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Middlemarch

George Eliot

Book III: Chapters 23-27

Book II: Chapters 17-22

Book III: Chapters 28-33

Summary

Fred did not want to go to his father about his debt, because Mr. Vincy tends to rage about his expensive habits. He settled on Caleb Garth, Mary's father. The Garths have always liked Fred. However, the family has little money, because Garth failed in the building business. He makes his living managing the estate of wealthy landowners. Mrs. Garth, a former schoolteacher, supplements their income by giving lessons. Garth did not tell his wife he co-signed a debt for Fred Vincy.

Fred attends a fair, sells his horse, and buys another with Featherstone's gift. He hopes to sell the new horse at a profit and pay his debt. The new horse turns out to be vicious, however, and lames itself during a struggle. Fred, miserable at his bad luck, resolves to confess his inability to pay his debt. He visits the Garth home and tells Mrs. Garth.

Mrs. Garth must part with all the money that she has saved to pay the fee to apprentice her fifteen-year-old son to a trade. They have to ask Mary to part with some of her own savings to cover the rest of the debt. Fred apologizes profusely and rides to Stone Court, Featherstone's estate, to confess all to Mary. Mrs. Garth expresses deep disappointment in Fred and scolds her husband for being foolish enough to co-sign the debt. Her husband knows more about mining, building, and land than anyone, but he doesn't have a head for finances. Garth regrets having to ask Mary for money, because he suspects she loves Fred.

Fred arrives at Stone Court and declares to Mary that she will think of him as a good-for-nothing. He suggests that she ask Featherstone to advance the money to apprentice her brother, but Mary replies that her family prefers earning their money to begging for it. She accuses him of being selfish because he does not think about the consequences others suffer as a result of his actions. Still, she does not stay entirely angry. Fred returns home feeling physically ill but less melancholy. Garth arrives to collect a portion of her savings and tells her that he fears that Fred is not to be trusted. Mary assures her father that she will not engage herself to Fred if he remains so irresponsible. Featherstone lets Mary know that he is aware of what has occurred, and he criticizes her father's lack of financial sense.

Fred catches a terrible fever, but Mr. Wrench, the Vincy family doctor, says that it is not serious. The medicines he prescribes, however, have no effect. Mrs. Vincy catches sight of Lydgate, so she asks him to examine her son. He diagnoses Fred with typhoid fever. Mr. Vincy is furious with Wrench's mistake, so he tells Wrench his opinion of him and names Lydgate as the new family doctor. Wrench is insulted, and Lydgate makes an enemy.

Meanwhile, Featherstone sends messages wishing Fred well and urging him to visit Stone Court when he is able. Fred listens to the message, hoping for a scrap of information concerning Mary. Lydgate feels a growing attachment to Rosamond, so he looks forward to the end of Fred's illness. Flirtation is all very nice, but he still sticks to his plan to defer any romantic entanglements for a period of years. Meanwhile, Rosamond dreams of marrying, ridding herself of boring Middlemarch society, and choosing all the best furnishings for her new home. Ned Plymdale and other men who hoped to court Rosamond become increasingly jealous. Lydgate begins to build his medical practice despite his growing feud with other medical men. One day a servant of Sir James arrives to ask him to visit Lowick Manor.

Commentary

Fred learns the social cost of the careless pursuit of self-interest. He wants to hide his money problems, and he knows that pursuing a loan through official channels will mean revealing his troubles to his uncle Bulstrode. He chooses to find a co-signer through a more informal channel: friends. He settles on Caleb Garth. Fred soon learns that financial favors obtained on the basis of friendship incur far greater debts than official loans. Unlike a defaulted official loan, his inability to pay means more than the loss of pride, minor personal embarrassment, and a tirade from his father. He tries to save face by hiding his money problems, and nearly loses something more important: the woman he loves and the respect of a friend.

Like Bulstrode, Fred manipulates the web of social relations to his personal advantage. But his failure to meet his financial obligation entails a serious loss for the Garth family. Fred thus incurs another debt because he cannot meet the first. He will have far more difficulty in repaying this second debt. The second debt is more difficult to quantify because it cannot be measured with a determined amount of money. There is no way to measure the cost that the Garths suffer when they cannot apprentice their son. There is no way to measure the cost they suffer in having to ask their daughter for a portion of her savings. Mrs. Garth loses several years of earnings because Fred cannot pay the one-hundred-sixty pounds he owes Bambridge. Her ninety-two pounds represent years of hard work and frugality.

The relationships between men and women are characterized with unrealistic, stereotypical ideals. Lydgate's ideal wife is little more than a beautiful ornament. Rosamond's ideal exists only in romance novels. Dorothea's ideal is a "great soul," not a man. Casaubon's ideal is an utterly submissive servant. All of these ideals are produced by conventional gender roles. Men and women do not often relate to one another as individuals, but rather through the distorting lens of social expectations and their own self-delusion.

Lydgate's desire for independence from the entanglements of petty social obligations and politics continues to be frustrated. He believes naively that the merit of his work will automatically bring him professional success. Wrench loses his lucrative position as the Vincy family physician to Lydgate, and he resents the loss of income as well as the professional embarrassment. Lydgate wants to reform medical practice, but he doesn't take the time to deal with social and professional politics. Rather than including Wrench in his treatment of Fred's typhoid fever, he alienates him. He would be a more successful reformer if he took the time to include Wrench and educate him tactfully. He incurs resentment instead. In doing so, he breeds resistance against his new and improved methods of treatments.

Lydgate's entanglement in professional politics leads to a further social entanglement. His treatment of Fred draws him into Rosamond's proximity. He flirts with her as though he were merely playing a romantic game until social opinion forces him to be a gentleman. His disregard for the rules governing the relationships between men and women leads him into a troubled marriage.

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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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