Not only young virgins of that town, but grey-bearded men also, were often in haste to conjecture how a new acquaintance might be wrought into their purposes, contented with very vague knowledge as to the way in which life had been shaping him for their instrumentality. Middlemarch, in fact, counted on swallowing Lydgate and assimilating him very comfortably.
This passage, located at the end of Chapter 15 after Lydgate is introduced as the idealistic new doctor, introduces the neighborhood of Middlemarch as a sort of character. Middlemarch is not particularly interested in Lydgate as an individual and instead views him as an instrument and part of the greater community. This illustrates the pull between individual and community that drives the novel forward. In the novel Middlemarch, there cannot be individuals without community nor a community without individuals.
This passage also shows a contradiction between Middlemarch as an ominous force that swallows its inhabitants and a comfortable force that draws its inhabitants into its community that is part of the structure of the novel. It demonstrates the pluses and the minuses of living in a country community, much like the entire book does. It captures the realistic, contradictory nature of Eliot’s realistic portrayal of country living.