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Middlemarch

George Eliot

Book VII: Chapters 68-71

Book VII: Chapters 63-67

Book VIII: Chapters 72-79

Summary

Looking rather ill, Raffles appears at Bulstrode's home on Christmas Eve and spends the night. Bulstrode sends him away the next morning with a hundred pounds. Bulstrode's wife is uneasy, so he tells her he is merely taking care of the "wretched creature."

Bulstrode arranges to transfer the management of the bank and the hospital. He speaks to Caleb Garth and asks him to manage Stone Court in his absence. Garth wants to give the management to Fred. Eager to secure Garth's competent services, Bulstrode agrees. His wife is angry that he didn't give Lydgate a loan. She wonders why he is so stingy with her brother's family, so he agrees to help Fred in order to mollify her. Garth examines the property and prepares to tell Fred the good news.

Garth visits Bulstrode at the bank to report that he found Raffles at Stone Court. He advises Bulstrode to secure the services of a doctor because Raffles is very sick. Bulstrode fears that Raffles told Garth everything. Garth confirms his suspicion when he tells Bulstrode that he must decline to do business with him after all. However, Garth promises not to repeat Raffles' accusations.

Lydgate meets Bulstrode at Stone Court. Raffles suffers from the ravages of alcoholism. Lydgate prescribes bed rest and instructs Bulstrode to refuse Raffles' requests for alcohol. The case is serious, but Raffles, being strong, could still live.

Bulstrode discovers a handbill about a horse-fair in Raffles' things. He follows Lydgate's instructions faithfully. He hopes that Raffles will die and considers defying Lydgate's advice. Lydgate visits again and prescribes small doses of opium to help Raffles sleep. Lydgate is bitter that Bulstrode aids a wretch like Raffles though he would not help him with his debts. The auction of his furniture has been published in the papers. He expresses optimism for Raffles' recovery.

Anxious to earn Lydgate's goodwill, Bulstrode tells him that he has changed his mind and wants to loan Lydgate the money. Enormously relieved, Lydgate goes away with a check for a thousand pounds. Exhausted, Bulstrode asks the housekeeper to take over. The housekeeper knocks on his door and tells him that Raffles is begging for brandy. After a moment's hesitation, Bulstrode gives her the key to the liquor cabinet. Lydgate returns in the morning to watch Raffles take his dying breath. Lydgate is puzzled at the change, but he is so happy to be saved from bankruptcy that he thinks nothing of it.

Bulstrode is doomed. Raffles met Bambridge at the horse-fair and told him everything. Bambridge repeats the scandal of Bulstrode's misdeeds to everyone at the Green Dragon. Everyone now knows that Raffles died at Stone Court while under Bulstrode's care. They also know that the auction of Lydgate's furniture was canceled suddenly. Suspicions grow about the circumstances of Raffles' death and Lydgate's sudden freedom from debt. The gossip spreads like wildfire. Bulstrode suspects nothing.

Bulstrode attends a town meeting to discuss sanitation measures. Every important Middlemarch citizen attends the meeting. Lydgate notices strange looks when he and Bulstrode take their seats. A member of the board, Mr. Hawley, announces that there are scandalous accusations against Bulstrode. He demands that Bulstrode deny them or resign from all public positions. Lydgate notices Bulstrode shrink with misery. The other men request that Bulstrode leave the meeting. Shaken, he complies. Lydgate stands to help him leave the room, associating himself with Bulstrode's infamy. He suspects his orders for Raffles were disobeyed. He knows that the town believes he took the loan from Bulstrode as a bribe.

Dorothea learns of whole sad story from Farebrother and Mr. Brooke after they return from the meeting. She asks how they could believe Lydgate could be guilty. She demands that they learn the truth and clear him.

Commentary

Another theme that should be clear by now is that an individual life is greatly formed by its relations to other lives. Human society and all of its institutions are basically a collection of relations, class and gender being two very important factors in the novel. In the older paradigm of social relations, one's birth and family name determined one's relationship to the rest of society. After the rise of the middle class and the resultant transformation into a cash economy, money became a major metaphor for social relations.

Money is pure relation. Money in and of itself is worth absolutely nothing, but it has worth as a sign measuring social relations between buyer and seller, worker and employer, and agent and client. The standardization brought about by a cash economy allowed for an explosive growth of diverse social relations. Because all money looks alike, the specifics of those social relations were often ambiguous. This most likely contributed to the general stigma attached to earned money. The wealth of the landed gentry came from a very clear source.

The earned money of the middle class, however, was a different matter. The middle class phenomenon of the strict Protestant moral value system was, in many ways, an attempt to ameliorate the ambiguous moral status of earned money. There is nothing on the money itself that names its origins. It's impossible to know if it came by thievery or by application of the Protestant work ethic.

Caleb Garth's new-found prosperity is much too precious to lose. He is not willing to take the chance of giving Bulstrode the benefit of the doubt. He can't be sure that the origin of Bulstrode's money is morally safe. Therefore, he cannot allow himself to accept doubtful money. Accepting tainted money would establish a compromising relationship between him and Bulstrode's past sins, the origin of Bulstrode's wealth.

The spread of guilt by association very much mirrors the spread of disease through a population. Disease too was a marker of a relation in a population (indeed, Lydgate wants to study the spread of disease through populations). However, his mind is much too literal to make the connection between the spread of physical disease and its metaphorical mirror, the spread of guilt through tainted money. Lydgate's desperation leads him to accept unknowingly a bribe from Bulstrode. Not naming the money as a bribe allows Bulstrode to tie a yoke to Lydgate surreptitiously. He merely wants to establish an obligation that he may need later to manipulate Lydgate should Raffles talk. He obscures the origins of his motivation in giving Lydgate the loan in order to continue obscuring the origin of the money itself.

Lydgate's tainted money spreads its poison like a disease. Unfortunately, Lydgate does not recognize the metaphorical illness, because the literal one occupies his attention. Bulstrode's control over the course of his own life is rapidly spinning out of control. He suffers most from the blow of fateful circumstances. Raffles' arrival and discovery of his whereabouts could never have been foreseen, and the effect of his presence cannot be controlled. Even name "Raffles" implies the unlucky blows of fate. In the course of chance events, Bulstrode's raffle ticket spells disaster. Lydgate suffers the unfortunate coincidence between Raffles' illness and the desperate escalation of his financial emergency. He is a sitting duck for a manipulator like Bulstrode.

Of course, the publication of the auction of his furniture also coincides with these events, unfortunately. The public has concrete proof of the extent of his desperate financial straits. The coincidence between Raffles' death, Lydgate's sudden financial salvation, and Bambridge's attendance at a horse-fair is a final cruel blow of chance events that lead to Lydgate's devastating association with Bulstrode's sins.

Lydgate seals his relationship with Bulstrode's infamy when he helps him walk from the room during the town meeting. The moment of revelation has come. Bulstrode is called to answer for his private crimes in the public sphere. A contradiction between his public presentation of himself as a moral, upright Christian and his private life has arisen. Bulstrode cannot reconcile that contradiction, so he is ejected from his position of public influence.

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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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