Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


Each chapter begins with a small quotation or a few lines of verse known as an epigraph.

These epigraphs work as a way of summarizing the following chapter and moving the plot forward. They also work to place Middlemarch into a larger canon of literary works, as Eliot chooses quotes a variety of writers such as Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, and William Blake. Eliot was charged with being too intellectual for a woman author in part because of the learned nature of her chosen quotations.

Gossip and Speaking for Others

Often characters, especially characters of opposite genders, do not communicate to each other directly, instead using other characters to speak on their behalf. Carrying messages, sending “diplomats,” and not speaking for themselves draws attention to the weblike community of Middlemarch. Part of this web functions to maintain an intricate social web, but it also works to avoid direct communication. Gossip, another form of speaking for another person, plays an important part in the novel as it is often how information is conveyed. Characters frequently use the fact that the information will eventually come around to avoid direct conversation.

Debt and Borrowing Money

Debt appears throughout Middlemarch, and money often indicates elements of a character’s personality. The plot is driven by characters worrying about money or asking others for money. Fred Vincy must ask several people for loans, Lydgate incurs serious debt due to his failure to manage money and his wife Rosamond’s cultured tastes, and Raffles’s constant begging and blackmailing for money indicates his threatening role. On the other hand, Mary Garth’s refusal to take money from the dying Featherstone proves her good, honest nature. The exchange of money and the passing of debts ties the characters together in an economic subtext.