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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: March 2012

7 - Middlemarch and the Struggle with the ‘Equivalent Centre of Self’

from Part Two - ‘The Mercy for Those Sorrows’—Syntax and Sympathy


The Syntax of ‘Too Early Yet’

As has been well-documented in Jerome Beaty's Middlemarch from Notebook to Novel, the work commonly regarded as George Eliot's masterpiece was initially composed in sections. This sectionalization was characteristic of the entire writing process, as Middlemarch was published serially from December 1871 to December 1872, with George Eliot still writing as late as October 1872. Beaty focuses specifically on the initial phases of the novel's composition, however—before what we now know as Middlemarch had turned its various linear storylines into a cohesive web of multiple dimensions. As Beaty explains, ‘the first eighteen chapters of Middlemarch are a fusion of the beginnings of two separate prose works’. George Eliot documented the beginning of one of those prose works in a letter to her publisher on 2 December 1870, writing that the tale concerned ‘a subject which has been recorded among my possible themes ever since I began to write fiction, but will probably take new shapes in the development’. The subject in question was the study of Dorothea Brooke, a nineteenth-century ‘Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing’. But George Eliot had actually started Middlemarch more than a year before, with what most critics describe as the Featherstone and Vincy parts. The original writing lagged, and Dorothea's tale would ultimately launch the novel in two senses: as the literal opening and as a new inspiration for the novelist herself.

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