Middlemarch, A Study of Provincial Life is a novel by the English author George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), first published in eight instalments (volumes) in 1871–72. The novel is set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during 1829–32, and follows several distinct, intersecting stories with a large cast of characters. Issues include the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism, self-interest, religion, hypocrisy, political reform, and education. Despite comic elements, Middlemarch is a work of realism encompassing historical events: the 1832 Reform Act, the beginnings of the railways, and the death of King George IV and succession of his brother, the Duke of Clarence (King William IV). It incorporates contemporary medicine and examines the reactionary views of a settled community facing unwelcome change. Eliot began writing the two pieces that would form Middlemarch in the years 1869–70 and completed the novel in 1871. Although initial reviews were mixed, it is now seen widely as her best work and one of the great novels in English.