Study Guide

Middlemarch Science

By George Eliot

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Science and scientific progress was a big deal in the 19th century – just look at all the new discoveries and inventions of the period! The steam engine, oxygen (yes, the element), Darwin's theory of evolution…and the list goes on. But with all this rapid progress and discovery, a lot of people were left feeling discombobulated and disoriented. So while some people in Middlemarch (like Lydgate) are chomping at the bit, wanting progress to go forward more rapidly, others (like the farm laborers who don't trust the new railway) are ready to fight progress tooth and nail.

Questions About Science

  1. What branches of science are represented in Middlemarch?
  2. Why does Mr. Farebrother become a vicar instead of a biologist?
  3. How does the theory of evolution seem to be represented metaphorically in the novel?
  4. Mrs. Cadwallader jokes about looking at Mr. Casaubon's blood under a microscope and finding nothing but punctuation marks (1.8.32), while the narrator says that Mrs. Cadwallader's meddling and gossip could be looked at from a biological perspective, if you imagined looking at her under a microscope (1.6.71). Why are there so many references to microscopes and telescopes?

Chew on This

The frequent references to microscopes and telescopes in Middlemarch underline the importance of balancing a distant, critical perspective with a subjective, case-by-case view of the world.

The many references to microscopes and telescopes in Middlemarch parallel the frequent toggling back and forth between universal trends and individual experience.

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