English, Department of



Judith Johnston

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 23 (1992)


Published by The George Eliot Review Online https://GeorgeEliotReview.org


Saint Theresa's life of achievement is offered as a contrast to the heroine of Middlemarch, Dorothea Brooke, and all that Dorothea fails to achieve. George Eliot examines Dorothea' s life in part through the medium of medieval hagiography, a form which recognises the tensions and crises through which a martyr passes. But George Eliot depends upon the paradox that martyrdom is achieved as readily from submissiveness and ineffectuality as from resistance and effective administration. Thus Eliot offers the reader a heroine whose life passes through a state of metamorphosis which is very like the passage through martyrdom regardless of whether the saint be a Dorothea or a Theresa.

Eliot's discourse in the opening paragraph of the 'Prelude' to Middlemarch seeks for harmony and selflessness on a national scale but offers at the same time that limiting contrast 'domestic reality'. 1 Theresa rejects chivalry and romance for an epic life that is illuminated and strengthened by a staunch religious faith. She symbolises reform that is accomplished not through violent disruptiveness but through hard, consistent work and strong-willed determination.

The second paragraph of the 'Prelude' introduces a new note, the other 'Theresas' who have 'no epic life', and more importantly, 'no coherent social faith' (26) and are finally dispersed.