The Prelude and Finale to Middlemarch frame the novel in terms of two major issues. First and most obviously, the opening passages about Saint Theresa and "the social lot of women" indicate that what follows will be a contribution to the 'woman question.' Most of Eliot's contemporary reviewers read and sought to understand the novel in this way, and modern critics continue, with good reason, to interpret it as crucially concerned with questions of gender, woman's nature, and feminism. 3 The Prelude and Finale also link the novel to a second set of problems, one which they (and the novel as a whole) insistently pair with the first. Phrases and passages in both of these framing sections speak directly to the discourse of history which the rest of this study has explicated. The Prelude concludes with a vision of a life "unmarked by any signal event," the kind of "noiseless" existence hailed by Carlyle and Macaulay as genuinely historical:
As I discussed in Chapter Two, both Carlyle and Macaulay hint at but do not overtly point to women when they look into "the dark untenanted places of the past," to the transformations effected "in every school, in every church, behind ten thousand counters, at ten thousand firesides."4 In contrast, Eliot explicitly genders this historiographical theme. Saint Theresa's life is the model for a life historicized through some "long-recognizable deed," but it is also the touchstone for the lives of later women who share her "ardour" but find no such fulfilling project, whose ideals and opportunities never coalesce into direct, meaningful action. Those who care to "know the history of man," the Prelude insists, must look to the history of woman.