Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 44 (2013)
We live in an age of prequels and sequels either in book form or in television serials, with nineteenth-century novelists providing the majority of the material for contemporary writers to develop or elaborate. It was perhaps only a matter of time before one of George Eliot's novels was to form the basis for such treatment. In this case the novel is probably her greatest, Middlemarch, and the sequel, The Ladislaw Case, is the first major work of a young Swedish graduate of Lund University, Imke Thormahlen.
Twelve years after the conclusion of Middlemarch, Will Ladislaw, now married to Dorothea (Brooke, Casaubon) with two young sons, is a rising young Liberal MP living in London. The Ladislaws have maintained their friendship with Dr Tertius Lydgate, the Middlemarch doctor and his socially ambitious wife, Rosamond; and Dorothea's sister, Celia, Lady Chettam, is a regular visitor. Ladislaw has also found a strong financial sponsor, a businessman, Sir Henry Walford who is married to a young, attractive wife around whom there appears to be some mystery. However, he has a political opponent, a wastrel, blackmailing philanderer, Francis Courdroy, who after revealing his character in threats to both Ladislaw and the Walfords, is found murdered. The theme of the novel thus becomes the solution of the question Who murdered Courdroy?
The novel takes the form of a series of lengthy statements or depositions concerning the events surrounding the murder by Ladislaw, Dr Lydgate, and Lady Chettam. The imaginative feature of this procedure is that these statements are all made, not to the detective, Inspector Green, who is formally in charge of the investigation, but to the distinguished detective, Inspector Bucket, Dickens's great creation, brought in following his success in unmasking the lawyer Tulkinghorn's murderer in Bleak House. Although now officially retired, he is invited in to find a solution. This he ultimately does but has to concede that the murderer can never be brought to justice.
Although the town of Middlemarch is frequently mentioned in the novel and events that took place their years ago loom large (there are even two significant letters between Lydgate and the Reverend Farebrother who still lives near the town), the setting here is London and, because of the format adopted by the author, the events recorded by the correspondents take place in the homes of the Ladislaws, the Walfords, and Courdroy, with one excursion to the theatre. The atmosphere is therefore somewhat claustrophobic befitting the nature of the relationships portrayed and the circumstances of the murder.