There are moments of narrative personality amidst the social expansiveness that is the world of Eliot’s Middlemarch. The divergent perspectives beyond that of Dorothea’s populate the social milieu of the novel and give consideration to the “un-narrated” (McWeeny, 69) voices. The narrator’s sporadic moments of opinion hint at Eliot’s redefining of the social web, as a field of knowledge in its own right. “This particular web” gives way to the interconnected stories and narratives of seemingly peripheral characters, including Mary Garth and Fred. The narrator comments on how “a human being in this aged nation of ours is a very wonderful whole, the slow creation of long interchanging influences; and charm is a result of two such wholes, the one loving and the one loved” (Eliot, 383). The notion of how any being is an amalgamation of interwoven pieces, shared experiences, and social contingency illustrates the “democratization in [the world of Eliot’s] fiction” (McWeeny, 69). As the aforementioned excerpt illustrates, even though Dorothea appears as the protagonist, readers (as we have seen in class discussion) are not wholly absorbed by her perspective.
The expansive vista of Middlemarch’s social world brings tangential characters to the foreground. In the above quote, the narrator calls readers’ attention to the world of characters nearby Dorothea: the shadows of ordinary life that populate Middlemarch. Paying close attention to these subplots and the lives of the common people resists unilateral, two-dimensional labeling of characters as good or bad in favor of a much more nuanced telling of experience. Mary Garth cannot believe what the Vicar and Fred see in her “brown patch” of self (383); this passage significantly points to the brownness—the commonness— that Eliot paints as the make-up of a real British town. While romantic novels sought out ideals and representations of people and places, Eliot gives attention to the extensive open-endedness yet simultaneous commonness of the webs that make up the real British social field.
On page 383, the narrator’s noticing of how a person is made up of continuous influences insinuates that “charm,” or social norms of love at the time, is not a mutually exclusive or autonomous entity. Charm functions in the context of the social multitude and the complexity yet mundaneness that make up ordinary lives. An intensive, close reading reveals the series of strings that are knotted, tied, cut, and retied together to eventually result in some form of attachment between beings. Love does not occur in a vacuum, according to Eliot’s narrator. Factors go into, variables mediate and moderate, and the end result is constantly changing and adapting to present forms of being. In this regard, Eliot’s novel of social contingency relies on the resistant of persistent stranger-hood.
Despite the fact that some characters may at first appear tangential to Dorothea or Lydgate’s main plot, they are quickly brought into focus. Such is the reality of social life. Eliot’s grey areas and shadowy characters come so uncannily close to portraying the tedium and ordinariness of the social field that I cannot help but become further enveloped and embedded in the world of her novel. How can one resist the urge to burrow beneath the layers of the multifaceted social milieu, the glimmers of the ‘other’ perspective, and the nuanced voices of female interiority that are intertwined in Middlemarch’s chapters?