1. The story of Saint Theresa is clearly set up as a keynote for the novel. What are its crucial elements? What ideal does Saint Theresa embody? What obstacles does she face, and how are her aspirations fulfilled? What’s different for “later-born Theresas”?
2. What’s the overall tone of the Prelude? If (like the title and subtitle) it teaches us something about how to read the novel, what’s the lesson here? What are we set up to expect (or fear, or hope) for the characters we meet?
3. The Prelude is our first meeting with the narrator of Middlemarch. So far, how would you characterize her*? What kind of relationship does she establish with us here? As you read on, be aware that one of her favorite tricks is to use free indirect discourse – that is, to channel other characters’ points of view through her own voice. She’s also prone to irony: you might notice an ironic inflection here, for instance, in the lines about levels of “feminine incompetence.”
*It’s important not to confuse the narrator with the author, and there’s no particular reason to assume the narrator is either male or female – but in that case, a male pronoun is no more the obvious choice. I prefer to use a female pronoun partly because I don’t see why ‘male’ should be the default.