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Middlemarch

George Eliot

Book II: Chapters 13-16

Book I: Chapters 7-12

Book II: Chapters 17-22

Summary

Bulstrode plans to name Lydgate as superintendent of the new Fever Hospital. Farebrother warns Lydgate that he will incur professional jealousy among other Middlemarch medical men because he wants to reform their outdated treatments. The hospital lies within Mr. Farebrother's parish, but Bulstrode wishes to elect another clergyman because he doesn't like Farebrother's doctrine. He wishes to elect Mr. Tyke as chaplain for the hospital. Lydgate replies that he doesn't want to become involved in clerical disputes.

Lydgate is the orphan son of a military man, and he settled on the medical profession at a young age. His guardians paid for his education, but he is forced to earn his own living, and he doesn't plan to marry soon. He once fell in love with an actress who killed her husband on stage. She reported that it was an accident, and Lydgate helped clear her of charges. She later confessed that she meant to do it, and he resolved to avoid romantic entanglements for a long while. He wants to discover the tissue that is the most basic building block of life.

Bulstrode arrived in Middlemarch some twenty years ago, and no one knows his origins. He managed to marry Mr. Vincy's sister and ally himself with an important, respectable family. He has an intimate view into the private lives of Middlemarch citizens through their finances. He uses his money as a lever to spread his strict Protestant ethic and to scrutinize its effect on his fellow citizens. Power is his favorite game.

Mr. Vincy arrives, and Lydgate is rescued from the sticky situation. Fred has told his father about Featherstone's request. Bulstrode is reluctant to write the letter because he disapproves of Fred's extravagant habits. He believes that Vincy made a mistake in paying for Fred's expensive college education. Vincy criticizes Bulstrode for moralizing and hints that his sister, Mrs. Bulstrode, will disapprove of Bulstrode's refusal to help her brother's family. Bulstrode agrees to write the letter after a short consultation with his wife.

Fred delivers the letter, and Featherstone gives him one hundred pounds as a gift. Fred retreats to speak with Mary. He doesn't want to be a clergyman, and he has failed his examination at college. Fred demands that she promise to marry him, but she refuses. She suggests that he pass his exam as proof that he is not an idler, even though she thinks he would be an unfit clergyman. She refuses to encourage his marriage prospects. Fred returns home in low spirits and asks his mother to hold eighty pounds. He owes one hundred and sixty pounds for a gambling debt. His creditor holds a bill signed by Mary's father as security against the debt.

Lydgate attends dinner at the Vincy household, where the debate over Tyke rages on. Vincy states his preference for Farebrother on matters of doctrine. Lydgate states that he only wants to choose the best man for the job, rather than the person he likes most. The debate turns to reforms of the medical profession, and Lydgate finds himself in the minority when he supports them. He inadvertently insults the Middlemarch coroner. He converses with Rosamond and finds her very much to his liking.

Farebrother arrives and invites Lydgate to visit him. Lydgate observes Farebrother's skill at card games. Later, he wonders whether Farebrother cares for the money he wins at cards. His thoughts turn to Rosamond. He admires her, but he doesn't plan to marry for some years. He doesn't know that Rosamond has other ideas. She thinks he has important, aristocratic relations. She believes she will live in aristocratic style as his wife.

Commentary

Lydgate is an orphan and a newcomer to Middlemarch. The orphan is a metaphor for the changing social structure. Before industrialization, familial connections largely determined social status. Family honor largely determined the range of social possibilities for the individual, including marriage and profession. As an orphan, Lydgate is less fettered by familial concerns.

Lydgate is an early example of an important, and distinctly modern, character type: the self-made man. He represents the growing importance of modern scientific thought, further strengthening his position as herald of modernity. He comes to Middlemarch as a reformer of outdated medical practice, which further marks him as a representative of social change. Moreover, he dislikes his aristocratic relations, and he chose the medical profession against their wishes. A fierce individualism characterizes Lydgate's personality. He disdains petty social politics. For him, the hospital represents a purely professional project, not a social or political entanglement.

Bulstrode was once a newcomer to Middlemarch as well, but method of integration into the community is directly opposed to Lydgate's. Bulstrode took great pains to insert himself deeply into the web of Middlemarch society. He married Walter Vincy's sister and allied himself with an old, influential family. Moreover, Bulstrode is no stranger to the game of petty local politics. He regularly pulls the strands in the web of social relations in any direction he wants.

As an important, wealthy banker, Bulstrode possesses a powerful view into the private lives of his fellow Middlemarch citizens through their finances. Unlike Lydgate, he doesn't make a strict distinction between his professional and private interests. He loans money professionally through his bank as well as privately through his personal wealth. This allows him to place other people in the position of strong obligation to him personally and professionally. Therefore, he can manipulate other people. Bulstrode is a strict Evangelical Christian. He uses his power to impel other people to live according to his moral system as well as to support his political agenda.

Bulstrode's influence allows Lydgate to have the facilities and professional autonomy that he needs to conduct his research. By virtue of Bulstrode's power, Lydgate possesses the right to make the ultimate decision in the treatment of patients. Bulstrode intends to use Lydgate's professional and personal obligation to him in order to control Lydgate's vote in the clerical dispute. Lydgate does not realize that the new opportunities for social mobility carry disadvantages as well as advantages. He achieves one form of personal independence as a self-made man, but he must deal with matters of professional obligation. His fierce individualism alienates other Middlemarch medical men. Because he is not careful to familiarize himself with the web of Middlemarch social relations, he inadvertently insults the coroner.

Even though Bulstrode is extremely powerful, he too must deal with the constraints within the web of social relations. His marriage with Walter Vincy's sister socially legitimizes him because the Vincy family is an old, influential Middlemarch institution, but he is also under familial obligations to them. He lectures Vincy about his son's extravagant ways, but he clears Fred's name because he can't afford to alienate his wife and her family.

In many ways, money performs the function that family honor once did. The growth of the middle class has increased social mobility and freed many individuals from the constraints imposed by ideas of family honor. Vincy wishes to allow his children the opportunity to advance socially, but Featherstone and Bulstrode use money to manipulate his son. Vincy himself uses his money to force his son to conform to a profession not of Fred's own choosing. Fred naively believes that the promise of old Featherstone's money and property will eventually free him from the obligations of his father's financial support.

Most characters in Middlemarch suffer conflicts with independence. The prevalence of these conflicts owes largely to the transitions undergone by most social relations. There is more opportunity for independence because of social mobility; family name and honor don't outright determine an individual's life choices, but they still carry influence. The blurred definition of "debt" carries social pitfalls. Bulstrode and Featherstone deliberately keep the matter of "debt" indistinct. They leave the question of "debt" somewhere in between its strict financial meaning and the vaguer notion of personal obligation. In this way, it never really becomes clear when the "debt" is paid. Is the debt paid after the money has been returned? Fred obtains Bulstrode's denial of the rumor, but Featherstone gives him a "gift" to keep the "debt" from really being cleared. Moreover, Fred persuades Caleb Garth to co-sign on his debt. This "debt" is more than a financial obligation. This "debt" will soon carry greater consequences for the Garth family.

Another pitfall awaits Lydgate. He believes he can flirt with Rosamond with no consequences. Both Rosamond and Lydgate have unrealistic, idealistic ideas about marriage. Rosamond is also a skillful manipulator, and Lydgate's inexperience in dealing with the web of social relations will later lead him into trouble with Rosamond.

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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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