Book VIII: Chapters 72-79
Dorothea asks Farebrother if it would be possible to approach Lydgate about the scandal and offer help. Farebrother tells her that Lydgate may not respond positively to questioning. Sir James says that they cannot manage another man's life for him. Dorothea decides to wait until she approaches Lydgate about taking over Bulstrode's interest in the hospital before broaching the subject of the scandal.
Lydgate deduces that Bulstrode loaned him the money to bind him through a strong obligation in the event that Raffles disclosed any damaging details about his past. The townspeople avoid him, and he begins losing clients. He resolves to stay in Middlemarch and face the worst, but the thought of Rosamond's reaction pains him deeply.
Mrs. Bulstrode suspects something terrible when Lydgate accompanies her husband home from the meeting. Neither Lydgate nor her friends will give her a straight answer, so she goes to her brother, Mr. Vincy. He sorrowfully tells her the whole sad story, but he is careful to let her know that no one blames her. He tells her that he will stand by her no matter what she chooses to do.
Bulstrode knows that his wife returned home, claiming that she wasn't well, so he perceives that she has heard everything. He prepares himself to hear her say that she is leaving him. She dresses herself in mourning clothing and goes to see him. He will not look at her. A wave of compassion hits her when she sees his shrunken frame. He bursts into tears with her sitting by his side. His confession and her resolve to stick with him are unspoken.
Happy to be free of debt, Rosamond sends out invitations to a dinner party. She is bored in Middlemarch and misses Will Ladislaw's company. She feels jealous of his admiration for Dorothea. He writes to tell her that he will visit Middlemarch soon. She still hopes to convince Lydgate to leave Middlemarch.
All the invitations to Rosamond's dinner party are declined. She visits her parents. They tell her everything and say that Lydgate will probably have to leave town. Lydgate perceives that she knows of the scandal, but to his disappointment, she does not express the belief that he is innocent.
Dorothea summons Lydgate to discuss her involvement in the hospital. He tells her not to depend on him to manage the hospital, as he may have to leave town. Dorothea states her belief in his innocence and says that she wants to clear his name. Her support touches Lydgate deeply. He tells her that he must consider Rosamond's happiness, so he is disposed to leave Middlemarch. She offers to speak with Rosamond to show her that they are not completely abandoned.
Dorothea decides to take over Lydgate's debt to Bulstrode. She sets out to visit Rosamond with a check for one thousand pounds. She encounters Will Ladislaw clasping Rosamond's hands. Rosamond has been crying. Dorothea recalls all the gossip concerning Will's relationship with Rosamond, so she departs abruptly. She considers Lydgate's marriage troubles under a new light, and she is ready more than ever to be his champion.
Will knows exactly what Dorothea thinks. He is shattered at the loss of her good opinion. Rosamond tries to touch his coat sleeve, but he angrily shakes her off. She sarcastically tells him to go after Dorothea. They quarrel, and Will leaves her home in a huff. Later, Rosamond collapses sobbing into Lydgate's arms. He doesn't know the cause of her depression.
Will returns to the Lydgate home later. Lydgate informs him that Rosamond is ill. He tells Ladislaw that his own name is included in the present scandal. Will says that he wouldn't be surprised if everyone thought he conspired with Raffles to kill Bulstrode. He doesn't tell Lydgate that he refused Bulstrode's money, because Lydgate is under suspicion for accepting it.
The lives of wives are deeply affected by their husbands' social status. Just as in financial matters, however, Rosamond and Harriet Bulstrode are kept in the dark about everything. The scandal is a fairly petty, provincial kind of scandal. The only truly dramatic element to all of it is the suspicion of murder. The scandal is, in short, not particularly extraordinary. However, various players in the drama experience moments of extraordinary dignity and courage. Lydgate struggles with his duty to his intractable, yet extraordinarily fragile wife. His determined courage to face the scandal head-on, despite the slow blackballing occurring against him, is admirable. He realizes the full weight he has taken on with marriage. He must consider the vulnerable position Rosamond occupies as his wife.
His moral nature, which drives him to help the shattered Bulstrode out of the town meeting, demonstrates that Lydgate has learned a great deal about the social web. He offers a moment of dignity to a destroyed man at significant social cost to himself. It is an admirable sacrifice, considering his weak moment when he voted for Tyke.
The most poignant moment in this section, however, occurs when Bulstrode's wife goes to meet her husband after she learns the full details of his past. She has the opportunity to leave him and save herself the worst of the consequences. The town doesn't blame her, although it associates her with his false life in Middlemarch. In spite of her window of opportunity to escape the scandal, she decides to stay with him. His life is shattered, and she is all he has left. Her sacrifice in the midst of a petty, small-town scandal is a quiet moral triumph.
Dorothea encounters her own test when she mistakenly assumes that Ladislaw and Rosamond are having an affair. She is forced to confront the conflict between her own individual desire and the self-interest of the people she has vowed to help. Her abrupt departure and her sleepless night hint that she fails to rise to the occasion. She opens the novel as an unsung Theresa, so her failure to help Rosamond seems to indicate that she fails to live up to early predictions for her character.
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