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Middlemarch

George Eliot

Book IV: Chapters 34-37

Book III: Chapters 28-33

Book IV: Chapters 38-42

Summary

Featherstone's funeral is large and impressive in accordance with his wishes. Dorothea and the Brookes watch the funeral from a window. They observe a frog-eyed stranger in attendance. Celia informs Dorothea that Ladislaw is staying at Tipton Grange. The news displeases Casaubon. He believes that Dorothea asked Mr. Brooke to invite Ladislaw to Tipton Grange. Mr. Brooke praises Will, but only Dorothea can discern the signs of displeasure on Casaubon's face. She cannot explain in front of the others that she had nothing to do with his presence in Middlemarch. Mr. Brooke leaves to invite Will to come inside.

All of Featherstone's relatives attend the reading of the will, as does the frog-eyed stranger. Rumor has it that his name is Mr. Rigg and that he is Featherstone's illegitimate son. Featherstone's lawyer, Mr. Standish, reads the earlier will first. Featherstone leaves small bequests to his siblings, which causes a flurry of indignant outbursts. The first will leaves ten thousand pounds to Fred, but the land is left to Joshua Rigg, who is to take the name of Featherstone.

The second will revokes everything except some small bequests. Joshua Rigg receives everything else excepting some property to be used for the erection of some almshouses in Featherstone's name. Mary wonders if her decision to refuse Featherstone's last request deprived Fred of his ten thousand pounds. Fred laments that he will have to become a clergyman after all.

Mr. Vincy regards Fred's idleness with increased severity and determines to send Fred back to school to pass his examination. Mr. Vincy resolves to revoke his consent to Rosamond's marriage. However, Rosamond is determined to have her way. Vincy inquires into Lydgate's finances and requires him to insure his life. Vincy also makes it clear that he won't advance any money should he and Rosamond get into financial straits.

Lydgate arranges to rent a nice home in preparation for married life. Lydgate decides to hasten the marriage and the purchase of furnishings for his new home. His savings begin disappearing rapidly, so he begins buying on credit. Rosamond insists on visiting Lydgate's uncle, Sir Godwin, during their wedding journey. She begins planning to have Lydgate leave Middlemarch and find a practice elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Mr. Brooke hires Will Ladislaw as editor of the Pioneer, a newspaper he has purchased. Brooke wants to be a political man, so he hops onto the Liberal reform platform. Ladislaw believes Casaubon wronged Dorothea in marrying her, so he resolves to stay near her and watch over her. He sets out to visit Dorothea. Dorothea regrets that Casaubon will not hire a secretary. Will replies that Casaubon is too uncertain and insecure to allow anyone else to poke around in his work. He also states that Casaubon doesn't like him merely because he disagrees with him. This assertion distresses Dorothea, so Will changes the subject. He reveals that his grandmother's family disowned her because she married a poor Polish man. Will's own mother ran away from her family to marry someone not to their liking.

He announces that he plans to stay in Middlemarch. Dorothea reports this information to Casaubon. The news greatly distresses him. He believes that Will feels contempt for him. Without telling her, Casaubon writes Will requesting that he leave Middlemarch, because he feels his chosen profession reflects badly on him. Dorothea asks Casaubon to leave half his wealth to Will upon his death to make amends for the disinheritance of his grandmother. Casaubon orders her to cease interference in his relationship with Will. He suspects Will and Dorothea are conspiring against him. Meanwhile, Will writes to state that he will not leave Middlemarch. Casaubon forbids Will to come to Lowick again.

Commentary

It is significant that everyone in Dorothea's home can watch Featherstone's funeral even though they are not in attendance. This demonstrates that privacy is extremely difficult to maintain in a small community like Middlemarch. They comment at great length on those who attend the funeral from a vantage point from which they themselves cannot be seen. An individual can never be sure who may be watching, so secrets are difficult to keep.

Featherstone's final defeat is ambiguous. He fails in his attempt to do what he wants at last by burning one of his wills. However, Fred learns of a large inheritance bestowed by the first will only to have it revoked by the second. Featherstone's mercurial, manipulative nature continues jerking Fred's chains from the grave. He displays his wealth with a lavish funeral only to bring a largely neglected, illegitimate son out of the woodworks and leave everything to him. Hiding his son until his death allowed him to dangle an inheritance in front of his nephew's nose for years. Fred himself was a tool to manipulate and antagonize his other relatives. Featherstone promises Fred a light and comfortable future only to tie a heavy stone to all his dreams.

Featherstone enabled Fred's own unsteady, careless attitude towards money and debt. His powerful influence in numerous other lives owes to his wealth more than it does to his family name. His relatives manipulate familial obligations to justify their claims on his wealth and estate, but obligations aside, the name matters less than the money. The rise of the middle class in 1830s England signals the preeminence of money as a tool of power. Aristocratic power structures, based on family name and noble lineage, are beginning to give way to a power structure governed by financial influence.

Rosamond's marriage prospects are affected deeply by the financial misfortunes of her male relatives. Fred's disappointment affects her plans to marry. Her father cannot afford to help her and Lydgate, because he must pay for another year of college so that Fred can become a clergyman. Fred's disappointment means that Rosamond's support depends solely on her husband. Conventional gender roles place women in a vulnerable position. Rosamond has never been educated or prepared to support herself, nor even been educated to think about money. She has only vague notions of Lydgate's income. She just assumes that he is wealthy because he has aristocratic relations. Her only notion about money is that it will be provided when she wants or needs it. When Fred doesn't receive a large inheritance, her father investigates Lydgate's finances. He never discusses the matter with Rosamond herself. The decisions regarding a woman's support in this situation essentially take place between men.

Moreover, social convention also places the final decision regarding a woman's marriage in the hands of her father or male guardian. Mr. Brooke wanted to allow Dorothea the choice of her two suitors. However, Dorothea owes the freedom of that choice to Mr. Brooke's decision to allow her to have it. Will Ladislaw's grandmother married the man of her choice against her family's wishes. In retaliation, they disowned her and cut off all financial support.

Casaubon uses family honor as a screen to hide his true motivation in asking Ladislaw to leave Middlemarch. He tells Will that his chosen profession reflects badly on him, but his real reason for wanting Ladislaw to leave is jealousy and insecurity. He feels as though Dorothea has become a critical wife. Her strong interest in Will's future makes him feel as though she is drawing a comparison between them. Moreover, Will's youth and vitality make him a rival for Dorothea. People continually call Ladislaw his nephew by mistake. Casaubon is constantly forced to face his mortality through Will. He is constantly reminded of the age difference. Will's youth and attractiveness inspire a jealous insecurity that Casaubon can barely admit to himself. Much like Lydgate, Casaubon undergoes a process of self-deception to justify banning Will from Lowick. Notions of family honor act as a screen for his jealousy.

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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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