Ruth Bernard Yeazell is Chace Family Professor of ­English at Yale. Her books include Art of the Everyday: Dutch Painting and the Realist Novel and Fictions of Modesty: Women and Courtship in the English Novel. (April 2014)

Growing Up with Middlemarch

George Eliot; chalk drawing by Sir Frederic William Burton, 1865
What did Virginia Woolf mean by calling George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871–1872) “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people”? Like many of Woolf’s most telling critical remarks, it is tossed off without elaboration, as if both the character of Eliot’s “magnificent book” and the judgment on the rest …