Middlemarch: Book One

Serial Reading Guide for Middlemarch: Book One (chs. 1 – 12)
Page numbers are indicated for the Norton Critical Edition (2000).

1. What key issues or themes do you feel are associated with each of the main characters introduced thus far? List anything at all that comes to mind.

2. What images or concepts have been repeated so far in the novel? Much critical attention has been paid to the metaphorical structure of the novel—the novel structured as a web or network and also emphasizing this as a theme. Do you see any signs of this in Book One?

3. Note how the following passage suggests the theme of interpretation or assumption, the idea that people see what they expect to see rather than what is actually in front of them. What other passages also suggest this?

When Miss Brooke was at the tea-table, Sir James came to sit down by her, not having felt her mode of answering him at all offensive. Why should he? He thought it probable that Miss Brooke liked him, and manners must be very marked indeed before they cease to be interpreted by preconceptions either confident or distrustful. (14, ch. 2)

4. What passages (in addition to the novel’s prelude) suggest thematic attention to the idea that intentions and circumstances are often at odds?

5. The literary term free indirect discourse (FID) describes the ability in a third-person narrator to reveal the thoughts and/or sentiments of a character, as in the first paragraph in the passage below. Authorial intrusion (or direct address) is the term often given to comments made by the narrator directly to the reader regarding characters, events, or ideas in the novel, as in the second paragraph in the passage below.

Dorothea colored with pleasure, and looked up gratefully to the speaker. Here was a man who could understand the higher inward life, and with whom there could be some spiritual communion; nay, who could illuminate principle with the widest knowledge a man whose learning almost amounted to a proof of whatever he believed!
Dorothea’s inferences may seem large; but really life could never have gone on at any period but for this liberal allowance of conclusions, which has facilitated marriage under the difficulties of civilization. Has any one ever pinched into its pilulous smallness the cobweb of pre-matrimonial acquaintanceship? (15, ch. 2)

6. Identify at least two examples of free indirect discourse in Book One and explain why they are significant.

7. Identify at least two examples of authorial intrusion in Book One and explain why they are significant.

Next – Middlemarch: Book Two (chs. 13 – 22) >

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© Steven J. Venturino 2018