Middlemarch quotations

Robert Pimm
Robert Pimm

This is my fourth and final collection of Middlemarch quotations. The book teems with exquisite epigrams, insights and laugh-out-loud observations. Read, and relish.

I’ve published three collections of quotations from “Middlemarch” by George Eliot. Do have a browse, and feel free to shake your head in wonder. They are:

Here is a final collection of quotes from Middlemarch. I have divided them into five categories. These are: humour, existential questions, countryside; “unqualifiable”, and “the final words”. Enjoy.

Middlemarch was written around 50 years before my grandparents married

Middlemarch quotations: humour

Many of the quotations in my previous posts are hilarious. The following four have somehow got left over.

  • Mr. Brooke… felt that women were an inexhaustible subject of study, since even he at his age was not in a perfect state of scientific prediction about them.
  • [Rosamond] “Brothers are so unpleasant.” [Comment: shades of P G Wodehouse on Aunts]
  • “When I married Humphrey I made up my mind to like sermons, and I set out by liking the end very much. That soon spread to the middle and the beginning, because I couldn’t have the end without them.”
  • that disadvantageous quality usually perceptible in a first wife if inquired into with the dispassionate judgment of a second [comment: Eliot has an astonishingly sharp, sometimes cruel, wit]

Middlemarch quotations: existential

An elegant and thought-provoking collection.

  • [Dorothea imagines her future relationship with Casaubon] “I should learn everything then,” she said to herself, still walking quickly along the bridle road through the wood. “It would be my duty to study that I might help him the better in his great works. There would be nothing trivial about our lives. Every-day things with us would mean the greatest things. It would be like marrying Pascal.”
  • But Fielding lived when the days were longer (for time, like money, is measured by our needs), when summer afternoons were spacious, and the clock ticked slowly in the winter evenings. [Comment: doesn’t the past always seem to have gone more slowly than the present?]
  • [Of famous people] Each of those Shining Ones had to walk on the earth among neighbors who perhaps thought much more of his gait and his garments than of anything which was to give him a title to everlasting fame: each of them had his little local personal history sprinkled with small temptations and sordid cares, which made the retarding friction of his course towards final companionship with the immortals.
  • This was one of the difficulties of moving in good Middlemarch society: it was dangerous to insist on knowledge as a qualification for any salaried office. [Comment: another timeless epigram]

Middlemarch quotations: countryside

Middlemarch does not go big on descriptions in the way of, for example, Dickens or Trollope. But Eliot occasionally paints a vivid picture. She also depicts several rustic characters. Their views that progress brings few benefits and the establishment is against the simple man are timeless.

  • It was one of those gray mornings after light rains, which become delicious about twelve o’clock, when the clouds part a little, and the scent of the earth is sweet along the lanes and by the hedgerows.
  • “Aw! good for the big folks to make money out on,” said old Timothy Cooper, who had stayed behind turning his hay while the others had been gone on their spree; “I’n seen lots o’ things turn up sin’ I war a young un–the war an’ the peace, and the canells, an’ the oald King George, an’ the Regen’, an’ the new King George, an’ the new un as has got a new ne-ame–an’ it’s been all aloike to the poor mon. What’s the canells been t’ him? They’n brought him neyther me-at nor be-acon, nor wage to lay by, if he didn’t save it wi’ clemmin’ his own inside. Times ha’ got wusser for him sin’ I war a young un. An’ so it’ll be wi’ the railroads. They’ll on’y leave the poor mon furder behind. [Comment: admirable sentiments reminiscent of “What have the Romans ever done for us?”]
  • Caleb was in a difficulty known to any person attempting in dark times and unassisted by miracle to reason with rustics who are in possession of an undeniable truth which they know through a hard process of feeling, and can let it fall like a giant’s club on your neatly carved argument for a social benefit which they do not feel. [Comment: this, too, could apply equally today.]
  • The rain was dashing against the window-panes as if an angry spirit were within it, and behind it was the great swoop of the wind; it was one of those moments in which both the busy and the idle pause with a certain awe.

Middlemarch quotations: hard to qualify

I couldn’t work out where to put these quotations but they caught my eye.

  • Neither was he so well acquainted with the habits of primitive races as to feel that an ideal combat for her, tomahawk in hand, so to speak, was necessary to the historical continuity of the marriage-tie.
  • images crowded upon her which left the sickening certainty that Will was referring to Mrs. Lydgate. [Comment: the misunderstandings between Will and Dorothea provide a tragic backbone to the story.]
  • My advice to you, Mr. Lydgate, would be, that instead of involving yourself in further obligations, and continuing a doubtful struggle, you should simply become a bankrupt.” [Comment: another awesome piece of storytelling: all seems lost when Bulstrode rejects Lydgate’s request for a loan.]
  • “My grief lies onward and my joy behind.” [Comment: a lovely, if sad, quotation]

The final words

It is worth quoting the final words of “Middlemarch” in full. They point out that everyday actions by everyday people are what drive the world forward.

  • 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.

Splendid stuff.

I hope you have enjoyed this collection of Middlemarch quotations. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please sign up for my occasional newsletter. You can unsubscribe anytime you wish.

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