First sentence: "Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress."
P. 99: "'I am not ungrateful, sir, I never meant to show disregard for any kind intentions you might have towards me.'"
Last sentence: "But the effect of those being 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."
Plot (Summarized from Wikipedia):
Dorothea Brooke is an idealistic, well-to-do young woman, engaged in schemes to help the lot of the local poor. She is seemingly set for a comfortable, idle life as the wife of neighbouring landowner Sir James Chettam, but to the dismay of her sister, Celia and of her loquacious uncle Mr. Brooke, she marries instead Edward Casaubon, a middle-aged pedantic scholar who, she believes, is engaged on a great work, The Key to All Mythologies. She wishes to find fulfilment through sharing her husband’s intellectual life, but during an unhappy honeymoon in Rome she experiences his coldness towards her ambitions. Slowly she realises that his great project is doomed to failure and her feelings for him descend to pity. She forms a warm friendship with a young cousin of Casaubon’s, Will Ladislaw, but her husband’s antipathy towards him is clear. In poor health, Casaubon attempts to extract from Dorothea a promise that, should he die, she will "avoid doing what I should deprecate and apply yourself to do what I desire"
Meanwhile, an idealistic young doctor, Tertius Lydgate, has arrived in Middlemarch, with advanced ideas for medical reform. His voluntary hospital work brings him into contact with the town’s financier, Mr. Bulstrode, who has philanthropic leanings, but who is also a religious zealot with a secret past. Bulstrode’s niece is Rosamond Vincy, the mayor’s daughter and the town’s recognised beauty, who sets her sights on Lydgate, attracted by what she believes to be his aristocratic connections and his novelty.
At the same time we have become acquainted with Rosamond’s university-educated, restless, and somewhat irresponsible brother, Fred, reluctantly destined for the Church. He is in love with his childhood sweetheart, Mary Garth, a sensible and forthright young woman, who will not accept him until he abandons the Church (which she knows he has no interest in) and settles in a more suitable career.
These three interwoven narratives, with side-plots such as the disastrous though comedic attempt by Mr. Brooke to enter Parliament as a sponsor of Reform, are the basis of the story until it is well into its final third. Then a new thread emerges.
Beyond the principal stories we are given constant glimpses into other scenes.
I knew this title already for a long time, and finally picked the book up to read it. It was a long and slow read (more than 700 pages that took me 16 days), but that doesn't mean that I didn't like the book. I liked it.... but I didn't love it. Some parts were a bit boring for me, because they dealt with things I know nothing about and am not really interested in (e.g. the political situation on a local level in that period). But when it was about the main characters, I enjoyed it a good deal. Unhappy marriages, unrealistic expectations of both husbands and wives, bad communication between people, even friends, are themes that, for me, are always interesting.