Book VI: Chapters 58-62
Captain Lydgate, Lydgate's cousin and son of Sir Godwin, comes to visit. The captain takes Rosamond out riding. Lydgate forbids her to go riding again because of her pregnancy. Rosamond defies him; she suffers an accident and miscarries.
Lydgate gives a bill of sale on his furniture to his creditor as security for his debt. Rosamond wants to ask her father for money, but Lydgate forbids it. She tries to persuade him to sell everything and leave Middlemarch, but he refuses. He asks her to choose some of their dishes and her jewelry to return. She sullenly places all of her jewelry in front of Lydgate and tells him to choose everything himself. Lydgate relents and tells her to keep her jewelry.
Gossip concerning the codicil to Casaubon's will spreads throughout Middlemarch. Rosamond mentions it to Lydgate, who knows more than most. He advises Rosamond not to mention it to Will. Will knows nothing of the codicil until Rosamond defies her husband's advice and teases him about it. She is surprised to find that Will knew nothing of it. She is unhappy with her marriage, and she has already unsuccessfully tried to get money from her father.
Bulstrode hires Will to attend an auction and bid for a painting that Mrs. Bulstrode wants. Will meets John Raffles there. Raffles says he knew Will's mother and that her parents made a fortune by selling stolen goods.
Bulstrode returns home from work, and his wife tells him that a strange, disagreeable man came to their house. He knows Raffles has returned to Middlemarch and fears losing his wife's love and respect. Raffles visits him at the bank the next day and continues to blackmail him.
In his youth, Bulstrode met Mr. Dunkirk, a pawnbroker, at church and befriended him. He became a partner in the business and slowly discovered that they were selling stolen goods. He did not resign, however, and continued to behave publicly as a deeply religious man. Dunkirk died, leaving his wife a wealthy woman. Her son died. She wanted to marry Bulstrode, but she asked him to locate her missing daughter before she would consent. Bulstrode hired Raffles to find her. The daughter, Sarah Ladislaw, and her small child, Will, were found, but Bulstrode bribed Raffles to keep silent. He married Mrs. Dunkirk and received all of her wealth upon her death.
Bulstrode requests a meeting with Will. He tells Will that he married his grandmother and that he became wealthy as a result. He says that he was unable to find Will's mother. He offers to give Will a fair share of the inheritance that would have come to him if Bulstrode had located Will's mother. Will states that he doesn't believe Bulstrode's assertion that he didn't find his mother. Bulstrode admits his guilt and says he wants to atone for it. Will asks if Bulstrode's wealth derives from the thievery Raffles hinted at. Bulstrode replies that he entered the business after it had already become established. Will refuses Bulstrode's tainted money, because he doesn't want to do something that would disappoint Dorothea.
Mrs. Cadwallader tells Sir James and Dorothea that Ladislaw lingers in Middlemarch, stirring a scandal with his frequent visits with Rosamond. Dorothea uneasily remembers her encounter with Will at the Lydgate home. Will visits her at Lowick and announces that there is malicious gossip against his character. He says that what he cares for most is forbidden to him because of the gossip, so he must leave Middlemarch to save his reputation. Dorothea thinks for an instant that she is what Will cares for most, but then she remembers the rumors about Rosamond and thinks Will might also refer to her. She feels sick at heart, but doesn't know why, because Will has taken steps to preserve his honor. Will, disappointed that Dorothea does not beg him to stay, leaves Middlemarch the following day.
Rosamond's miscarriage is infused with symbolic meaning. The conventional expectation of wives is that they obey their husbands' wishes. To disobey a husband's wisdom is a transgression of her socially accepted gender role. Moreover, the wife's primary duty is to produce and care for children. Rosamond fails in both respects. Her first transgression is "punished" by the second. Her behavior might inspire harsh criticism, but before one judges, it is necessary to attend to Eliot's rich psychological treatment of Rosamond's character.
Rosamond's own ambitions for upward social mobility are stunted by the rigid social constraints on women. Unlike Lydgate, she has no public vocation to perform. She has no outlet for her intractable, headstrong energies outside her home. Her only outlet for her frustrated ambition is her husband. Captain Lydgate represents the social world she wishes to enter. Lydgate forbids her to go out riding with his cousin a second time, but Rosamond is already restless, so Lydgate's order only exacerbates those feelings. He represents yet another male voice telling her what to do with her life.
Her transgression of conventional expectations placed on women's behavior is met with an unfortunate, regrettable accident. The miscarriage should be read symbolically. It is a symbolic punishment for exercising the power of her free choice. It is a sign that demonstrates in no uncertain way the consequences of her resistance against the constraints of conventional gender roles.
Moreover, Rosamond has an agenda that goes contrary to Lydgate's. He plans to stay in Middlemarch for the long term. She wants to leave. Husband and wife do not form a complementary unit. Rosamond is not willing to play the passive ornament to Lydgate's life. Neither do Lydgate and Rosamond form an amicable partnership. In other words, there is a deep conflict in their marriage. The efforts of one spouse resist the efforts of the other. Such a situation produces nothing but conflict.
There are only vague hints about Rosamond's reaction to the loss of her unborn child. The poignant description of the task of putting away the baby clothes indicates that it deeply affects her: "All the embroidered robes and caps had to be laid by in darkness." The miscarriage represents a disappointed hope that takes more solid form when she learns of Lydgate's debt. Lydgate married her with the expectation that she would be an ornament to his life. He married her thinking he wanted to be the authoritative husband. His debt brings him to desire a partner, not an ornament. Rosamond's upbringing did not prepare her to deal with finances. She was educated to expect that all the finances would be taken care of by her father or her husband. Lydgate's request that she take part in the financial management of the household comes as a rude surprise, especially after her miscarriage. Lydgate berates her for secretly going out on horseback, but he himself keeps secrets from her. He doesn't reveal their financial troubles until they become serious.
Bulstrode continues using tainted money to cover the trail leading back to its tainted origins. Had he been wise, he would never have paid Raffles a dime. By trying to bribe him anew, however, Bulstrode has left a ready trail for suspicion and gossip to follow. Had he refused to bribe Raffles, he might have been able to explain Raffles's accusations in another, less implicating light. He could have told people that Raffles is an old business partner gone to seed with alcoholism. He could have said that Raffles used the threat of false slander as a means to extort money. But Bulstrode is too insecure about the capacity of his public moralizing to cover his private sinning, so he dirties his painstakingly cleansed money out of fear. Ironically, Bulstrode's one inability to contradict his outward presentation of himself as an eminent Christian is probably the strongest reason that he fails to save his reputation. He can't lie.
Mary refused to accept bribe money because she knew the trail it would leave behind. Her choice likely saved her reputation. Moreover, Will refuses to accept Bulstrode's barely veiled attempt to bribe him. Bulstrode quickly learns that the power he gained through his tainted money is also the heaviest stone that weighs him down. He compromises himself more and more the longer he tries to bribe Raffles. He widens the trail by including Will. Ill-gotten money spreads the original sin around.
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