The Rocket

The Rocket was a steam engine that was built in Newcastle upon Tyne by Robert Stevenson in 1829. The Rocket exhibited its potential as safe and fast transportation by winning the Rainhill Trials in October of 1829.

The significance of the Rocket’s reputation is established within the first minute of the BBC’s 1994 adaptation of George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1872). The TV series opens with a middle-aged sheep herder walking along a country road. He is passed by a stage coach carrying the young new doctor, Lydgate, to Middlemarch. As the stagecoach approaches town, Lydgate says “Look” and the camera pans from the stagecoach, over the workers laying train tracks, to the slowly advancing steam engine. Already we can see modern transportation is coming to the town of Middlemarch but has not of yet been adopted to transport citizens between cities. Therefore, the locomotive’s presence in the town establishes Middlemarch as a place on the cusp of modernity, which will change the scale, pace, and pattern of the citizens’ lives. The steam-engine is not mentioned in Eliot’s novel until far later in the narrative when Will Ladislaw remarks, “America and the steam-engine. Everything you can imagine!” (Chap. XXI). By listing the steam-engine in the same sentence as America, the invention becomes a symbol or freedom, modernity, fantasy (or imagination). By contrast, “Women both old and young regarded travelling by steam as presumptuous and dangerous, and argued against it by saying that nothing should induce them to get into a railway carriage” (Chap. LVI). This contrast pits young men like Ladislaw against all women in the pursuit of dreams and adventure.

Men laying train tracks in Middlemarch (BBC)

Works Cited

Eliot, George. Middlemarch. 1872, The COVE. Accessed 2 Sept 2020.

Middlemarch, episode 1, BBC 2, 1996. Films on Demand  

"Stephenson's Rocket." Wikipedia Accessed 3 Sept 2020.

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