wisdom to win

 Wisdom to Win
search bar left
search bar right

Middlemarch - Happiness and SuccessMiddlemarch - Happiness and Success


Middlemarch (1871-2)

Written by the Englishwoman, George Eliot (1819-90), born Mary Anne Evans, pictured right.


Fun facts

  • Published in four volumes. Middlemarch - Happiness and Success
  • Made into a BBC TV series in 1994.
  • Set in the English rural town of Middlemarch during the late eighteenth century.
  • The favourite book of the English scientist, Stephen Hawking (pictured right).


Key characters

Dorothea Brooke, young lady.

Edward Casaubon, her husband and clergyman.

Will Ladislaw, Casaubon’s cousin.

Tertius Lydgate, doctor.

Rosamond Vincy, his wife.

Nicholas Bulstrode, banker.


The story

In Middlemarch, Dorothea Brooke, young, beautiful, idealistic and intelligent, seeks dedication to a worthy cause.

She thinks she will find it in her marriage to the middle-aged clergyman, Edward Casaubon.Middlemarch - Happiness and Success

But he is extremely selfish and resentful of her ability, spending their honeymoon researching his huge book, Key to all the Mythologies.

Dorothea falls in love with her husband’s cousin, Will Ladislaw (pictured together in the BBC production).

Casaubon dies, but his will says that Dorothea will lose his money, if she re-marries. This prompts Ladislaw to leave Middlemarch to avoid a scandal.

But Ladislaw returns and becomes engaged to Dorothea who, through her church work, gives money to a charity hospital, run by the young, and idealistic doctor, Tertius Lydgate.Middlemarch - Happiness and Success

Lydgate’s marriage to the beautiful Rosamond Vincy (pictured right in the BBC production) is unhappy because of her interest in only money and social advancement.

Fred, Rosamond’s spendthrift brother and trainee clergyman, has borrowed money from Caleb Garth, the kind father of his sweetheart, Mary Garth.

Fred dreams of inheriting the Stone Court estate of Mary's old uncle, Mr Featherstone. His illegitimate son inherits it instead and sells it to a banker, Nicholas Bulstrode.

Lydgate’s medical practice is unsuccessful because his poorer patients aren’t profitable and the older ones question his modern scientific methods. Because of Rosamond’s extravagance, he gets into debt.

Bulstrode is being blackmailed by John Raffles, his ex-partner in their stolen goods business, who (before his death from alcoholism) publicizes Bulstrode's shady past 

Bulstrode is widely suspected of killing him, and Lydgate is also implicated when it becomes known that Bulstrode has given him a large loan. Bulstrode is forced to leave Middlemarch but his wife, Harriet, remains loyal.

The innocent Lydgate stays but his idealistic dreams of helping the poor are destroyed when his poverty forces him to move to London and treat rich patients.Middlemarch - Happiness and Success

Fred decides to become an estate manager and marries Mary (pictured right). 

Mary writes a children’s version of a history book by the ancient Greek historian, Plutarch. Everyone thinks that Fred must have written it.

Dorothea and Will marry and live in London, even though she loses Casaubon’s money. She sacrifices her personal ambitions to support her family and  Will's career as a Member of Parliament.  


Lessons for happiness and success


1. Happy relationships are equal partnerships

Dorothea and Mary’s marriages are very happy because they are equal, like-minded partners with Will and Fred.

But Dorothea and Lydgate suffer because of the stupidity and selfish superiority of both Casaubon and Rosamond.

 Middlemarch - Happiness and Success

2. Character counts for more than looks and brains

Rosamond is beautiful and her selfish character destroys Lydgate.

Dorothea (Juliet Aubrey in the BBC production, pictured right) cares little for her looks but:

  • has great moral character.
  • welcomes new ideas.
  • supports Lydgate (despite other people's opposition).

Will has  a similar character, which is why their marriage is so happy (see point 1).

Mary isn’t so beautiful but her love and integrity inspire Fred to be a better person.

Unlike her hypocritical and manipulative husband, Bulstrode, Harriet is a true Christian, kind, loyal and forgiving.


3. Women are the equal of men

Dorothea and Mary are just as talented as the men.

They face the same prejudice and social inferiority that George Eliot experienced which is why she used a male pseudonym. Mary’s book is also much better than Casaubon’s.


4. Do something worthwhile

Dorothea is an idealist who wants to use her mind and money to make the world a better place through her charity work. But she thinks that her family is more important and puts them first.

Sadly Lydgate’s ideals are destroyed by:

  • money.
  • his greedy wife.

But he should have devoted more time to her. He didn’t even notice her depression after her miscarriage.


 Middlemarch - Happiness and Success

5. Love is more important than money

Lydgate is destroyed by his money grabbing wife, but Dorothea marries Will, even though she loses Casaubon’s money.

Will  refuses Bulstrode's money, because, like Dorothea, his principles are much more important.

Will (Rufus Sewell) is pictured right in the BBC production.


6. Accept change

Dorothea would have been a much better wife for Lydgate, but fate dictated that this wasn’t to be.

The people of Middlemarch don't like change, like Lydgate's modern medical ideas.


7. Contacts are important

Lydgate discovers that who you know is nearly as important as what you know.

He needs the help of:

  • Dorothea (to run the hospital).
  • Bulstrode (to pay his debts).


8. Live for learning

Knowledge is constantly sought by Dorothea and Lydgate, who has an “intellectual passion” for medicine.

But Casaubon’s learning is hindered by his:Middlemarch - Happiness and Success

  • arrogance.
  • refusal to accept criticism.

Casaubon (Patrick Malahide in the BBC production, pictured right) thinks he is much cleverer than he really is.


Key quotes on change

It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.

Every limit is a beginning as well as an ending.

The more our egoism is satisfied, the more robust is our belief


Key quote on marriage

Poor Lydgate!...Poor Rosamond! Each lived in a world that the other knew nothing.


Key quote on science

Dogma gives a charter to mistake, but the very breath of science is a contest with mistake, and must keep the conscience alive, Lydgate.


Key quote on communication

I think the truth is the hardest missile one can be pelted with, Humphrey Cadwallader, Church of England minister.


Key quote on success

That is not brave... to give up the fight, Dorothea (to Lydgate).

After all, the true seeing is within, Will Ladislaw



Key quote on forecasting

Among all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most gratuitous.


Key quote on relationships

What loneliness is more lonely than distrust?.


Key quote on ethics

What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?, Dorothea

Men outlive their love, but they don’t outlive the consequences of their recklessness, Mr. Farebrother (a Church of England minister and Lydgate's friend).

Character is not cut in marble - it is not something solid and unalterable. It is something living and changing, and may become diseased as our bodies do, Mr. Farebrother

He was simply a man whose desires had been stronger than his theoretic beliefs...If this be hypocrisy, it is a process which shows itself occasionally in us all (talking about Mr. Bulstrode)


Key quote on pain and stress

But what we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope, Will Ladislaw

 For pain must enter into its glorified life of memory before it can turn into compassion


Key quote on careers

You must be sure of two things: you must love your work... And the other is, you must not be ashamed of your work, Caleb Garth, a businessman.


Two literature websites to recommend 

1. sparknotes.com

2. litcharts.com


A big thank you to...

The BBC for the pictures. 

Free Newsletter
Enter your name and e-mail address to receive our free newsletter with analysis of business issues and new business books