The Lydgates have bought too much furniture and plateware and do not know how to pay for it. All their problems eventuate from this remarkably tame, all too common origin of domestic debt, a version of being house-poor. He broaches the topic over tea with hidden dread. She, sensing the unpleasantness, turns a head to look away. Wedded misery in George Eliot's Middlemarch does not mean spectacular incidents—adultery, abuse, sexual fallenness, or the like. It means subtle, ordinary provocation, underlain by mundane disappointment and mistrust. This is as much true for the Lydgates as for the novel's other main couple, the Casaubons. Middlemarch presents us with nonflorid unhappiness, readable within its own legendary realism.

This essay argues, indeed, that a primary grounding of Middlemarch's realism lies in scenes of marriage, especially prosaically troubled marriage. It infers from Eliot's banal erotics a coherent...

You do not currently have access to this content.