This week marks the 150th anniversary of the appearance of the first installment of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, A Study of Provincial Life. Often considered to be one of the greatest novels in English literature, Middlemarch was serialized in eight parts between December 1871 and December 1872.
Middlemarch originated from two different writing projects which Eliot (the pen name of Mary Ann Evans) developed in 1869 and 1870. In early 1871, she began incorporating them together, but the novel soon began to outgrow the typical three-volume structure favored by Victorian publishers. Eliot and her partner George Henry Lewes suggested to her publisher Blackwood that the new novel might be issued in eight rather than three parts. The publishers agreed to this plan; the first five volumes were issued every two months and the final three volumes were issued monthly.
The L. Tom Perry Special Collections owns a first edition copy of Middlemarch in the original parts. An early owner had the original paper wrappers mounted onto cardboard covers and bound each volume with a matching green leather spine. Can you find the owner’s signature on the covers in this photograph?