Throughout Middlemarch the reader is increasingly aware of a highly intelligent narrative voice which allows the female characters to attain a depth that would be impossible to express through even the most careful detailing of the character’s actions and without which would likely produce a novel that was more focused on external events (as novels written by females during Eliot’s time were) rather than the internal machinations of individuals—most notably women.

Without this narrative voice in Middlemarch by George Eliot, it would be difficult for the reader to discern the level of depth to a character such as Dorothea since as a woman of the Victorian age, her actions alone as expressed through narrative would not be enough to provide the level of depth that the narrative voice allows. Moreover, it seems there is a self-conscious effort by this narrator not to depict the characters and setting in a traditionally “female-authored” way, thus the setting is more developed in the same sense the characters are.

The setting in Middlemarch as related by the narrator reflects the notion of wanting to avoid conventional or worse, romanticized description. Instead of following the romantic and standardized feminine novel’s method of transposing a lightness to the story, the narrator states in one of the important quotes from “Middlemarch” by George Eliot, “In the prosaic neighborhood of Middlemarch, May was not always warm and sunny, and on this particular morning a chill wind was blowing the blossoms from the surrounding gardens on to the green mounds of Lowick churchyard” (273). While the narrator calls this a “prosaic neighborhood” which alludes to romantic ideals common in Victorian fiction by women writers, this narrative beauty is offset by the reality that everything was not always “warm and sunny” thus indicating that life for the characters, unlike the “prosaic” settings of other novels does not depict warn happy days or even the promise of romance—it is chilly and the blossoms fall victim to unforgiving winds.

This same negation of possible romanticized news is contradicted and immediately put into the “real world” when the narrator describes characters as well. While it might have been simple and conventional for this unorthodox narrator (whom one cannot help but feel is female for some reason, perhaps only because of the authorship) to relate a tale of marital bliss, she (which for the purposes of this paper will be called) first offers a sentence akin to traditional Victorian romances and immediately negates it. Consider her description of Rosamond’s reflections as stated in one of the important quotes from “Middlemarch” by George Eliot, “Rosamond had a gleam of returning cheerfulness when the house was freed from the threatening figure, and when all the disagreeable creditors were paid.  But she was not joyous: her married life had fulfilled none of her hopes, and had been quite spoiled for her imagination” (322). While there is a sudden image of happiness and marital bliss, it dissipates quite quickly by the negation that marriage was in fact not what the character had idealized it to be.

In many ways, this constant narrative play between the romantic and the reality represents a fundamental theme of the novel—that marriage is the product of disillusionment. Nearly all of the central characters, Rosamond and Dorothea in particular, enter into marriages with a vision of how it will be. Dorothea desperately wishes to be her first husband’s partner in a life of learning and Rosamond fancies that she is marrying into an aristocratic family and that she will be able to convince her husband to leave Middlemarch and suddenly transform into the exotic man she thought he was when she married him. In the end, both characters are disappointed in marriage and find they had been seduced by their own imaginative reflections. While this is the case in terms of plot, this wise and insightful narrator never sets the reader up for the fall. Most of the time her descriptions are based in the real with only traces of the romantic peppered throughout to add narrative appeal.

This narrative act of taking a potentially traditionally romantic statement and twisting it back into the semblance of reality assaults the reader from the first pages of the novel in which Dorothea is described in typical feminine novel fashion as “And how should Dorothea not marry? —A girl so handsome and with such prospects?” Although the physical descriptions of characters are not of primary importance, here at the introduction of Dorothea we learn that she is very much like the women who are romanticized in other Victorian novels, particularly those of Austen and her contemporaries. It seems cut and dry here at the beginning; the reader is introduced a beautiful young woman with “prospects” yet before there is time to sink into the traditional representation of the female “love story” the reader is told in the same sentence, “Nothing could hinder it but her love of extremes, and her insistence on regulating life according to notions which might cause a wary man to hesitate before he made her an offer, or even might lead her at last to refuse all offers”(11). This clever narrator obviously understands the conventions of the female novel and works to first present the image associated with such “frivolous” texts and immediately offers a thought or image to negate its romantic value. While it may have been possible to convey these ideas about realism through more brief details such as simply stating that Dorothea is a character who is “not to be satisfied by a girlish instruction comparable to the nibbling and judgments of a discursive mouse” her character is rather more developed since she is not simply a smart woman in love, but a woman in love with complex issues that cannot be contained in a mere few “snippets” about her intelligence.