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Middlemarch

George Eliot

Book V: Chapters 49-53

Book V: Chapters 43-48

Book VI: Chapters 54-57

Summary

The day after Casaubon's burial, Sir James and Mr. Brooke discuss a codicil to his will. Casaubon has forbidden Dorothea to marry Will Ladislaw. Sir James demands that Brooke send Ladislaw out of the country, but Brooke says that he can't ship Will off like a head of cattle. They resolve to keep the codicil a secret from Dorothea, but they fear that gossip will soon endanger Dorothea's reputation.

Dorothea insists that she look through Casaubon's papers. She wants to find some clue about the unspecified promise he wanted of her. Celia reveals the details of the codicil. If Dorothea were to marry Will, she would be stripped of Casaubon's property. The knowledge that Casaubon viewed her with suspicion embitters Dorothea.

Lydgate tells Dorothea to consider allowing Farebrother to take over the parish at Lowick instead of Tyke. He mentions Farebrother's gambling and says that an additional income would relieve him of the need to engage in such an activity. He mentions that Will is a friend of Farebrother's household, especially Miss Noble. Lydgate doesn't know that he has mentioned the strongest reason against Farebrother rather than the strongest recommendation in bringing up Will Ladislaw's association with him.

Will doesn't know of Casaubon's codicil. He only knows that Brooke arranges for him to be at Tipton Grange as little as possible. He concludes that Dorothea's friends want him to stay away on her account. He wonders if they view him with suspicion. He despairs at the growing chasm between them and considers leaving the neighborhood, but he wants to coach Brooke for the Parliamentary elections.

Brooke gives an election speech. He notices an effigy of himself held above the shoulders of the crowd. The hecklers befuddle him, and the speech ends in disaster. The hecklers pelt both the effigy and Brooke himself with eggs until Brooke flees. Brooke informs Will that he is out of a job, because he is selling the Pioneer. Will suspects that Brooke's friends have urged Brooke to be rid of him.

Farebrother learns that he is to have the Lowick parish. His mother, aunt, and sister urge him to court Mary Garth now that he has sufficient income to marry. Fred, having taken his degree, requests that Farebrother ask Mary if there is any chance that she would marry him.

Farebrother assures Mary that her refusal to burn Featherstone's second will made no difference in Fred's lot. It would have been valid regardless. He asks Mary about her feelings for Fred. Mary states that she won't marry Fred if he becomes a clergyman and if he doesn't settle on a steady occupation. Farebrother hints that he himself loves her. Mary says that she loves Fred too much to give him up for another. Feeling pained for his loss and proud for having done his duty, Farebrother leaves to deliver the message.

John Raffles interrupts a conversation between Caleb Garth and Bulstrode. Garth senses that Bulstrode is not pleased to see Raffles. He leaves them alone because he doesn't want to eavesdrop. Raffles learns that Bulstrode purchased Stone Court from his stepson, Rigg Featherstone. Bulstrode bribes Raffles to stay away from Middlemarch. Raffles could damage Bulstrode's reputation as an eminent Christian by revealing the fact that Bulstrode contrived to prevent his first wife from finding her missing daughter and grandchild. The missing daughter's married name was Ladislaw.

Commentary

Brooke and Sir James connive to conceal Casaubon's humiliating codicil. Again, men discuss and manage a woman's welfare without including her in the process. Casaubon represents the regrettable failure of a human life to realize the ambitions that governed it. The dichotomy between Casaubon's private paranoid self-doubt and his dignified, confident public face is too much to overcome in the end. His ambition to do his duty by Will ends in failure, because he virtually re-enacts the very measure taken against Will's grandmother. Her family stripped her of her inheritance as punishment for governing her own life by marrying the man of her choice against their wishes. Casaubon threatens the same punishment if Dorothea should marry the one man he dislikes. Moreover, his codicil is doubly ironic. He disinherits Will as well by proxy. He dies without finishing his life-long project.

Casaubon's tragedy is an ordinary human tragedy. Petty jealousy and the small failures of character make his end almost pathetic. However, it is difficult not to sympathize with his struggle to maintain his moral system until the very end. He justified the idea of adding the contemptible codicil by telling himself he was only doing his duty as a husband by providing for Dorothea's protection after his death. He lived continually with the fear that others would discover his self-doubt, and he dies leaving behind the glaring evidence of those very doubts. Not only does he fail to realize his ambitions, he fails to keep his deepest secret.

Lydgate, however, manages a small triumph. He once deprived Farebrother of a much-needed boost in income. When he voted against Farebrother for the chaplaincy, he furthered his own personal interests and the interests of a wealthy man at the expense of a poor man. In a manner of speaking, Lydgate repays a debt when he speaks with Dorothea on Farebrother's behalf. He secured the financial resources offered by Bulstrode by denying much-needed financial resources to Farebrother, so he now goes against Bulstrode's wish to secure the Lowick parish for Tyke. Lydgate's debt to Farebrother doesn't involve money directly, but money is nevertheless deeply entangled in it.

There is a great deal of irony in Lydgate's redemption. He himself has had a chance to experience the anxiety that minor debts can entail. Lydgate's experience with small financial needs modifies his earlier contempt for the manner in which small, unmet financial needs govern a man's actions. Lydgate himself must now contend with the responsibility of supporting a woman in times of financial troubles. Lydgate felt safe enough to marry once he secured Bulstrode's financial backing with his vote. Farebrother couldn't marry because he simply couldn't afford to do so. Moreover, his sister couldn't marry either because Farebrother couldn't afford the expense of her wedding.

The greatest irony is that Lydgate never really knows the full extent of the social cost incurred by following one's ambitions at the expense of another person. He didn't know that the marriage prospects of either Farebrother or his sister depended on his vote. Neither does he know that his act of redemption made any bigger difference in Farebrother's life beyond alleviating the pressure to gamble. Eliot clearly demonstrates that ordinary actions made by ordinary people can have a truly significant impact.

Farebrother considers himself a mediocre clergyman. He regards his choice of profession as a mistake. Certainly, he does not pretend to be a saint. He is merely an ordinary man in a small, provincial community who puts aside his own personal desires when a member of his flock comes to him for help. Farebrother knows that the success of Fred's courtship of Mary entails far more than a broken heart that can heal over time. Fred is on the brink of choosing the wrong vocation, and only Mary can save him from this. Farebrother knows the consequences of becoming a clergyman when one isn't suited to the occupation. He gives up his own interest in Mary, the chance to overcome his own unhappy entrapment in the wrong vocation, when he acts as Fred's representative to Mary. Because he is a mediocre clergyman, Farebrother overcomes his flaws and becomes an exemplary clergyman for a short while. It is a quiet moment of dignity that will not be recorded in any historical record, but it is a noble moment that greatly affects other human lives for the better.

Bulstrode's world is about to come crashing down around him. The contradiction between his public self and his private sins is about to come to light. It is money that leaves the trail that Raffles follows. A letter written to Joshua Rigg Featherstone regarding his purchase of Stone Court is the clue that leads his tormentor to him. Bulstrode makes the mistake of using the same tainted money to try to cover the trail by bribing Raffles to leave Middlemarch.

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A Blog post on Middlemarch

by DanMitchell23, June 07, 2013

This blog post focuses on the relationships and marriages in Middlemarch...

http://inbetweenthelines1.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/book-review-middlemarch/

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