has more money which means Mary does not have to go away and teach which means Fred can marry her. Every action is traced to its human source. Whilst Middlemarch is a ringing endorsement of Christian philosophy it leaves no room for the Christian God. There is no nebulous 'other' to depend upon as Bulstrode does, believing the "favourable intervention of Providence should dissipate his fears" (chap 68). The book thus pushes us towards independence and individual responsibility. Our good fortune is shown to be due to our own efforts and the kindness of others.

And Middlemarch is a celebration of these "unheroic acts" (Finale) that immeasurably enhance our lives. For the book poses a sly question. We begin reading it with the easy understanding that Dorothea is a failure. The Prelude refers to her as a lesser St Theresa, "foundress of nothing". But what would be the worth of reforming a religious order in modern Britain? Are the small but immeasurable advances in human sympathy Dorothea has made in Middlemarch really worth so much less than the grand but empty gestures made by creatures like Antigone? After all, it is very convenient for us not to venerate unheroic deeds; we then feel no need to emulate them. As Dorothea comments:

"People glorify all sorts of bravery except the bravery they might show on behalf of their nearest neighbours." (chap 72)

When Dorothea goes to Rome, "the city of visible history" she sees a "vast wreck of ambitious ideals": great acts that have come to nothing. Society needs reform because it must provide the medium for everyone to reach their greatest possible potential. Yet that reform leaves us with the uneasy responsibility of reaching our greatest potential. Our gaze has been dragged away from the restful horizon and placed somewhere far more uncomfortable: somewhere far closer.

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