[in four volumes] Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1871 (for Vol I; 1872 for Vols II, III & IV). Bound in three-quarter calf with leather spine labels, with marbled paper boards that match the marbling of the endpapers and the (trimmed) page edges.
First Edition in book form of George Eliot's famous "study of provincial life." Part of the novel follows Dorothea Brooke,
idealistic and ardent, who seeks dedication to some worthy cause. She believes she has found it in her marriage to Edward Casaubon, an elderly pedant who is devoted to the immense task of writing a 'Key to all the Mythologies'. She is rapidly disillusioned; he spends their honeymoon on tireless research...
Part of the novel also follows Tertius Lydgate,
the ambitious doctor who yearns for scientific discovery and who strives... for reforms in medical practice. He falls in love with Rosamund Vincy, and discovers too late that his wife is interested in nothing but the effect her person makes...
MIDDLEMARCH is often considered George Eliot's greatest achievement:
The canvas is broad, and the characters numerous; the novel is one of the finest in the language and George Eliot's greatest work. Her control of the manifold strands of her story never weakens and neither does her observation of a provincial town. She knew that sort of world intimately... [all quotes from CGEL]
The novel was initially issued serially, in eight wrappered five-shilling parts (though paginated for its ultimate four-volumes-in-cloth format). This idea of fewer-but-larger (and pricier) serial parts was a last-ditch effort on the part of publishers to rescue the serial parts format, which after the 1870 death of Dickens was itself now dying. Anthony Trollope's THE PRIME MINISTER was similarly issued in 1875-1876, as was George Eliot's own DANIEL DERONDA in 1876 -- but the experiment was a complete failure, and 1876 would be the final year of the serial parts format.
This set was early-on rebound in three-quarter calf as described in detail above; as was typical for rebinding 125+ years ago, the half-titles (and the Vol I errata leaf) were not retained. Condition is good-to-very good, with general scuffing and edge-wear, with a couple of joints showing some wear. MIDDLEMARCH has become the most difficult of George Eliot's novels to find: the "English Bibliophile" four-volume set, with minor repairs, sold at Sotheby's in December 2013 for £18,750, then equivalent to about $29,500 -- and is worth more than that today. Thus a rebound set such as this has become a highly acceptable replacement for many collections. Parrish pp 29-33; Sadleir 815; Wolff 2059. Item #14659