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George Eliot wrote Middlemarch towards the end of her literary career, and it is clearly a product of her maturity. Yet, she wrote in her journal that its theme "has been recorded among my possible Themes ever since I began to write fiction." She published it almost six years after the publication of Felix Holt. The novel is, in fact, a combination of two separate works she had undertaken.
The first entitled Middlemarch, she began writing in mid 1869. This was to be a novel focusing on Lydgate. The second was intended to be a long story called Miss Brooke, about Dorothea. She worked on them independently, until in 1871, she decided on the present conception of Middlemarch, in which she wanted to convey a "panoramic" view of provincial life.
Another significant feature is the publication of the novel in serial form. G.H. Lewes worked out this scheme for this with the publisher of Blackwood’s Magazine. He felt its being published in bi-monthly installments would give the novelist more leisure to write, and not restrict it into the "three-Decker novel form." The publisher, John Blackwood, was delighted both with the scheme and the work itself - "it is a most wonderful study of human life and nature. You are like a great giant walking about amongst us and fixing every one you meet upon your canvas," was his response. Again, about the installments, he said, "I think our plan of publication is the right one as the two parts are almost distinct, each complete in itself. Indeed there will be complaints of the want of the continuous interest of a story, but this does not matter where all is fresh and true to life" (Blackwood’s letter to George Eliot, 20th July 1871).
The second pressure was also hard to resist, and readers were intensely demanding. One of their hopes, which was not fulfilled, was that Lydgate and Dorothea would marry at the end! This hope of a "happy ending" was part of a larger demand for an optimistic conclusion. In this, the British public felt let down by the novelist. Thus the novel was described as "melancholy in its very conception," and elsewhere as "too often an echo of Messrs. Darwin and Huxley." Yet, George Eliot did not succumb to audience respond, neither in the story nor in the plot structure. In fact, the latter is so symmetrically arranged that reviewers could not believe it had not been completed before being serialized.
The world of Middlemarch is a world on the edge of change. Ripples from the waves of political struggle in the cities reach the town, in the struggle over reform; the Dissolution of Parliament takes place in 1831 and is followed by a general election. Mr. Brooke and Will Ladislaw, two of the characters, are sown actively participating in this election.
With all these topical references, Middlemarch is not truly a historical novel. It does not aim primarily at conveying a period in history for its own sake. The Middlemarchers are only vaguely aware of the great changes in the larger. English society. The historical references serve to highlight the insular nature of a provincial town. They help the author to show how slowly sweeping changes around it impinge on a provincial community. Yet her focal point is the intricate "web" of relationships between people in that community.