GEORGE ELIOT: '(Dorothea) . . . never repented that she had given up position and fortune to marry Will Ladislaw, and he would have held it the greatest shame as well as sorrow to him if she had repented. They were bound to each other by a love stronger than any impulses which could have marred it.'

CLARE FRANCIS, yachtswoman and novelist: People feel that George Eliot sold out, don't they? Eliot sets herself an insoluble dilemma: Dorothea could have done more. I wanted her to get the money into a trust before she married Ladislaw, to find some way around that punitive will. But perhaps she was really an ineffectual person, or at least needed a driving force to give her visions shape. Maybe Ladislaw was perfect for her. (Lydgate was too cerebral.) But I only hope she was allowed to have opinions.

CLAIRE TOMALIN, literary critic: I don't think you can think about literature like that. George Eliot's version was that they were happy, and I think we have to trust that. But there were things Dorothea could have done. George Eliot was saying that most people's lives do have private effects, and that we shouldn't expect them to have more than private effects.

MALCOLM BRADBURY, professor and novelist: Middlemarch is the classic novel of compromise - think about the name itself - and Eliot's work was always about the little things being more important than big things. Casaubon represents the idea of being able to unlock all knowledge, but Dorothea sees his failure. By marrying Ladislaw she does have to give up certain dreams but he is going to be an MP, working at the smaller things. Will won't pursue enormous reforms but he will do good. Allegorically, Dorothea's marriage to Will represents the truth she's found.

HILARY MANTEL, novelist: No. I don't think Dorothea had a great capacity for happiness.

JOHN SMITH, museum curator at Stamford (aka Middlemarch): The question misses the whole point of the book: it is not about whether Dorothea and Ladislaw are happy or not. It presents the whole spectrum of Victorian life and to reduce the ending to a lot of romantic conclusions was a cop- out by George Eliot and by

the BBC. We are overwhelmed by Middlemarch in Stamford - we don't know if we're coming

or going.

EMILY BLACK, secretary: Dorothea is a prissy prune who won't be happy even hitched to the smouldering sex god of Middlemarch. Not entirely her own fault, I suppose - being married to Casaubon would probably put a bit of a damper on anyone. I suspect she will imagine marriage to involve lots of sitting around reading poetry to each other. She should have picked Sir James right at the beginning, had lots of babies and devoted herself to good works in the village.

HELEN McNEIL, university lecturer: Eliot makes a pre-emptive strike by saying that Dorothea will die unremembered, without money or standing. Obviously Dorothea has gone for sexual fulfilment - so, yes, she will be blissfully happy - but she'll never make a mark on the world. A coarse reading of the novel is 'Why didn't Lydgate marry Dorothea?'. Both characters are intelligent, creative and desperate to do something in the world but Eliot barely allows them to know one another - their coming together would have been too explosive. Eliot buries Dorothea. That is realism.

KEN LIVINGSTONE, MP: I've recorded the whole series and am going to watch it through from start to finish. Phone me after the next rainy day and I'll tell you what I think of the couple's chances.

JULIAN SHUCKBURGH, publisher: Well, we know what happens - they more or less lived happily ever after. Will becomes an MP and Dorothea carries on being nice to people. Some may take the ending to be merely a Victorian device but I am a great romantic: they clearly loved one another deeply. They were even prepared to be apart for their love. There is no greater bond than that.

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