George Eliot's best book, with all of her strengths -- Virginia Woolf's assessment of Middlemarch as a book for adults is well earned. As a story about progress and freedom, love and honour, its themes are up to the minute. But it also has some of her weaknesses. Eliot tends to tell, rather than show, though in fairness small town gossip is an important part of the story. It's somewhat slow to start, and her heroine seems like a pill (she gets better). Also, for a supposed realist, Eliot resorts to melodrama towards the end of her novels, in this case a mysterious orphan, a powerful man with a dark past, and a timely coincidence. Overall, these devices are handled with skill, and pay off magnificently. Unlike most Victorian novels, Middlemarch will keep you guessing until the end.

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