Celia Brooke is the younger sister of the main character, Dorothea. Celia is pretty, a conventional young lady who is coquettish and happy with the life of her class. Aspiring to nothing more than marriage and motherhood, she is contrasted to Dorothea for her common sense about life. She both criticizes and adores her older sister. She happily marries Sir James Chettham, the neighboring squire.
Dark-haired Dorothea Brooke is the heroine of the story, an heiress just eighteen when the story opens, compared to St. Theresa of Avila and the Virgin Mary, with a voice like an Aeolian harp. She is a strikingly beautiful young woman enamored of greatness and extremes, longing to do good in the world. Of a religious nature, she dresses simply like a Quakeress and has an uplifting moral effect on all she meets because of her energetic sincerity. She has a “soul hunger” thwarted by the triviality of society. She is child-like and short sighted in her trust of others, such as her husband of choice, the elderly Mr. Casaubon. The artist Naumann calls her a “Christian Antigone—sensuous force controlled by spiritual passion.” Ascetic by nature, she wishes only to alleviate the suffering of others.
Mr. Brooke is the uncle of the Brooke sisters and their guardian. A sixty-year-old bachelor and a country gentleman living at Tipton Grange, he is the comic relief. He is rambling and has a lot of miscellaneous opinions on everything. He buys a Liberal newspaper, The Pioneer, during the elections because he means to stand for Parliament, and he offers the editorship to Will Ladislaw. His campaign is a bumbling failure.
Nicholas Bulstrode is the main villain of the town of Middlemarch. He is the banker and disliked for his hypocritical piety and control over others. As director of the hospital, he traps Lydgate into supporting his causes because he pays his salary. Bulstrode comes to Middlemarch as a stranger with a murky past that includes a connection to the Ladislaw family whom he cheated out of their inheritance. He indirectly kills Raffles, who knows his secret. His wife is Harriet, the kindly sister of Mr. Vincy, mayor of the town. Her heart is broken at the scandal about her husband, but she sticks by him.
Mrs. Elinor Cadwallader
Mrs. Elinor Cadwallader is the rector’s wife and local busybody and diplomatist in the area of matchmaking. She helps join Sir James Chettham and Celia Brooke but has no influence on Dorothea. Her sayings help form public opinion, and everyone wants to be on the right side of her.
Edward Casaubon, Dorothea’s first husband, is a clergyman of fifty living at Lowick Manor, whom Dorothea romanticizes as a Milton she can serve. He is laughed at as a dried bookworm who has spent a failed life on a useless piece of scholarship, The Key to All Mythologies. A cold man, he cannot return his young wife’s affection and wishes merely to control her and bind her to his work, even after his death.
Sir James Chettham
Sir James Chettham, Mr. Brooke’s neighbor, originally fell in love with Dorothea but was too conventional for her. He marries Celia and becomes Dorothea’s brother-in-law. He is a kind man and continues to protect Dorothea and to use her ideas for improving his land.
Sarah Dunkirk, Will Ladislaw’s mother, was the daughter of a London pawnbroker and, disgusted with her family background, she escaped and became an actress. Will remembers as a child being hungry and his father dying for want of medical care. This is because Bulstrode had kept Sarah’s whereabouts secret when she should have inherited the family fortune.
Camden Farebrother, the rector of St. Botolph’s is a bachelor of forty who takes care of his mother, aunt, and sister. He is the wise friend of all the main characters. His example warns Fred Vincy not to become a clergyman unless it is one’s calling, for Farebrother would rather be a scientist, like Lydgate. He is an amateur naturalist. Always short of money, he gambles at cards. He is in love with Mary Garth but unselfishly promotes Fred’s suit with her over his own.
Peter Featherstone, the uncle of the Vincy children, lives at Stone Court and, dying, torments his relatives with who will get the inheritance. They all wait on him, currying favor. Fred Vincy is the favored candidate but Featherstone makes two wills, not sure whom he wants to get his money. At the last moment, he wants Fred, but it is too late. The later document names a distant relation, Joshua Riggs. Featherstone is mean and bullies his nurse, Mary Garth. Featherstone’s plans to keep Stone Court in the family are foiled when Bulstrode buys the property.
Caleb Garth, Mary’s father, is the manager of several estates in the area. He is intelligent, hard working, the father of Eliot’s ideal family. His honesty and ethic are taught to Fred Vincy, the spoiled mayor’s son, as Garth takes him under his wing to make a man of him. Garth is noble, fair, and not too careful with money. When he finds out Bulstrode is dishonest, he quits, and Bulstrode is deeply humiliated, for everyone trusts Garth’s impeccable virtue.
The oldest of several Garth children, Mary Garth is intelligent, principled and independent like her parents, but more sharp-tongued. She gives all her earnings to her family. She is not pretty, but nevertheless, she has two suitors—Farebrother and her childhood sweetheart, Fred Vincy. She is very hard on Fred and will not accept him till he becomes responsible. She is a foil to Fred’s pretty but featherbrained sister, Rosamond. It is clear she is Fred’s guiding light, and he is willing to change because he knows he is nothing without her.
Susan Garth, wife of Caleb, is educated but works to support the family by tutoring students in her kitchen while she cooks. She is a foil to her husband, for she is the one who has to be careful of money.
Will Ladislaw, the second cousin of Mr. Casaubon, is the main romantic hero in the novel, the second husband of Dorothea. Will is young with curly hair, romantic, a poet and writer, a bit exotic with his Polish blood. He is financially supported by Mr. Casaubon during his education, to make up for his grandmother’s being disinherited. Dorothea objects to his philosophy of joy and happiness, but they are both passionate idealists who want to help humanity through action. He is described as a gypsy, a Daphnis, a Shelley. He comes from a disreputable background on his mother’s side—pawnbrokers. He is poor and feels unworthy of wooing Dorothea, and rejects his rightful inheritance from Bulstrode because of its shady origin.
Madame Laure is the French actress Lydgate was involved with in his youth. She killed her husband on stage with a knife, and when Lydgate says that it must have been an accident; she says, no it was on purpose. This is his first hint that women can be unpredictable and selfish.
Dr. Tertius Lydgate
Dr. Tertius Lydgate is the brilliant young doctor who comes to Middlemarch to do research on “the primary tissue” and practice new methods at Bulstrode’s Fever Hospital. Like Dorothea, a passionate idealist, his main flaw is his ignorance of women. Choosing Rosamond Vincy for his wife is the end of his career, as he must make enough money to support her lifestyle by taking rich patients. Instead of groundbreaking theories on cell biology, he writes a monograph on “Gout,” the rich man’s disease, and moves to London after the Bulstrode scandal. He gets entangled in Middlemarch affairs through Bulstrode and barely escapes with his reputation, with Dorothea’s help.
John Raffles is the stepfather of Joshua Riggs, the man who inherited Stone Court. He rediscovers Bulstrode by visiting his stepson at Stone Court, and knowing Bulstrode’s past because he was sent to track the whereabouts of Will’s mother, he blackmails him. Bulstrode indirectly causes Raffles’ death to escape discovery.
Fred Vincy is the son of the mayor of Middlemarch, Fred is a spoiled young gentleman who hopes to inherit Featherstone’s fortune. He is lazy and flunks out of university, and is disappointed when he does not get the fortune. He puts Mary’s whole family in jeopardy by borrowing money from Mr. Garth to pay his gambling debts. Mary will not marry him until her father reforms him. He finally graduates but refuses to be a clergyman and instead is trained by Mr. Garth to be a farmer. He marries Mary, and they have three children.
Rosamond Vincy, the mayor’s daughter, is blonde, beautiful, and perfectly groomed. Although intelligent, she is shallow and only thinks of herself. She “acts her own character” and so when her husband is in trouble, he can never make genuine contact with her. She is not evil, but she is not good. Never sympathizing with Lydgate or his work, she confuses surface values and respectability with the good. Her flirtation with Will Ladislaw almost ruins his chances with Dorothea.
Walter Vincy, Mayor of Middlemarch
Walter Vincy is a wealthy manufacturer who made his money on the handweaving industry that is rapidly being replaced by machines. Therefore, he does not view the changes in the country with joy, because he might be ruined. Everyone in Middlemarch is connected to the Vincy family. He is a genial host that no one criticizes, and though gruff, he is lax with his children.