The Best Quotes from Middlemarch

This is the third and final installment of my thoughts for Middlemarch Week.  If you missed post one, A Preview of Middlemarch, click here.  If you missed post two, George Eliot on Marriage, Human Nature, Money, Politics, Religion, Feminism, and Gossip in Middlemarch, click here.  If you’re sick of Middlemarch (1874), which is number 20 on the BBC book list, then click to a different webpage.

This post is a collection of all of the best quotes (and my commentary on them) from Middlemarch.  I starting writing them down in my notes as I read, and by the time I had finished, I had an overwhelming number of George Eliot’s (whose real name was Mary Ann Evans) beautiful ideas to share.  Enjoy!

George Eliot, public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

“Souls have complexions too: what will suit one will not suit another” (9).

“It is so painful in you, Celia, that you will look at human beings as if they were merely animals with a toilette, and never see the great soul in a man’s face” (16).  It is like Dorothea was rebuking me instead of her sister Celia.  Guilty as charged, but I’m working on that!

“Many things are true which only the commonest minds observe” (44).  This certainly adds to the argument the entire book makes about the harm of gossip.

“We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, ‘Oh, nothing!’  Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts―not to hurt others” (57).  I wish the guy driving the white Cadillac SUV that cut me off the other day could read and understand this quote.  His vanity plates said, “I DO OK.”  I thought perhaps they should say, “Beware of Pride,” but I guess that won’t fit on a license plate.

“[I]t is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view” (61).  Think politics…

“I am not magnanimous enough to like people who speak to me without seeming to see me” (108).  Yep.

“[F]or the majority of us scarcely see more distinctly the faultiness of our own conduct than the faultiness of our own arguments, or the dullness of our own jokes” (178).

“With a favour to ask we review our list of friends, do justice to their more amiable qualities, forgive their little offences, and concerning each in turn, try to arrive at the conclusion that he will be eager to oblige us” (218).

“But selfish people always think their own discomfort of more importance than anything else in the world” (241).  We all know somebody like this, right?  (It may be the person in the mirror…)

“I know that people who spend a great deal of money on themselves without knowing how they shall pay, must be selfish.  They are always thinking of what they can get for themselves, and not of what other people may lose” (241).  I can’t help but think of the recent financial crisis in my country.

“Oh, stinginess may be abused like other virtues: it will not do to keep one’s own pigs lean” (365).

“A bad workman of any sort makes his fellows mistrusted” (387).  Hence, my distrust of doctors.

“When one sees a perfect woman, one never thinks of her attributes―one is conscious of her presence” (413).  I don’t know what to think about this one.  I get the idea, but it strikes me as strange because nobody is perfect.

“[W]hat loneliness is more lonely than distrust?” (418).

“In my opinion Mrs. Casaubon should do what would give her the most repose of mind.  That repose will not always come from being forbidden to act” (468).

“But what we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope” (475).

“Men outlive their love, but they don’t outlive the consequences of their recklessness” (490).  Any adulterer can tell you that, and if he or she can’t, they someday will (or should).

“They say Fortune is a woman and capricious.  But sometimes she is a good woman and gives to those who merit” (512).  Ah, meritocracy.  If only it really existed.

“Oh dear, yes; appearances have very little to do with happiness” (621).

“People glorify all sorts of bravery except the bravery they might show on behalf of their nearest neighbors” (700).  Why don’t we glorify kindness a little more?

The best quote, in my opinion:

“[C]haracter is not cut in marble―it is not something solid and unalterable.  It is something living and changing, and may become diseased as our bodies do” (700).  I love this quote.  But I love what Dorothea responds even more.  She says, “Then it may be rescued and healed” (700).

I hope you enjoyed these pearls of wisdom from Middlemarch.  I will treasure this book forever (I know. What a cliché!), and I’m glad I had a chance to write down my random thoughts about it before I’m on to the next big book and forget all of the talent, observations, and wit of George Eliot.

What’s your favorite quote from those above?  (Or did I miss any gems from the book?)

Eliot, George.  Middlemarch.  New York: Modern Library, 2000.

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26 thoughts on “The Best Quotes from Middlemarch

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  1. Those are all great quotes, but this one really got to me:

    “I am not magnanimous enough to like people who speak to me without seeming to see me”

    There are so many of those out there, unfortunately.

    I have a question for you. How long did it take you to finish this book? And how long is it? How many pages/hours do you read per day? Oops, I guess those were three questions. 🙂

    1. I think it took me about two weeks, maybe three. The book is 800 pages exactly. I tend to read about two hours a day, but that varies on the days that my two-year-old doesn’t nap or on the weekends, when I don’t have reading time at all. Happy reading!

  2. I love: “Oh dear, yes; appearances have very little to do with happiness.” Along the same lines, this was one of my favorites:
    Celia: “I dare say Dodo likes it: she is fond of melancholy things and ugly people.”
    Dorothea: “I am fond of knowing something about the people I live among…It seems to me we know nothing of our neighbours, unless they are cottagers. One is constantly wondering what sort of lives other people lead, and how they take things.”
    I love that Dorothea cares so much about others, even those who seem unworthy of interest. (You definitely need to read Adam Bede—Ch. 17 is all about this idea.) And it reminds me of our current “social” irony: we communicate with people everyday via Facebook & etc., but we often don’t even know our own neighbors.

  3. I like all your quotes but I love the ending paragraph remembering Dorothea …. ““Her full nature … spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs”

  4. There are so many great quotes from “Middlemarch.” I love the description of Dorothea’s sister’s baby as “the little Buddha.” Babies tend to look like little Buddhas, treated, and we treat them with the same reverence as the Buddha. The other quote my ex-husband used to quote as a description of himself and Casaubon: that their emotions “ran in shallow rills.” Not surprising that he became my ex!

  5. My favorite author. I have a blog in draft form focusing on “Romola” which is one of her best novels in my view. This woman is one of the wisest people I have ever come across and I can understand why people wrote to her and even hounded her in her lifetime to get her advice on solving their problems. She was very sharp (Sorry!) Thanks for the great quotes.

  6. P.S. Regarding your quote about character: it was a recurring theme in Eliot’s writings and Tito Melema is a prime example of character “diseased.” As I say, blog to come. Stay tuned!!

  7. “[C]haracter is not cut in marble―it is not something solid and unalterable. It is something living and changing, and may become diseased as our bodies do” (700). I love this quote. But I love what Dorothea responds even more. She says, “Then it may be rescued and healed” (700).

    Reminds of the wonderful scene at the end of Trollope’s Last Chronicle of Barset when John Eames proposes to Lily Dale for the last time:

    Lily: “If you take a young tree and split it, it still lives, perhaps. But it isn’t a tree. It is only a fragment.”
    John: “Then be my fragment.”

  8. The humor is to my taste, particularly that in connection with Celia’s adoration of her baby Arthur. We have all known mothers who were convinced in the face of all evidence to the contrary that their child is truly an extraordinary being. In Celia’s case this becomes “oppressive” for Dodo at times:

    “After three months Freshitt had become rather oppressive: to sit like a model for Saint Catherine looking rapturously at Celia’s baby would not do for many hours in the day, and to remain in that momentous babe’s presence with persistent disregard was a course that could not have been tolerated in a childless sister. Dorothea would have been capable of carrying baby joyfully for a mile if there had been need, and of loving it the more tenderly for that labor; but to an aunt who does not recognize her infant nephew as Bouddha, and has nothing to do for him but to admire, his behavior is apt to appear monotonous, and the interest of watching him exhaustible.”

    1. I laughed at this part. Only a mother can love their little one so much. That’s a good thing, but poor Dorothea, especially when she senses that her sister feels sorry for her lack of children.

      1. Celia is interesting. She says things about a woman’s role that make us cringe. Yet, in the day to day setting she is better than is Dorothea at sizing up people and situations. I often rooted for her in her efforts to set Dorothea straight. Celia is not simply an airhead.

        1. Good point. She is not an airhead, but sometimes says things an airhead would say. I suppose she is a better representative of women in that era than Dorothea because she seems to be trapped in her role, yet she is better than that. That’s why I like her quote about men knowing more than women, except what women know. It shows that difficult place she’s in.

  9. I loved reading the three posts about “Middlemarch.” I adore this book. I am quite fond of 19th century literature, especially the Victorians and the Russians. I urge you to finish “War and Peace,” it is an effort but Tolstoy is my all time favorite author, with “Anna Karenina” being my all time favorite book. Anyway, it was nice to read the posts and get that familiar feeling of returning to an old friend. I would like to re-read the book but I should probably read other Eliot books. I have heard they are all excellent. “Middlemarch” is one of the most quotable books I have ever read and her sentences are little gems of wisdom, almost like proverbs, but with characterization and plot. Thanks for this quotes post!!

    1. Yes, Eliot is quite proverbial. I love Anna Karenina too, so I know I will end up enjoying War and Peace, I just need to make some time for it! Thanks for the encouragement.

  10. I finally found it! I know that I have already taken my turn. Nonetheless, and at the risk appearing just a little pathological about this novel, I love this passage because of the enormous scope of what it says about Dorothy in so few words:

    “Most men thought her bewitching when she was on horseback. She loved the fresh air and the various aspects of the country, and when her eyes and cheeks glowed with the mingled pleasure she looked very little like a devotee. Riding was an indulgence which she allowed herself in spite of conscientious qualms; she felt that she enjoyed it in a pagan, sensuous way, and always looked forward to renouncing it.”

  11. Hi Emily. I have only just discovered your site but couldn’t resist entering a belated comment on here. I am re reading Middlemarch at the moment and loved all your quotes above and the ones shared. I found this one early on which set me up for the sheer joy of George Elliott!

    ” And how should Dorothea not marry?—a girl so handsome and with such prospects? Nothing could hinder it but her love of extremes, and her insistence on regulating life according to notions which might cause a wary man to hesitate before he made her an offer, or even might lead her at last to refuse all offers. A young lady of some birth and fortune, who knelt suddenly down on a brick floor by the side of a sick laborer and prayed fervidly as ifshe thought herself living in the time of the Apostles—who had strange whims of fasting like a Papist, and of sitting up at night to read old theological books! Such a wife might awaken you some fine morning with a new scheme for the application of her income which would interfere with political economy and the keeping of saddle-horses: a man would naturally think twice before he risked himself in such fellowship. Women were expected to have weak opinions; but the great safeguard of society and of domestic life was, that opinions were not acted on. Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.

    1. Ha ha! That is a good one. It kind of reminds me of myself, but my husband says he married me because I’m smart and ambitious. I feel for those women who during the course of history had to really hesitate because of this. You have made me want to reread Middlemarch!

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