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Middlemarch

George Eliot

Book IV: Chapters 38-42

Book IV: Chapters 34-37

Book V: Chapters 43-48

Summary

Sir James and the Cadwalladers discuss Brooke's political ambitions. The Trumpet, an opposing newspaper, criticizes Brooke's penchant for preaching in favor of charity for the poor while allowing his own tenants to live in relative squalor. He charges exorbitant rents, but his tenants live in miserable conditions. Sir James and the Cadwalladers hope that the public embarrassment will prompt him to improve the conditions on his estate. Sir James attempts to convince Brooke to hire Garth to manage his estate, but he is unable to succeed.

Sir James convinces Dorothea to aid in reforming Brooke. Dorothea expresses admiration that he plans to make the conditions on his own estate coincide with his political ambitions to "enter Parliament as a member who cares for the improvement of the people." Flustered, Brooke replies that she is too hasty. A footman arrives to report that he caught Dagley's son poaching. Dagley is one of Brooke's tenants. Will tells Dorothea that Casaubon forbade him to go to Lowick after his refusal to quit Middlemarch. Dorothea feels terrible. She believes Casaubon's behavior to be greatly in the wrong.

Brooke visits Dagley to talk to him about his son's poaching. Brooke is keenly aware that the Dagley homestead looks dismal. Mr. Dagley is drunk and in bad spirits. Brooke asks him to reprimand the boy. Dagley states that he will do nothing of the sort. He lets Brooke know that all of Middlemarch is talking about the Trumpet's scathing editorial. Brooke departs hurriedly, stinging from the unpleasant knowledge that he is not exceedingly popular everywhere.

Caleb Garth receives a letter from Sir James asking him to manage the Tipton Grange and Freshitt estates. Farebrother arrives to deliver a message on Fred's behalf. Fred has left to return to college, and his shame over his debt prevented him from delivering his farewell in person. He reports that Fred has asked him to try and convince Mr. Vincy to allow Fred to choose a profession other than the Church. The Garths tell Farebrother of Featherstone's last request and Mary's feeling that she may have prevented Fred's inheritance unknowingly. Mr. Garth plays with the idea of taking Fred into his business, but Mrs. Garth thinks his family would never allow it. He also tells his wife that it appears that Mr. Bulstrode plans to buy Stone Court from Joshua Rigg Featherstone.

Joshua Rigg Featherstone argues with John Raffles, his abusive stepfather. Raffles hassles him for money, but Rigg will pay his mother a weekly allowance and no more. He tells Raffles he will be driven away should he approach Stone Court again. Raffles notices a letter signed by Mr. Bulstrode and carries it away with him.

Despite all of her devoted care, Casaubon is convinced that Dorothea judges him harshly. His speculations regarding Will and Dorothea are full of suspicion and jealousy. He believes that she was the cause of Will's return from Rome and his decision to take up residence in Middlemarch. However, he believes Dorothea to be innocent of bad intentions. Rather, he believes she is vulnerable to Will's manipulation. He resolves to protect Dorothea from Will's machinations. He consults Lydgate about the state of his health. Lydgate replies that his health is fragile, but he could still live another fifteen years.

Afterwards, Dorothea notes that Casaubon looks tired. She lends him her arm, but she senses an unresponsive hardness. He shrinks from her pity and shuts himself alone in the library. Dorothea retreats to her room in fury, indignant that she should be treated this way. They send curt messages to one another, each stating a preference for dining alone that evening. However, Dorothea quickly relents and waits outside the library until late that evening. Casaubon emerges, looking more haggard than ever. He is touched that she waited up for him.

Commentary

It should be obvious by now that a major difficulty facing many of the characters in Middlemarch is choosing a profession. Industrialization greatly increased the diversity of available occupations. In the past, the landed gentry occupied the top of the social ladder. A gentleman had no determined occupation. In fact, a gentleman didn't work, because his money allowed him to live a life of leisure. Working for a living was considered beneath him. When industrialization began, money earned through work carried a stigma. The only really "clean" money was inherited money.

The rise of the middle class accompanied the rise of the strict, moralizing Protestant work ethic. Eager to ameliorate the stigma of earned money, many members of the middle class ascribed to this moral system. A growing middle class and a strict moral system characterize the Victorian period.

Although industrialization created greater freedom of choice in vocation and greater upward social mobility, it also created insecurity. A middle-class man's moral exterior was supposed to coincide with his private life. If there was a contradiction, he was expected to hide it well. The social and economic cost of ostracism for the revelation of private sins raised the stakes for contradictions between one's public and private selves. Respectability, like wealth, had to be earned. The blessings of the range of opportunities available to the self-made man were mixed. Private actions that contradicted the public veneer of respectability could destroy everything.

Bulstrode represents the middle class Victorian morality. He illustrates the ambiguous moral status of earned money. As a banker, he is even more interesting. He makes money with money. In the older paradigms of Christian morality, income generated from the lending of money was actually completely un-Christian. Money-lending was a Jewish occupation. However, Bulstrode is an Evangelical Christian. His money occupies an even greater ambiguous moral status than Vincy's money. He lives by a stricter moral system as well. His strict Christian value system "cleanses" his money somewhat. Moreover, he uses his money to enforce his moral system on others, making himself the means of "moral improvement" for his fellow Middlemarch citizens.

Besides the adoption of strict Protestant values, members of the middle class had other ways to ameliorate the stigma of their money. One way was to purchase a large estate. Ownership of property "cleansed" the money that purchased it. Joshua Rigg Featherstone's dream is to have the capital to become a moneychanger. He wants to earn money with money. Bulstrode, eager to alleviate the stigma of his wealth even further, purchases Stone Court. He and Rigg complement and oppose one another. Joshua fetishizes money for itself. Bulstrode loves his money for the power it gives him. Joshua cares little for moral righteousness. He is an extreme representation of the vulgarity attached to new money. Bulstrode is an extreme representation of the middle class obsession with moral appearances.

Moreover, the Victorian middle class reformed the meaning of work. Before industrialization, working for a living was not a respectable occupation. Protestant, middle-class values turned work into a virtue. Working hard and accumulating wealth came to be seen as a sign of God's favor. Thus, the choice of a vocation was a very serious matter. This is the dilemma facing Fred Vincy. He hopes to inherit a large estate and avoid having to earn his living. His disappointment brings him to face the undesirable prospect of the Church as his occupation. However, he feels that he is not meant to be a clergyman. Farebrother became a clergyman because he had to support his female relatives, but he appears to be better suited to natural science. Moreover, he must gamble to support his interest in science. The wrong choice forces him to subvert the office he occupies. He becomes a contradiction in terms: a smoking, gambling clergyman.

Mr. Brooke never chooses any determined occupation. He dabbles in everything. He is continually saying that he has "gone into" a little of everything. Moreover, he tries to run for election on a whim. For him, it is a strictly self-centered, narcissistic impulse. He runs on the Reform platform, but, to him, "reform" is an abstract, fanciful idea, not a matter of improvement of real human lives. It offers him an opportunity to strut and make speeches. The opposition, in keeping with the middle-class value system, is quick to point out the fact that his public image clashes strongly with his private life.

Dorothea attempts to save her uncle from the consequences of the contradiction between his public and private selves. Moreover, her intervention illustrates the much narrower range of choices for women. Dorothea has an intense desire to be a reforming philanthropist. However, as a woman, she can only enact the reforms she plans through men. Her cottage plans come to fruition through Sir James. She attempts to do the same through Brooke. However, she cannot bring her plans to action without a man to help 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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