Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871–72). Dorothea Brooke is a pretty young idealist whose desire to improve the world leads her to marry the crusty pedant Casaubon. This mistake takes her down a circuitous and painful path in search of happiness. The novel, which explores society’s brakes on women and deteriorating rural life, is as much a chronicle of the English town of Middlemarch as it is the portrait of a lady. Eliot excels at parsing moments of moral crisis so that we feel a character’s anguish and resolve. Her intelligent sympathy for even the most unlikable people redirects our own moral compass toward charity rather than enmity.

Total Points: 158 (JE 6) (DAJ 8) (KA 7) (MB 4) (AB 8) (TBiss 10) (PC 6) (JC 6) (SCraw 6) (BEE 8) (KJF 10) (GG 6) (MG 1) (MGri 2) (AG 8) (KHarr 4) (AHas 5) (AHud 3) (SHust 8) (DL 9) (DLod 5) (MMCPH 9) (JMEND 4) (LM 2) (FP 3) (JR 5) (MSimp 4) (EWhite 1)