The best George Eliot books to start with

Who am I?

I’m a lifelong fan of George Eliot and other classic psychological novelists such as Tolstoy, Henry James, and Edith Wharton. I read their fiction over and over again. It deepens my understanding of the way people think and feel, how relationships and communities function, and what makes for a good life. Through these books I sort out my own muddled experiences.


I wrote...

Middlemarch and the Imperfect Life: Bookmarked

By Pamela Erens,

Book cover of Middlemarch and the Imperfect Life: Bookmarked

What is my book about?

I first read Middlemarch (1872) by George Eliot at age 20, and I’ve reread it about every ten years since. It has never stopped being my favorite novel. Middlemarch and the Imperfect Life is the story of how the novel has shaped me as a writer, spouse, and mother, through both rewarding and challenging times. Some people imagine Eliot as daunting (she was a Victorian intellectual! Her books are really long!) and one reason I wrote Middlemarch and the Imperfect Life was to convince people that she’s delightful and entertaining, even as she gets at some of life’s most profound truths.

The books I picked & why

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The Mill on the Floss

By George Eliot,

Book cover of The Mill on the Floss

Why this book?

As someone occasionally made to feel I was “too much” as a child—too emotional, too smart, too odd—I’ve always been drawn to The Mill on the Floss’s temperamental and bewildered young protagonist, Maggie Tulliver. I’m moved by her attempt, as she grows older, to navigate relationships with three men who represent three different possible paths for her: her staid older brother; a gentle, intellectual soulmate; and an erotic tempter. One minute I’m hooked by the drama, the next I’m chuckling at the comic portraits of Maggie’s many colorful relatives.

The Mill on the Floss

By George Eliot,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mill on the Floss as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With precise plotting underpinned by a wise understanding of human nature, George Eliot's most autobiographical novel gives a wonderful evocation of rural life and the complicated relationship between siblings.

Part of the Macmillan Collector's Library; a series of stunning, clothbound, pocket sized classics with gold foiled edges and ribbon markers. These beautiful books make perfect gifts or a treat for any book lover. This edition of The Mill on the Floss features an introduction by Professor Kathryn Hughes.

Maggie Tulliver and her brother Tom enjoy a rural childhood on the banks of the river Floss. But the approach of adulthood…


Scenes of Clerical Life

By George Eliot,

Book cover of Scenes of Clerical Life

Why this book?

For a long time, I assumed that I would find these three novellas about churchmen and parishioners in the English countryside of the late 18th and early 19th centuries sleepy and dull. They’re anything but. Eliot depicts the presence of alcoholism, spousal abuse, loneliness, and life-damaging gossip in her fictional communities. But her signature empathy and wit, already on display in this early work, make it invigorating, not a downer.

Scenes of Clerical Life

By George Eliot,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Scenes of Clerical Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'the only true knowledge of our fellow-man is that which enables us to feel with him'

George Eliot's first published work consisted of three short novellas: 'The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton', 'Mr Gilfil's Love-Story', and 'Janet's Repentance'. Their depiction of the lives of ordinary men and women in a provincial Midlands town initiated a new era of nineteenth-century literary realism. The tales concern rural members of the clergy and the gossip and factions that a small town generates around them. Amos Barton only realizes how much he depends upon his wife's
selfless love when she dies prematurely;…


Daniel Deronda

By George Eliot,

Book cover of Daniel Deronda

Why this book?

Daniel Deronda draws me strongly for two reasons: my Jewishness and its can’t-look-away portrait of a terrible marriage. Spoiled and shallow Gwendolyn Harleth marries the impeccable Henleigh Grandcourt to rescue her family from financial ruin, discovering too late his emotional sadism. Her maturation through her trials is moving reading. The parallel narrative, in which the title character searches for his origins, was at the time an unprecedentedly rich and sympathetic look at England’s Jewish community.

Daniel Deronda

By George Eliot,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Daniel Deronda as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As Daniel Deronda opens, Gwendolen Harleth is poised at the roulette-table, prepared to throw away her family fortune. She is observed by Daniel Deronda, a young man groomed in the finest tradition of the English upper-classes. And while Gwendolen loses everything and becomes trapped in an oppressive marriage, Deronda's fortunes take a different turn. After a dramatic encounter with the young Jewish woman Mirah, he becomes involved in a search for her lost family and finds himself drawn into ever-deeper sympathies with Jewish aspirations and identity. 'I meant everything in the book to be related to everything else', wrote George…


Felix Holt, The Radical

By George Eliot,

Book cover of Felix Holt, The Radical

Why this book?

Felix Holt is fascinating to read right now, when our electoral system seems to be blowing up in our faces. It takes place at the time of the Reform Bill of 1832, which increased the number of men (not women, of course) eligible to vote by fifty percent. The result: pandering to the masses—shallow sloganeering, hypocrisy, bribery and other misuses of funds, political sins that still feel all too familiar. There’s even a terrifying election riot. Since this is a Victorian novel, there are also subplots about thwarted love, hidden paternity, and an inheritance.

Felix Holt, The Radical

By George Eliot,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Felix Holt, The Radical as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Felix Holt is an endearing but opinionated Radical, who returns to Treby Magna just as the wealthy landowner, Harold Transome, announces his bid for election. It marks the beginning of a tumultuous time as unethical players seek to undermine the voting process.

Treby Magna is a small English community that's home to Felix Holt and Harold Transome. Both men have returned after stints abroad with Harold eager to elevate his status in the political realm. He seeks election to a county seat as a Radical, which surprises the residents. The election process becomes a point of contention as Felix considers…


Middlemarch

By George Eliot,

Book cover of Middlemarch

Why this book?

Middlemarch is where I turn when I need a wise, empathetic narrator to renew my faith in human beings and their capacity for humor, tenderness, and insight. This novel has everything: love, courtship, and marriage; marriages gone horribly (but interestingly) wrong; financial reversals and re-reversals, suspense around inheritances; ambition and finding one’s calling; criminal malfeasance and exposure; illness and death and birth—all unfolding in one superficially ordinary town in the English Midlands. Even the most minor of the novel’s enormous cast of characters is indelible. I’ve come to know its dual protagonists, Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate, better than some of my own family members.

Middlemarch

By George Eliot,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Middlemarch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the BBC's '100 Novels That Shaped Our World'

'One of the few English novels written for grown-up people' Virginia Woolf

George Eliot's nuanced and moving novel is a masterly evocation of connected lives, changing fortunes and human frailties in a provincial community. Peopling its landscape are Dorothea Brooke, a young idealist whose search for intellectual fulfilment leads her into a disastrous marriage to the pedantic scholar Casaubon; Dr Lydgate, whose pioneering medical methods, combined with an imprudent marriage to the spendthrift beauty Rosamond, threaten to undermine his career; and the religious hypocrite Bulstrode, hiding scandalous crimes from his…


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