depicts its protagonist as defeated by the constrictions of ‘an imperfect social state’ (821) and ends with the regretful recognition that, given Dorothea’s inevitable struggle with ‘prosaic conditions’, the ‘determining acts’ of her life could never be ‘ideally beautiful’ (821), Eliot’s final novel,
, reserves a grander fate for its hero. Eliot was keenly aware of the dissatisfaction generated by the unheroic future ascribed to her ‘new Theresa’ (821) in
, ‘perfectly sure that everybody will be disappointed’ (V, 333). Even within the novel she explicitly acknowledged that many would think it ‘a pity that so substantive and rare a creature should have been absorbed into the life of another, and be only known in a certain circle as a wife and mother’ (819), and though she deleted it from later editions, she gave vent to her own frustration in the first edition:
Among the many remarks passed on her mistakes, it was never said in the neighbourhood of Middlemarch that such mistakes could not have happened if the society into which she was born had not smiled on propositions of marriage from a sickly man to a girl less than half his own age — on modes of education which make a woman’s knowledge another name for motley ignorance — on rules of conduct which are in flat contradiction with its own loudly-asserted beliefs. While this is the social air in which morals begin to breathe, there will be collisions such as those in Dorothy’s life.