A Poetic Opening

Source: Eliot, George. Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life. vol. 497, Oxford University Press, New York;London;, 1947.


Oh, rescue her! I am her brother now,

And you her father. Every gentle maid

Should have a guardian in each gentleman! (Chapter VIII)


Besides the rhetorical use of a catchy opening sentence, writers might also begin their stories with unforgettable quotes, especially in old English literary works. In this case, George Elliot begins Middlemarch‘s chapter VIII, like many of her chapters, with a poetic and somewhat melodious opening as a way to summarize a key idea in the chapter. Indeed, the chapter is about how Sir James Chettam, the “gentleman,” acts as a “guardian” to the “gentle maid” Dorothea when considering whether Dorothea should marry Casaubon. While this is not a major plot point in the chapter,  it adds a lighter start for readers before drowning themselves in the heavy, plot-dense prose, giving them a quick break after finishing chapter VII. It is also a mnemonic way for readers to remember the chapters; since the novel is quite lengthy, these lines can help them trace back better throughout the chapter. 

Through this excerpt, it is interesting to see how writers can add style creatively to seemingly trivial elements like the opening of a chapter. As a result, if used wisely like Elliot, writers can make each chapter unique and memorable on its own; chapters are not only mere story sections but aesthetic pieces that are memorable in readers’ minds. Such uniqueness is the subtle attractiveness that makes Middlemarch linger in people’s souls, especially those who loves a few lines of poetry in what they read. 

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