->''Who shall tell what may be the effect of writing? If it happens to be cut in stone, though it lie face downmost for ages on a forsaken beach, or 'rest quietly under the drums and tramplings of many conquests', it may end by letting us into the secret of usurpations and other scandals gossiped about long centuries ago: -- this world being apparently a huge whispering-gallery.''

''Middlemarch'' : A Study of Provincial Life is a novel by Creator/GeorgeEliot, first published in instalments from 1871 to 1872 and often considered to be her masterpiece.

The novel centres around several groups of characters in the provincial town of Middlemarch and its surrounding villages, between the years 1829 and 1832. This was a time of political change in England, during which Parliamentary reform was proposed to increase the number of eligible voters and to remove "rotten boroughs" - constituencies in which a Member of Parliament could be returned by only one or two voters. The differing political and religious views of some characters form part of the background of the novel. Mr. Brooke, for example, stands for reforms that are unpopular with other members of the town's gentry.

Against this background, three main plot strands concern three different couples or relationships.

Dorothea Brooke, an intelligent, idealistic young woman marries Mr. Casaubon, a much older man whose life's work on a Key to all Mythologies she thinks will provide a fulfilling role for her. She looks forward to helping Casaubon in his great project, and imagines that it will open a new understanding of culture, art, language and life. Meanwhile, Will Ladislaw, Casaubon's orphaned cousin from a disgraced branch of the family, is searching for direction and a way to gain a useful living away from Casaubon's patronage.

Fred Vincy is the son of a successful Middlemarch manufacturer. His prospects in life are bright, but rely on an expected inheritance from Mr. Featherstone, a rich uncle by marriage. While waiting for this, he's happy to live on his expectations and try to maintain the life of an educated gentleman-at-leisure, while dreaming of a future with his childhood sweetheart, Mary Garth.

Rosamond Vincy is Fred's sister, who finds herself attracted to the good prospects and glamorous background of Lydgate, the town's new doctor. Lydgate himself has thoroughly modern ideas and looks forward to replacing the town's old-fashioned medical practices, while carrying out research at the new fever hospital to which he is appointed.

Other characters include the wealthy and seemingly respectable banker, Bulstrode, who sponsors Lydgate and deals with the financial affairs of the Vincys, and Mr. Farebrother, a clergyman who is in the running for the chaplaincy at the new hospital.

Over the course of the novel, Eliot deals with the way in which these various plans and dreams play out, and how circumstance, and the expectations and scruples of an often small-minded society can interfere with happiness and change.

Eliot also seems to have been quite conscious of the tropes she was playing with; her essay "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists" sets out many of the 19th century literary tropes subverted in the Dorothea story arc. In brief, Eliot didn't think much of novels written by women in which the protagonist, generally both a MarySue and ThePollyanna , would go around bettering the lives of the wretched, showing how smart she was and then making a good marriage. This should sound familiar to readers of the novel.

Two television adaptations have been made, in 1968 and in 1994. No film has yet been made, although Sam Mendes was once reported to have been producing one.

!!This book provides examples of:

* TheAlcoholic: Raffles. It ultimately leads to [[spoiler: his not-exactly accidental death.]]
* AllGirlsWantBadBoys: Spectacularly subverted in Dorothea's case. Casaubon's age and demeanor make him more attractive to her, not less.
** Subverted in Mary Garth's case as well: she makes it very clear to Fred Vincy that he has no chance with her if he continues to live recklessly and idle.
* AmbiguouslyJewish: Will Ladislaw, considering his appearance, his Polish heritage, and similarities with the Jewish protagonist of Eliot's later novel ''Literature/DanielDeronda''.
* AssholeVictim: [[spoiler: Raffles.]]
* AuthorAvatar: Two candidates, neither exact:
** Dorothea is religious and bookish, much like Eliot was in her youth.
** Mary Garth is plain, but attractive for other qualities, much like Eliot was reputed to be.
* BeautyEqualsGoodness: Questioned, as per the usual in Eliot's fiction.
* {{Blackmail}}: Why Raffles decides that now would be a really good time to pay Bulstrode a visit.
* BreakTheHaughty: Bulstrode and Lydgate, in particular.
* CatchPhrase: Mr. Brooke's "You know, that kind of thing." or some variation thereof.
* ChildhoodMarriagePromise: Fred Vincy and Mary Garth.
* ClearMyName: Dorothea rallies her friends to Lydgate's side once he is [[spoiler: wrongly implicated in Raffles' death.]]
* ContrivedCoincidence: A less extreme example than some, and somewhat disguised, but the way that Raffles finds Bulstrode, and the fact that Bulstrode turns out to be [[spoiler: Ladislaw's step-grandfather]], both seem to be large coincidences. Par for the course in a Victorian novel, though.
* DecidedByOneVote: Lydgate has the deciding vote on the chaplaincy of the new hospital.
* DeathOfTheHypotenuse: Casaubon tries desperately to avert this, and with a ThanatosGambit seeks to ensure that even in the event of his death the survivors could never marry.
* DesperatelyLookingForAPurposeInLife: Dorothea Brooke's problem. The narrator suggests that SocietyIsToBlame, to a certain extent.
* {{Doorstopper}}: It's 800 pages and the most exciting things that happens are the deaths of two characters, a provincial doctor's threatened disgrace and the coming of age of a idealistic young woman.
** Probably the Britlit equivalent to War and Peace -- the Guardian once held is up as an example of that great novel that you really should have read, but never did.
* EnglishRose: All three main female characters are subversions. Rosamond was raised to be, and seen by most outsiders as, an archetypal English Rose: beautiful, gentle and virtuous, whereas inwardly she is shallow and selfish. Mary Garth is perfectly honourable and well-mannered, but she is quite plain. Dorothea is the one that comes closest to playing this trope straight, as she is at once beautiful, incredibly modest (in both senses of the word) and a seriously good person, but she is a bit too independent to be considered a completely decent lady in 19th century England.
* ExtremelyLengthyCreation: InUniverse. Rev. Casaubon's life's work, an unfinished book ''The Key to All Mythologies'', is intended as a monument to the tradition of Christian syncretism. [[spoiler:It turns out his life's work is useless as he is behind on current studies (he doesn't read German, so his scholarship is incomplete). He is aware of this, but has put too much time into his research to admit it.]]
* FriendToAllChildren: Will Ladislaw, who is followed by a troop of children during his election campaigning.
* TheFundamentalist: Bulstrode.
* TheGamblingAddict: Mr. Farebrother supplements his meagre income by betting on whist, which is somewhat scandalous for a clergyman. He has no problem giving up when he's given a better-paid post, though. Fred Vincy also flirts with the idea, when looking forward to life as a landed gentleman.
* GoldDigger: Rosamond Vincy is a subversion. What she originally expects to achieve through marriage is sophistication and an escape from provincial boredom rather than getting filthy rich. Her family are comfortably well-off (though by no means rich) and she repeatedly turns down suitors who are wealthier. It's flat-out poverty that crushes her spirit.
* GreedyJew: Possibly. Mr Dunkirk, the crooked dealer and Will's grandfather, is referred to more than once as a "Jew pawnbroker", though it's unclear whether the word "Jew" is merely [[ValuesDissonance being used as an epithet]] in this context.
* TheHedonist: Rosamond and Fred Vincy. Fred manages to redeem himself; Rosamond, not so much.
** The lack of options that women had is a theme in the novel. Fred redeems himself with the offer of a useful job giving him a modest income. Rosamond is plunged into debt through her husband's decisions and can do little about it, though she tries with her limited means.
** Actually, no. Rosamond plays an active role in getting the Lydgates into debt; she's the one who wants an expensive house, expensive furniture, and resists any of Tertius' attempts to recover, going behind his back multiple times. She definitely does not "try with her limited means", and while this is definitely due to her extremely limited upbringing, she is extraordinarily selfish and is an example of how some women really reinforce gender stereotypes and roles in society.
* HeelFaceTurn: [[spoiler: Bulstrode]], after being shunned or [[spoiler: Raffles' death]], does try to put things right for Fred Vincy.
* HopelessSuitor: [[spoiler: Farebrother]] is in love with Mary Garth.
* ICouldaBeenAContender: Tertius Lydgate and Edward Casaubon, quite explicitly, but Dorothea Brooke as well.
* IWantMyBelovedToBeHappy: [[spoiler: Farebrother]] doesn't try to come between Mary and Fred.
* LoadsAndLoadsOfCharacters
* LoveTriangle or LoveDodecahedron: There are several love triangles, some of which intersect. Will, Casaubon and Dorothea, then Lydgate, Rosamond and Will, then Farebrother, Fred and Mary. Sir James also had a thing for Dorothea before marrying her sister instead.
* LukeIAmYourFather: Or, rather, [[spoiler: Bulstrode]] turns out to be [[spoiler: Will's step-grandfather.]]
* MalignedMixedMarriage: Will's English mother was disowned by her family for marrying a Pole, and he and [[spoiler: Dorothea]] get a touch of the same treatment when they decide to marry, though there are other reasons.
* MayDecemberRomance: Dorothea and Casaubon.
** A bad idea. It is heavily implied that the December party is impotent.
* MeaningfulName: Farebrother, Rosamond, Casaubon, Raffles.
* NamesToRunAwayFromReallyFast: Raffles (another link to the gambling theme).
* NamesToTrustImmediately: Mr. Farebrother.
* NeverLendToAFriend: Fred gets the somewhat financially naive Mr. Garth to underwrite his debts, which causes the Garths to lose their life's savings.
* NoCelebritiesWereHarmed: ...Possibly. Casaubon may have been modeled on one of Eliot's acquaintances, the Oxford scholar Mark Pattison, then engaged on a biography of Isaac Casaubon. Pattison was [[MayDecemberRomance over twenty years older than his wife]].
* ParentalSubstitute: Mr. Brooke for Dorothea and Celia.
* PassedOverInheritance: Peter Featherstone's will disappoints his entire family, especially Fred.
* ScrewTheMoneyIHaveRules: See SelfFulfillingProphecy.
* SelfFulfillingProphecy: The codicil to Casaubon's will.
* TwoLinesNoWaiting: There are at least four major intersecting plotlines.
* UglyGuyHotWife: Casaubon and Dorothea.
* UptownGirl: Dorothea's fortune and Will's poverty and foreign background is one of the obstacles between them.
* WhatDoesSheSeeInHim: Both of Dorothea's marriages come in for this.
* WhereAreTheyNowEpilogue: The Finale.