I read Middlemarch for a couple of reasons - its been on my to-be-read list for a long while, and I'm participating in the Back to Challenge for 2016. First, I had it under a classic by a woman author, but moved it to the category "classic with a place in the title" because Bleak House was too intimidating.
Middlemarch was written by George Eliot, and is also a small, fictitious English town in the middle of the country. Wikipedia says it was "first published in eight installments (volumes) during 1871–2... it comprises several distinct (though intersecting) stories and a large cast of characters. Significant themes include the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism, self-interest, religion, hypocrisy, political reform, and education." It is set in the mid-1800s, and full of horses, post chaises, walking about and calling on neighbors - all quite charming.
I really enjoyed this classic novel. I was told it was about marriage, and that is indeed a large part of the suspense. Because of that preconception, the amount of politics and woman's rights surprised me. I rooted for Dorothea throughout the book, and I feel like we watched her mature through the trials in her life. Her sister Celia was amusing but didn't seem to grow up in the same way; this is also true of several other more minor characters.
There was new life and death. There were religious and educational issues. There was a struggle against sin by many of the characters, and an underlying acceptance of the Christian faith while showing how hypocritical one can be. Rich and poor did not determine whether someone was virtuous or not, and neither did parentage.
I felt like I really got to know many of the characters as real people. The writing was masterful in that each character had a different and believable voice and manner of speaking. While I was involved in their lives, it wasn't a tear-jerker or artificially manipulative of my feelings. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys books set in this time period, or who likes to peek into the mind of many others.