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Adam Roberts

7. Epigraphy : Beginnings and Ends

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1It might be thought perverse, in a book explicitly about the use of epigraphs in Middlemarch, to have waited so long to quantify the specific lineaments of Eliot’s epigraphy in the novel. There are, though, reasons why such work belongs at the end rather than the beginning. An epigraph precedes a chapter, of course; it comes at the beginning, or strictly speaking comes before the beginning. But we cannot make sense of the epigraph until we understand its relationship to the chapter it sets up, and we can only do that if we digest the whole chapter. So the epigraph which stands at the opening only makes sense at the close.

  • 1 11, 26, 32, 33, 36, 41, 42, 60, 66, 71, 77, 78; mostly William Shakespeare, but with some from Fran (...)
  • 2 4, 8, 9, 13, 18, 28, 31, 34, 43, 48, 55, 59, 64, 73.
  • 3 The epigraphs to chapters 3, 12, 16, 21, 24, 25, 37, 39, 44, 50, 52, 56, 58, 62, 64, 68, 76, 80, 82 (...)
  • 4 5, 10, 29, 45, 61, 63, 79, 85; Robert Burton, Thomas Fuller, Oliver Goldsmith, Thomas Browne, Samue (...)
  • 5 2, 30, 38, 75, 86; Miguel de Cervantes, Blaise Pascal, François Guizot and Victor Hugo.
  • 6 19, 22, 27, 35, 54, 81; Dante, Alfred de Musset, Hesiod, Jean-François Regnard and Johann Wolfgang (...)
  • 7 This sentiment, gussied into cod-seventeenth-century prose by Eliot, is not an uncommon one. ‘There (...)

2Middlemarch has eighty-seven chapters, but only eight-six epigraphs, since the ‘finale’ floats free of one. Thirteen of the novel’s epigraphs are from Elizabethan/Jacobean dramatists;1 and another fourteen are from Eliot’s own pastiche versions of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama.2 Twenty-one are from English poets, and another fourteen from Eliot’s own pastiche verse in broad imitations of this tradition.3 These two categories, real and pastiche drama from the age of Shakespeare, and real and pastiche English verse, constitute just under three quarters of all epigraphs. There are also eight epigraphs quoted from works of English prose fiction or non-fiction,4 and five from various works of Continental prose fiction or non-fiction.5 Six are quoted from Continental poets and two are ‘proverbs’ from the same provenance.6 Two, only, are from the Bible [69, from Ecclesiasticus and 74 from Tobit]. Only one is an example of Eliot pastiche-ing English prose—chapter 53’s ‘It is but a shallow haste which concludeth insincerity from what outsiders call inconsistency—putting a dead mechanism of “ifs” and “therefores” for the living myriad of hidden suckers whereby the belief and the conduct are wrought into mutual sustainment’.7

3What this points towards is Eliot marking her novel in terms of timbre. Roughly a third of epigraphs style their chapters—set them up, encourage us to read them—in terms of Elizabethan/Jacobean drama, and between a third and a half style their chapters via poetry. This is not quite to suggest that Eliot is obliquely teasing her reader on the level of tone, swapping the implication that this novel will turn out to be a tragedy, or that it will rather tend towards a poetic justice. It is, though, to present us with the lenses through which, if we choose, we can apprehend a finer-grained apprehension of the novel’s achievement.

4Consider, for example, the novel’s very first chapter, and Middlemarch’s first epigraph.

Since I can do no good because a woman,
Reach constantly at something that is near it.
— The Maid’s Tragedy: BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER.

5From here we move to a description of Dorothea: ‘Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress’. It is an opening sentence that tells us two, linked things about Dorothea: that she is beautiful and that her beauty is of a particular sort, not over-obvious or showy, not dependent upon finery or make-up, but something plainer and purer. A beauty serious rather than trivial or frivolous. But we might argue that the epigraph has already positioned us to see that seriousness as severity, and perhaps even to expect violence.

6The tangle of plot that constitutes The Maid’s Tragedy hints at parallels with Middlemarch only to tug those parallels in unexpected directions. Aspatia (the titular maid) is in love with, and expects to marry, the noble Amintor; but the King instead decrees that Amintor must marry Evadne, supposedly to honour the fact that Evadne’s brother, Melantius, has just won a famous military victory. Neither woman is happy about this development, and we might consider this a parallel, an invitation to read Middlemarch as a story about what happen when a young woman marries the wrong man. Aspatia and Evadne are not sisters, like Dorothea and Celia, and Evadne is compelled by exterior force rather than driven by her own spiritual and scholarly ambition, but the parallel is suggestive nonetheless. Then, however, we discover that the king has secretly forced Evadne to become his mistress, and is arranging the marriage to cover-up this sexual turpitude. Amintor, apprised of this state of affairs, does not sleep with his new bride and indeed, the King later instructs him not to have sex with Evadne, but to allow her to continue attending sexually upon the King at the royal pleasure. From here the play moves towards its bloody denouement: Amintor, Melantius and Evadne plan together to assassinate the king. The lines Eliot quotes come from a speech by Evadne, in conversation with Amintor positioned towards the end of Act 4. In it, she is full of self-loathing (‘My whole life is so leprous, it infects/All my repentance’).8 He, bracingly, concurs: ‘Can I believe/There’s any seed of Vertue in that woman [?] […] O Evadne!/Would there were any safety in thy sex, /That I might put a thousand sorrows off, /And credit thy repentance: but I must not’. She begs him, abjectly, to forgive her:

I do present my self the foulest creature,
Most poysonous, dangerous, and despis’d of men, Lerna e’re bred, or Nilus; I am hell,
Till you, my dear Lord, shoot your light into me, The beams of your forgiveness.

7… but Amintor cannot bring himself to do so, at least until Evadne speaks the monologue from which Eliot has extracted her epigraph.

I have done nothing good to win belief,
My life hath been so faithless; all the creatures
Made for heavens honours have their ends, and good ones, All but the cousening Crocodiles, false women;
They reign here like those plagues, those killing sores
Men pray against; and when they die, like tales
Ill told, and unbeliev’d, they pass away,
And go to dust forgotten: But my Lord,
Those short dayes I shall number to my rest,
(As many must not see me) shall though too late,
Though in my evening, yet perceive a will,
Since I can do no good because a woman,
Reach constantly at some thing that is near it;
I will redeem one minute of my age,
Or like another Niobe I’le weep till I am water.

8Only after this does Amintor relent.

9It is important to retain a sense of what Evadne is talking about here: namely, redeeming her sexual sinfulness by murdering the King— something she, indeed, presently goes off to do. Having tied the king to his bed and stabbed him to death, Evadne presents herself to Amintor, holding the knife she has used. She asks him to take her now, fully, as his wife. When he leaves the stage without making any such commitment she stabs herself to death. Returning to the stage to find her dying, Amintor then kills himself too.

10This, frankly, is a very gnashing, bloody sort of context for the gentle easing-in of Eliot’s pointedly unviolent novel. But a couple of things are likely to strike us, if we elect to look at the work through this magnifying lens. One is the way Evadne’s speech anticipates, in a shamed and tragic voice, the celebrated last lines of Middlemarch, in which Dorothea too goes into a mode of storylessness, like, in Beaumont and Fletcher’s words, a tale that is told, that ‘pass [es] away, /And go [es] to dust forgotten’. Evadne is a crocodile-infested Nilus, where Dorothea is the forcefully flowing Tigris, broken into 360 channels, representative of the holy days of the antique calendar and therefore ‘time’ as such—as distinct from the temporal structures of textual narrative—by way of capturing how her singular will was diffused into quotidian duties and pleasures of the everyday.

  • 9 Eliot, Middlemarch, ‘Finale’.

Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.9

11The actual river is the Gyndes, a tributary of the Tigris. Eliot’s reference here is to the account in Herodotus’ Histories 1: 189:

  • 10 Herodotus, The History of Herodotus, trans. by Isaac Littlebury (Oxford: W.
    Baxter, 1824), p. 73, ht (...)

The Gyndes rises in the hills of Matiene, and descending through the Dardonians, falls into the Tigris. While Cyrus was endeavouring to pass this same river, which might be crossed in ships, one of his sacred white horses boldly plunged into the stream, and attempted to swim over, but the stream having violently whirled it round, carried it away and drowned it. Cyrus, much offended with the river for this affront, threatened to render his stream so contemptible, that women should pass to either side without wetting their knees. After which menace, deferring his expedition against Babylon, he divided his army into two parts; and having marked out one hundred and eighty channels, by the line, on each side of the river, commanded his men to dig out the earth. His design was indeed executed by the great numbers he employed; but the whole summer was spent in the work. Thus Cyrus punished the river Gyndes, by draining the stream into three hundred and sixty trenches; and in the beginning of the next spring advanced with his army towards Babylon.10

12Nineteenth-century commentators agreed the rationale offered here was too thin to explain Cyrus’s actions, since they delayed his war for a year. Explanation was divided between attempts at rationalisation—for instance, arguing that Herodotus records a garbled account of Cyrus’s siege-craft, redirecting rivers in the attack on Babylon—and accounts that parse the account in religious or mythic terms (since white horses were sacred to the sun, and there were 360 days in the sacred year). It is likely Eliot was aware of both sides of this debate.

13We need to return to the beginning of the novel, for we still have to navigate the pronounced divergence in tone, or mode, between Eliot’s opening chapter and the grisly contextual implicature of the epigraph she chooses for it. The lines as quoted speak to the limitations that define female, as opposed to male, life, and acknowledge that such restrictions may have deleterious moral as well as practical consequences for actual women. If we assume that ‘Since I can do no good because a woman [I will] reach constantly at something that is near it’ means something bland and conventional, something like: prevented as I am by (as we would now say) structural sexism from achieving the fullest good, I will nonetheless try to do the best I can—then, perhaps, clicking the microscope lens into our instrument and examining the actual source will disabuse us. Evadne, here, is not saying that because perfect good is beyond her she will try to live as virtuously as she can. On the contrary, she is telling the man she loves, a man she has married despite being in a sexual relationship with another (married) man, that she will murder that other. The ‘something near it’ of virtue, in other words, is a miss as good as a mile.

14Middlemarch does not tell the story of a marriage marred by a murderous wife of course, although it is a novel about a marriage in which the husband dies, unhappy in his heart with the fidelity of the woman he married, which is not a million miles from A Maid’s Tragedy. Of course, it’s possible all that’s happening here is me attempting to over-leverage the significance of one short epigraph, merely because it stands at the head of the first chapter. But I don’t think so. Look at the second sentence of that opening:

  • 11 Eliot, Middlemarch, ch. 1.

[Dorothea’s] hand and wrist were so finely formed that she could wear sleeves not less bare of style than those in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Italian painters; and her profile as well as her stature and bearing seemed to gain the more dignity from her plain garments, which by the side of provincial fashion gave her the impressiveness of a fine quotation from the Bible, —or from one of our elder poets, —in a paragraph of to-day’s newspaper.11

15In other words, Dorothea is not only beautiful, with that particular kind of refined beauty that is offset to advantage by plainness—she is herself a quotation, a particular sort of literary allusion, an epigraph in her own right. The other women of Middlemarch are workaday journalistic prose and she is a richer textual inset, a few lines from one of the poets Eliot herself so lavishly draws upon to augment and adorn her chapter headings. She is textual, because she is a character is a novel; but she is doubly textual, a more expressive or poetic ‘text’ than her companions. She stands out.

16What Eliot is doing here is connecting this conceit, of Dorothea as an epigraph, to a related set of images to do with clothing, and more specifically with adornment. This brings into play another way of thinking of chapter epigraphs: as accessory. Clearly the main function of Middlemarch as a novel—the story, the characters, the descriptions and meditations—would be almost entirely unchanged if all the epigraphs were stripped out. They are not functional parts of the narrative, but rather they garnish, or adorn, the main text.

17The novel’s first interchange between Dorothea and her sister concerns them dividing up the jewels they have inherited from their dead mother. Dorothea agrees to this but qualifies herself by saying that ‘we should never wear them, you know.’ Celia replies that refusing to do so would indicate the girls ‘are wanting in respect to mamma’s memory’, and Dorothea begins to soften her puritanism:

  • 12 Ibid.

The casket was soon open before them, and the various jewels spread out, making a bright parterre on the table. It was no great collection, but a few of the ornaments were really of remarkable beauty, the finest that was obvious at first being a necklace of purple amethysts set in exquisite gold work, and a pearl cross with five brilliants in it. Dorothea immediately took up the necklace and fastened it round her sister’s neck, where it fitted almost as closely as a bracelet; but the circle suited the Henrietta-Maria style of Celia’s head and neck, and she could see that it did, in the pier-glass opposite.
‘There, Celia! you can wear that with your Indian muslin. But this cross you must wear with your dark dresses.’
Celia was trying not to smile with pleasure. ‘O Dodo, you must keep the cross yourself.’
‘No, no, dear, no, ’ said Dorothea, putting up her hand with careless deprecation.
‘Yes, indeed you must; it would suit you—in your black dress, now, ’ said Celia, insistingly. ‘You might wear that.’
‘Not for the world, not for the world. A cross is the last thing I would wear as a trinket.’ Dorothea shuddered slightly.
‘Then you will think it wicked in me to wear it, ’ said Celia, uneasily.
‘No, dear, no, ’ said Dorothea, stroking her sister’s cheek. ‘Souls have complexions too: what will suit one will not suit another.’12

18Souls have complexions too is a deft four-word summary of the work Eliot undertakes as a writer of fictional character. But this exchange not only establishes the differences in character of the sisters, it rehearses the place of epigraphs in the larger logic of the story. Are such quotations trinkets, trivialising the text, or adornments enriching it? The pearl-and-gemstone cross is too gaudy for Dorothea, but Celia wins her round, bringing out ‘a fine emerald [ring] with diamonds’ and comparing the sunlit jewels to the ‘spiritual emblems in the Revelation of St. John’. Dorothea, persuaded, agrees to keep the ring and its accompanying bracelet (‘All the while her thought was trying to justify her delight in the colours by merging them in her mystic religious joy’). So it is the type, not the fact, of epigraph that matters. And this returns us to the actual epigraphic choices Eliot has made. We might very well think that tragedy is serious enough, and poetry beautiful enough, to spiritually adorn the bald text, and so such quotations comprise three quarters of the whole.

  • 13 That Dorothea is a fictionalised autobiographical self-portrait is an idea with a long history. It (...)

19Earlier I discussed something many critics have explored: the autobiographical contexts and resonances of Mill on the Floss. Less is made of these same contexts with respect to Middlemarch, although they are manifestly still there. Dorothea is beautiful where Marian Evans was ugly—ungallant of me to say so, I appreciate, but important, since this adventitious and fundamentally irrelevant fact had a major impact on her life possibilities. Dorothea’s attraction to Casaubon, an older and more learned man, refracts a number of young Evans’s relationships: with R.H. Brabant, Herbert Spencer and John Chapman most notably. In life the possibility of actual emotional or erotic connection with these clever, older men was prevented by the plain fact of their being already married. But the affective truth of this repeating not-quite relationship pattern is, we can intuit, what informs Middlemarch: that intrinsic, not external, factors prevented their consummation. Consciously or otherwise George Eliot—the writer—knew what Marian Evans could not allow herself to see: not just that being in love with the intelligence and learning of a person is not the same being in love with a person (that much is so obvious it’s almost facile to say so), but much more importantly that human desire is so constituted that it will cathect the former into the latter. Her love for literature, art, myth, the discourses of religion was so intense it carried itself through as much by eros as by agape and pragma, and in such a situation it’s easy to fool oneself, or perhaps only to distract oneself from the inevitability of the counterpoint, that the eros encompasses the mentor, the teacher, the older man. It does not, of course, and Middlemarch is, amongst other things, Eliot explaining to Evans that it does not. Accordingly, Marian Evans’s various affiliations with older scholars and editors, variously problematic, are here reinscribed as Dorothea actually marrying one such. And Marian Evans’s eventual amatory redemption, with another married man, George Henry Lewes, is reworked as Dorothea’s decision to flout both the disapproval of those older scholars and of society as a whole and to marry Ladislaw. Lewes was ugly and Ladislaw handsome, but the novel is entitled to balance out its unflinching emotional honesty with a little wish-fulfilment. As Marian Evans escaped Coventry to begin her life, so Dorothea escapes Middlemarch to begin hers.13

20This is almost, but not quite, to suggest that Middlemarch is an autobiographical fiction. The point is not that Eliot has here written a Prelude or an A la recherche du temps perdu, for manifestly she hasn’t. Nor has she written a David Copperfield, although this case is a little closer. As Charles Dickens inverts his name’s CD into his protagonist’s DC, so does he invert various aspects of his actual life—killing off his parents, inserting fairy tale elements (adding Betsey Trotwood as fairy godmother, strewing David’s path with ogres and monsters, and finally winning his princess). The logic here is dream logic in a strict sense, which is to say, it undertakes the psychic work that Freud was interested in exploring. And, in fact, Middlemarch records a doubled inversion. On the one hand, beautiful Dorothea leaves Middlemarch just as plain Marian left Coventry (even the names invert one another: ‘Dorothea’ means ‘given by God’, and Mary is the woman who gave God). But on the other hand, plain Mary Garth does what plain Mary Ann never did: stays in Middlemarch, marries her love as a victory (that is: becomes a Vincy), has children and lives a fulfilled existence in the place she holds dear. Mary even becomes a published writer as Marian did, although this fantasy alternate George Eliot is defined by her sons and her heimat: a children’s book, Stories of Great Men, taken from Plutarch, printed by the significantly named ‘Gripp & Co., Middlemarch’. The main autobiographical ‘fantasy’ of Middlemarch is of a beautiful Marian Evans who leaves the claustrophobia of parochialism finally to begin her life with the handsome man she loves. Juxtaposed with this is a separate, smaller fantasy-autobiography: of the kind of woman Marian Evans actually was and could have stayed, gripping tight to her locale and putting her energies and love into her children.

  • 14 Colin Burrow, ‘Who Wouldn’t Buy It?’, London Review of Books, 27.2 (2005), (...)

21I am aware, I hasten to add, of what Colin Burrow pithily calls ‘the heuristic poverty of biographical explanations of works of art’.14 My argument here is not that Middlemarch is autobiographical fiction, but on the contrary that, in a crucial sense, it isn’t. Adam Phillips notes how hostile Freud was to biography as a whole. The mode is, he thought, structurally mendacious.

  • 15 Adam Phillips, In Writing (London: Penguin Books, 2019), p. 62.

We know that Freud, even as a younger man, didn’t want a biography written about him; and that he is rather terrified (i.e. mocking) of his, perhaps presumptuously assumed, future biographers. It is equally evident that in writing about biographers and biographies he is writing about what he doesn’t want psychoanalysts and psychoanalysis to be […] When we speak about biography we speak about what we want lives, and life-stories, and truth-telling, to be.15

22Phillips’s point is that ‘for Freud, truth-telling about lives, such as it was, could be done only by the person himself, through the method of free-association, responded to by a psychoanalyst’. But he goes on to note, shrewdly, that ‘yet, in some ways like the biographer, the analyst is giving the fragmentary discontinuous speech of the analysand a new narrative coherence. A new story is told out of an old story differently told’.

23That’s a good way of thinking of what Eliot has accomplished in Middlemarch: a new story being made out of an old story told differently. Quotation and epigraphy are linked ways of invoking old stories, of literally positioning markers to old stories into the body of the text; but Eliot uses both to remake and so build towards her new story. Her epigraphs (I’ve been arguing) are mirrors, which is to say, items of mimesis, encapsulations of literary realism. But I’ve also been arguing that they are lenses, which invokes a more complex mode of literary realism than is comprehended by more linearly reflective modes of what mimesis means. We are encouraged, throughout this novel, to look through, as well as to reflect (to reflect the beginning in the end, let’s say). And amongst the things we are encouraged to look through is the kind of process of desiring a particular life-story that motivated Eliot herself.

  • 16 George Henry Lewes’s first published book was A Biographical History of Philosophy (London: Charles (...)

24It only looks trivialising—only appears facile—to talk of Dorothea as Marian Evans’s ‘wish-fulfilment’ version of herself; because wish, or desire, is actually a much stranger and more complex dynamic than we generally think of it as being. We never really know why we want what we want. Indeed, we rarely know even what we want. We only know that we want. In such a condition (the human condition, the circumstance Freud spent his career excavating) we often misinvest our desire in wrongly-conceived or misapprehended targets. It’s what both Dorothea and Lydgate do, after all (it’s also what Casaubon does when he decides that marrying Dorothea is what he wants, but critics rarely talk about that). Indeed, their doing so is what gives this novel its extraordinary resonance with ordinary readers, because we all understand that something like this very often characterises our own desiring, and our own life-choices. In the case of George Eliot it doesn’t, I think, take us too far into mere speculation to suggest that she both wanted a life somewhat like Dorothea’s (to be beautiful, and spiritual, and adored by a handsome man she could adore, and most of all to escape parochial littleness) and a life like Mary Vincy’s: rooted in a location she loved, surrounded by her own children. Rationally she knew she couldn’t have both these things, but desire is not a rational process. This is a roundabout way of saying that what makes Eliot a great, rather than merely a proficient, novelist is her intuitive understanding not just that desire sabotages itself but that it is in this sabotage that art germinates. Dorothea does escape with the beautiful man she loves, but she publishes no books. Mary stays, and becomes a published writer, but a writer for children—Eliot’s way of saying that Mary’s story is of herself, of Marian Evans, for children, completed and sanctified by children. Mary takes the work of Plutarch, the most famous biographer of antiquity, perhaps the most famous biographer of all, and re-writes those biographies. She makes a new story out of an old story differently told. Both these fictionalised life-stories stand askew to the life-story of Marian Evans, plain, who did escape provincial littleness, who did become a published writer, who did not have children and did not, unlike her Ladislaw, George Henry Lewes, become a biographer.16

25As we grow, and the reality principle intrudes increasingly upon our lives, we come to understand that it is infantile to believe we can always get what we want. In such a circumstance the reverse of this—that we can come, in time, to want what we get—perhaps looks like wisdom (hard-won, or otherwise); as it might be, the marriage of verity and wanting. But Eliot is interested in neither of these mutual-mappings of desire and lived-experience.

26It seems to me both significant and characteristic of Eliot’s strategy of intertextual allusion, that the last book named in Middlemarch (discounting Lydgate’s unnamed ‘treatise on Gout’) is Plutarch’s Lives, and that it appears not as itself but as reworked and retold. It is as a Freudian that Adam Phillips repeats Freud’s belief ‘that the best life stories are the ones told in psychoanalysis, in the psychoanalytic way. All other stories are rationalized self-deceptions’. But one need not be a Freudian in any doctrinaire sense to agree that when an analyst is ‘akin to a biographer, he is failing as a psychoanalyst’.

  • 17 Phillips, In Writing, p. 56.

The psychoanalytic method is, fortunately, easily explained. But we should note that there is no comparable biographical method. Nor is the biographer trying to cure anybody of anything; nor indeed is biography a mode of medical treatment.17

27This study has spent some time considering the degree to which Eliot’s ‘realism’ in Middlemarch is a medical realism. Biography, we might say, is realism raised to the level of realism: an exercise in le naturalisme from which the intermixture of fictional character is drained from the body of scrupulously recorded verisimilitude. But, of course, we wouldn’t say anything so foolish: Freud is surely right that biography and autobiography both are rationalised self-deceptions. To get at the truth of a life, lived, means not recording verifiable exteriorities but, on the contrary, capturing interior myths and fantasies that are not only unverifiable, they are radically unfalsifiable too. At the end we come to understand the purpose of Eliot’s epigraphy, and the underlying logic to her subtle, wide-ranging and eloquent intertextuality.


1 11, 26, 32, 33, 36, 41, 42, 60, 66, 71, 77, 78; mostly William Shakespeare, but with some from Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, Ben Jonson and Samuel Daniel.

2 4, 8, 9, 13, 18, 28, 31, 34, 43, 48, 55, 59, 64, 73.

3 The epigraphs to chapters 3, 12, 16, 21, 24, 25, 37, 39, 44, 50, 52, 56, 58, 62, 64, 68, 76, 80, 82, 83 and 84 are quoted variously from John Milton, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Sedley, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, William Blake, Edmund Spenser, John Donne—credited as ‘Dr Donne’—William Wordsworth, Henry Wotton, the anonymous author of the medieval ballad ‘The Squyr of Lowe Degre’, Daniel and the anonymous author of the fifteenth-century lyric ‘The Not-Browne Mayde’. The epigraphs of Eliot’s own ‘pastiche’ English verse head chapters 6, 14, 15, 17, 20, 23, 40, 47, 49, 51, 57, 67, 70 and 72.

4 5, 10, 29, 45, 61, 63, 79, 85; Robert Burton, Thomas Fuller, Oliver Goldsmith, Thomas Browne, Samuel Johnson and John Bunyan.

5 2, 30, 38, 75, 86; Miguel de Cervantes, Blaise Pascal, François Guizot and Victor Hugo.

6 19, 22, 27, 35, 54, 81; Dante, Alfred de Musset, Hesiod, Jean-François Regnard and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The epigraph for 7 is attributed to ‘Italian proverb’ and 46 to ‘Spanish proverb’.

7 This sentiment, gussied into cod-seventeenth-century prose by Eliot, is not an uncommon one. ‘There is such a power of what Mr. Lecky calls “localizing” principles and feelings, that a man will be indignant against this, or that form of a particular vice while he practises other forms of it without scruple. Such a man is flagrantly inconsistent; we should press the point of his inconsistency as a special argument to convince him, but we should not think of charging him with insincerity simply because he is inconsistent and imperfect. […] To cases of mere inconsistency and imperfection, however glaring, it [the term hypocrisy] should not be applied at all. Strict hypocrisy, the conscious and deliberate pretence to virtues which a man has not and does not care to have, is, we suspect, much rarer than people commonly think’. ‘Hypocrisy’, The Saturday Review [1869], in The Living Age, ed. by E. Littell (Boston: Littell and Gay, 1869), vol. 103, pp. 279–81 (281),

8 Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, The Maid’s Tragedy (1619),

9 Eliot, Middlemarch, ‘Finale’.

10 Herodotus, The History of Herodotus, trans. by Isaac Littlebury (Oxford: W.
Baxter, 1824), p. 73,

11 Eliot, Middlemarch, ch. 1.

12 Ibid.

13 That Dorothea is a fictionalised autobiographical self-portrait is an idea with a long history. It is, for instance, asserted in Isadore Gilbert Mudge and Minnie Earl Sears’s A George Eliot Dictionary: The Characters and Scenes of the Novels, Stories, and Poems Alphabetically Arranged (London: Routledge & Sons, 1924). For a discussion of this, see Graham Handley’s George Eliot’s Midlands: Passion in Exile (London: Allison & Busby, 1991), pp. 15–40.

14 Colin Burrow, ‘Who Wouldn’t Buy It?’, London Review of Books, 27.2 (2005),

15 Adam Phillips, In Writing (London: Penguin Books, 2019), p. 62.

16 George Henry Lewes’s first published book was A Biographical History of Philosophy (London: Charles Knight & Co., 1846) and he very often returned to biography across his writing career, as with The Life of Maximilien Robespierre: With Extracts from his Unpublished Correspondence (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1849), The Life and Works of Goethe (London: David Nutt, 1855) and Aristotle: A Chapter from the History of Science (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1864).

17 Phillips, In Writing, p. 56.


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