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Middlemarch

George Eliot

Book II: Chapters 17-22

Book II: Chapters 13-16

Book III: Chapters 23-27

Summary

Lydgate visits Farebrother and learns that he supports his mother, aunt, and sister on his meager income. Farebrother's mother states that he compares to the best of clergymen, so he should have the position at the hospital. Lydgate learns that Tyke is a zealous, strict type. He also learns that Farebrother smokes, gambles, and studies entomology as well. Farebrother warns Lydgate of Middlemarch's petty politics and prejudices. He tells Lydgate that he will offend Bulstrode if he votes for him. However, he says there will be no hard feelings if Lydgate votes for Tyke.

Lydgate's liking for Farebrother increases with greater acquaintance. Lydgate disapproves of Farebrother's gambling, and he knows that Farebrother wants the chaplaincy for the forty-pound salary. Lydgate dislikes the manner in which money becomes a motive for men's actions. He is torn, however, because he feels that the salary might relieve Farebrother of the need to gamble. Lydgate is also frustrated that his vote will damage his relationship with Bulstrode. He begins to feel the harness of petty Middlemarch politics. During the election, Lydgate votes last, breaking a tie. Farebrother's supporters state that they know how Lydgate will vote and why. The hints insult Lydgate, but he votes for Tyke anyway. Farebrother treats Lydgate no differently than before.

Naumann, a painter friend of Will Ladislaw, draws his attention to a beautiful woman on the streets of Rome. The woman is Dorothea. Will informs him of her identity, and Naumann asks him to persuade Dorothea to sit for a portrait. Meanwhile, Dorothea is sobbing. She cannot name the reason for her sadness. She has begun to realize that her marriage is not what she expected it to be. Casaubon states that he wishes to return to his work soon. She hints that he should begin sifting through his notes and writing his book. Casaubon takes her suggestion as criticism. He suggests that she defer to his better judgment. Dorothea, although indignant, bows to his will because the quarrel pains her.

Ladislaw visits the Casaubons, but only Dorothea is home. Casaubon arrives, interrupting the conversation. His dry, dark, aged appearance contrasts starkly with Will's sunny, bright youth. Will agrees to dine with them the next day. Dorothea begs forgiveness for her short temper with him earlier, but peace is not fully restored.

Ladislaw takes Dorothea and Casaubon to visit Naumann's studio. Naumann wants to sketch Dorothea. He flatters Casaubon and asks him to sit as a model for Thomas Aquinas. Afterwards, he asks to do a quick sketch of Dorothea. Will is stricken with an intense admiration for Dorothea. He wishes her to take special notice of him, so he schemes to see her alone. He goes to visit when he knows Casaubon will not be at home. Will laments her sad fate in being locked away in Lowick manor, but Dorothea stresses that Lowick is her chosen home. Will makes light of Casaubon's plodding scholarship on his unfinished work. Dorothea takes offense, but only because he voices the concerns that she herself has been feeling. Will declares that he will renounce Casaubon's charity because he wishes to be independent. He hopes to impress Dorothea. She admires his resolve, but she pleads that he never mock Casaubon's work again. Dorothea reports Will's plan to Casaubon. He replies that Will is of little interest to him except as an object of duty, and he asks her not to mention him again.

Commentary

Lydgate's relationship with Farebrother is rife with personal conflicts. He is caught between his friendship with Farebrother and his professional relationship with Bulstrode. The election for the chaplaincy quickly develops into a moral dilemma. Lydgate is a moral man, but he suffers from "spots of commonness." Like most other characters in Middlemarch, he has a number of small prejudices and moral failings related to the need to balance self-interest and other people's interests. He disapproves of Farebrother's minor gambling habit because he disdains the way small sums of money can determine a man's actions. However, Farebrother must support his mother, his aunt, and his sister. In addition to these responsibilities, he needs money to pursue his own scientific hobbies. Lydgate too needs financial help to pursue his medical research. Lydgate is thus hypocritical when he judges Farebrother for needing money.

Lydgate undergoes a process of self-deception to justify giving into Bulstrode's pressure. Farebrother's gambling habit could be a justification for voting against him as well as voting for him. However, he uses Farebrother's gambling as justification for voting against him. Lydgate doesn't want to admit that he does so out of consideration for himself. One of the most remarkable elements of Middlemarch is George Eliot's careful portrayal of contradictions within the human character.

Farebrother's character also underscores the difficult social situation of women. Men deal with various minor and major problems related to money. Women, however, are in an even more precarious position. They have far less earning power than men do, and it is practically necessary that they have a man's support. The range of social possibilities is much narrower for women than for men. Farebrother's mother is a widow, and his aunt and sister are unmarried; therefore, they must all depend on his meager salary to survive. A woman whose husband dies without leaving her sufficient means to support herself might very well face the misery of poverty with no means to earn a living. Generally, a woman's means of support is a husband. In the absence of a husband, she must depend on male relatives.

Dorothea's personality and basic philosophy of life are directly opposed to Casaubon's. Dorothea protests Will Ladislaw's assertion that her belief system is remarkably similar to mysticism, but Will comes closer to an accurate description than she thinks. The comparison between Dorothea and Saint Theresa, a mystic nun, also defines Dorothea's philosophy in the same way.

Casaubon's philosophy can best be described as Rationalism. He places far more emphasis on strict, academic reasoning than he does on emotions. He interprets reality through abstract, theoretical terms such as duty, for example. Dorothea, however, in accordance with mysticism, places emotional response above abstract reasoning as the motivation for moral choices. Casaubon's Key to All Mythologies is a metaphor for Rational thought. He wants to construct an all-encompassing method to interpret the world through rational, academic reasoning.

Will Ladislaw, like Lydgate, is an orphan. Whereas Lydgate is a figure of modernity, Will Ladislaw is a figure of Romanticism. Romanticism places the individual experience at the center of life. Will decides to decline Casaubon's financial support. Both he and Lydgate value independence, but they have different motives for doing so. Lydgate considers freedom from a professional, rational point of view, as he wants to reform medical practice. He wants to avoid political and social entanglements because he doesn't want to compromise his research. For Will, freedom is primarily an aesthetic concern.

In accordance with Romanticism, Will values freedom of emotional expression and the unique individual experience. He wants independence from Casaubon because he disdains the constraints of rules of social behavior. Lydgate wants to pursue scientific research, but Will pursues "beauty." Romanticism tends to value art and the art object above everything else, including duty and responsibility. When Naumann aestheticizes Dorothea by painting her, Will falls in love with her.

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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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