Illuminated Theresa: A Discussion of 'Middlemarch' by George Eliot by Tyler Wood

In George Eliot’s Middlemarch there are many moments of these “later born Theresa’s” (Eliot, Quality Paperback Book Club Edition, p. 7) that she mentions in different people of this provincial early 19th century town in middle England. These are not the famous martyrs of old stories and epic poetry, but the subtle characters that help to further along the society in its moral development – and our moral development. “Your pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid, will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a centre of illumination, and lo!” (p. 255) Eliot sets up a confusing array of men and women that may appear one thing on the outside, but when illuminated, their appearance is very much like the pier-glass, a “ fine series of concentric circle” (p. 255). Through the illuminated pier-glass we can see that some people are doing something grand, but it only looks like “scratches…going everywhere impartially” (p. 255) to those who don’t look deeper. Three characters are apparent to me as Eliot’s ‘Theresa’s, the obvious – Dorothea, the lesser noticed – Farebrother, and the seemingly overlooked – Caleb Garth.   When we put these characters’ pier-glass’ up to the candle and take a closer look we can see clearer the Saint Theresa’s of Middlemarch and even the lives that altered our lives that rest in unmarked tombs.

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