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Middlemarch

George Eliot

Book VI: Chapters 54-57

Book V: Chapters 49-53

Book VI: Chapters 58-62

Summary

Dorothea returns to Lowick Manor. She wishes to get to know Farebrother's household better. She also wishes to hear some word of Will, but she fears asking about him directly. Will himself chooses to visit her at Lowick. Will tells Dorothea that he plans to depart from Middlemarch soon, hoping to elicit some sign of strong feeling from her. Sir James arrives and interrupts their visit. He treats Will with disdain, arousing Will's indignation and pride and Dorothea's sadness.

Mrs. Cadwallader connives to marry Dorothea off as soon as her period of mourning ends. Everyone hopes that a speedy marriage will cut short any malicious gossip regarding her relationship with Will. Irritated at such meddling, Dorothea declares that she will never marry again.

Dorothea hires Caleb Garth to manage her estate. On her behalf, he negotiates with a company wishing to purchase rights to build a railway through Lowick parish. Public opinion goes against such a newfangled contraption, and some Lowick tenants even threaten Caleb Garth, his assistant, and some railway agents during a surveying expedition. Fred Vincy comes upon them on his way to see Mary. He chases the attackers away, but Garth's assistant has sprained his ankle during the confrontation. Garth is angry that he cannot work without his assistant, so Fred offers to help with the day's work.

Fred asks Garth if he would consider hiring him. He confesses his love for Mary and informs Garth that she has refused to marry him if he becomes a clergyman. Garth tells him to report to his office early the next morning. He decides to consult his wife before taking any steps, however. He tells her he wants to hire Fred. He also tells her about Mary's conditions for marrying Fred. Mrs. Garth is disappointed that Farebrother seems to have no chance of marrying her daughter.

Fred arrives at Garth's office in the morning, and Garth asks him to demonstrate his handwriting. Fred's handwriting is terrible, but Garth decides to give him a chance. He instructs Fred to practice every day until he can write legibly. Fred visits his father's warehouse to tell him that he will work for Garth instead of becoming a clergyman. Mr. Vincy tells him that he has thrown away his education and gone down a step in life. However, he tells his son to stick to his chosen occupation, because he can no longer depend on him for support other than a rent-free room in the Vincy household. Fred's decision upsets Mrs. Vincy even more, because she rightly suspects that her son plans to marry Mary Garth.

Fred visits the Garth household to speak with Mrs. Garth. He wishes to win her goodwill. She tells him that Mary's willingness to consider marrying him surprised her. She says that he made a mistake in asking Farebrother to speak to Mary on his behalf. She admonishes him for thinking of his own wants without considering what his wishes might cost others. Astonished, Fred asks if Farebrother loves Mary too. She confirms his speculation.

Fred walks to Lowick to find Mary. He finds her in the company of Farebrother's mother, aunt, and sister. Farebrother returns home and contrives to allow Fred and Mary some time alone together. When they are alone, Fred declares that he has no chance, because she will probably marry Farebrother after all. He tells her that her father has agreed to hire him, but the knowledge that he has a superior rival will prevent him from working as hard as he can. Mary assures Fred that Farebrother has not tried to win her away from him and admonishes him for his unfair distrust of Farebrother. Fred is relieved, but he stills feels an intense jealousy.

Commentary

Casaubon's unwarranted suspicion and his contemptible codicil compromise Dorothea's reputation. There are few secrets in Middlemarch. Gossip spreads through the community like wildfire. Dorothea's Puritan attitude and behavior does not coincide with an extramarital affair. Brooke, Sir James, and Mrs. Cadwallader well know the damage that malicious gossip can cause. They also know that the suspicion and accusations that arise from the speculations of gossip can never really be disproved. Mrs. Cadwallader's machinations to marry Dorothea to a proper aristocrat are very much motivated by a desire to protect Dorothea from suspicion.

Again, standards for men and women are different. Featherstone can bring his illegitimate son out of the woodworks and make him into a landed, wealthy gentleman by tacking on his last name to Rigg and signing a piece of paper. His extramarital sexual activities aren't necessarily damaging. He belongs to the landed gentry, so his "sins" do not necessarily have to remain in darkness forever. However, the standard of behavior is a much different matter where a woman is concerned. If Dorothea were suspected of an extramarital affair, even one that had not been consummated, it would destroy her reputation.

Caleb Garth represents the Victorian ideal of the virtue of work. He sees work as a redeeming activity. His primary joy is not the money he receives in payment. He often says he would be glad to do his job for free if it were not for the fact that he has a family to support. Work is an end in itself for Caleb Garth. His basic philosophy of work mirrors the idealized Victorian conception. His work represents a way to eliminate waste by running things efficiently. It also represents a way to eliminate immoral conditions of impoverished squalor by building better housing for the laborers on large estates and offering better compensation for the work they do.

His salary is an incidental detail, but is it not a motive for work. In a sense, the character of Caleb Garth reflects the Victorian obsession with the stigma of earned money. His approach removes the stigma attached to earned money by making money peripheral to work.

Garth's faith in the redemptive power of work extends to Fred Vincy. He offers Fred a job in order to reform the boy into a man. Unfortunately, he takes on a task that entails more effort and patience than he thought. Fred's education prepared him for a lifestyle of relative leisure. A clergyman need only exercise his duties for a few hours a week. The rest of his time is his own. Fred's expensive education has prepared him for a gentleman's existence. Therefore, Garth must undertake the long process of educating Fred in practical matters of business. His undertaking serves the benevolent purpose of helping another person in need of a favor. It also serves the purpose of saving Fred from the corrupting influence of idleness. Garth's project is not to offer Fred an opportunity to earn a salary. His project is Fred's salvation. Garth is a perfect example of the idealized Victorian concepts of work.

Fred, in a manner of speaking, is trying to repay his debt to the Garths. The debt he owes them is not strictly financial. He disappointed their expectations of his honor. They trusted him to be a gentleman and keep his word to pay the loan Garth co-signed for him. He failed to comply with their expectations and caused them a good deal of trouble.

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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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