Writers are Readers: "Middlemarch, a Study of Provincial Life"

REVIEWER: Todd Hogan

BOOK TITLE: Middlemarch, a Study of Provincial Life

AUTHOR: George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans)


Small town life in rural England following the lives of two naive sisters, their judgmental neighbors, and their inappropriate lovers. Originally published in 1871-1872 as eight books, the author revised it in 1874, but it’s still long.


I expected a bucolic stroll of a novel. Instead I found a finely crafted, ironic, sly examination of the exquisite goals people set and the obstacles they must overcome.


I didn’t fully appreciate the role conflict plays in a novel until I read this book. Conflict is like a Mandelbrot set, which keeps repeating in ever-smaller but exact dimensions as you dig down deeper into the story. The novel shows that conflict doesn’t have to be aggressive to be effective. In the first chapter, the two sisters “discuss” dividing their deceased mother’s jewelry between them, calmly, politely, but taking small bites out of the other sister. The character of each sister is cleverly revealed by their position. Once you recognize this conflict pattern, the reader can find an example in every chapter, which caused me great delight.


Conflict pushes the story forward, defines characters and their goals, creates tension, and allows for a satisfying resolution of story problems. Because conflict is such a useful tool, the savvy writer will find opportunities to use it early and often, in macro and micro confrontations

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