three separate yet interwoven narratives.

The first involves a young affluent woman with a highly charitable nature. It is believed she will marry a neighbouring landowner, but instead marries a middle-aged intellectual. She is unhappy with him; he does not take her ambitions seriously. She becomes friends with his young cousin, but when her husband dies, his intellectual work incomplete, he has made a provision that she must not marry the young cousin or she will lose her inheritance.

The second tells of a young idealistic and somewhat radical doctor who marries a beautiful girl, not realising her innate greed and materialism. He is a very weak character, and is soon in bad debt.

The girl’s brother, a recent graduate, bored and irresponsible, is in love with his childhood sweetheart. She will marry him if he gives up the church. After various money problems he does so.

Around these are interwoven additional side-plots, many comedic, and snapshots of other events. Later characters come in and disrupt the established situations, and each narrative, while resolved in some way, is also left somewhat suspended.

Main themes centre around education and its effect, the pitfalls of self-delusion, the nature of marriage, political reform, the status of women, and religion and hypocrisy.

Notable auction sales and collecting tips

First editions are worth much more in their original eight parts (1871-2, William Blackwood and Sons), rather than the first one volume edition. If they retain their original pictorial paper covers rather than being rebound, the value is greatly increased. Therefore it is not recommended to restore first editions.

Middlemarch in its eight original parts was sold by Bonhams for $56,250 in October 2011, and by Christie’s for $68,500 in December 2009.

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