Middlemarch

by: George Eliot

Book VII: Chapters 63-67

Lydgate's financial troubles reach fever pitch. He learns that Rosamond has twice asked her father for money and been refused. She presses him to leave Middlemarch and practice elsewhere. Bulstrode requests his medical services. Lydgate perceives that Bulstrode has suffered a good deal of stress. He advises Bulstrode to relax, and Bulstrode states that he may withdraw his support from the New Hospital and leave Middlemarch. Bulstrode suggests that Lydgate approach Dorothea and ask her to increase her contribution accordingly. Lydgate swallows his pride and asks for a loan. Bulstrode refuses and tells Lydgate that he should declare bankruptcy.

Commentary

Lydgate's bitter response to Farebrother's offer of help directly names a major theme in Middlemarch. Many of the triumphs and misfortunes of the characters in the novel arise because of combination of their determined action and the vicissitudes of chance. Those characters who do not respect the power of random fluctuations of chance to affect their lives suffer for their hubris. They believe that their success and failure depend solely in their self-determined actions. Lydgate believes he can control all the variables in his life, that his conscientious professional merit will win him success in Middlemarch. Bulstrode trusts in his ability to control all the variables of his life by using his money to influence people and events.

However, chance plays a significant role. It is impossible to control everything. Bulstrode cannot control the fact that Featherstone's illegitimate son would be Raffles' stepson. He cannot control the chance event that results in Raffles finding a letter he wrote to Rigg Featherstone. Various minor factors affect major life events in the lives of Rosamond, Lydgate, and Bulstrode. If Fred Vincy had never gotten typhoid fever, Lydgate and Rosamond would never have spent such long periods of time in close proximity. It is difficult to predict what would have happened, but Fred's illness clearly served as a catalyst for their relationship.

Rosamond might have reacted differently had she never suffered her miscarriage. A child might have soothed her restlessness and softened her father's resistance to giving them a loan. By chance, however, she had an accident and lost her child. She doesn't even admit to herself the depth of her depression in response to that event. As Eliot writes, "There was another presence which ever since the early days of her marriage, until four months ago, had been an agreeable excitement, but that was gone: Rosamond would not confess to herself how much that consequent blank had to do with her utter ennui." Oddly enough, her husband is a doctor, but he doesn't detect the signs of her depression. The ignored, unacknowledged pain of the accident-induced miscarriage leaves her emotionally incapable of dealing with Lydgate's sudden revelation of their indebtedness.

"The convergence of human lots" occurs largely by random, uncontrollable events. Lydgate's fall into the temptation of gambling represents the other extreme embodied in Fred Vincy. Unlike Lydgate and Bulstrode, Fred is content to leave his entire future up to chance. His dependence on Featherstone's inheritance leads him into reckless gambling which results in his debt. His expectations are disappointed when, by chance, Featherstone asks Mary Garth to help him burn one of his wills. Mary will not compromise herself, and Fred loses his fortune as a result.

The novel points out the obviously flawed reasoning that leads people to believe the course of their lives can be controlled completely through self-determined action. Bulstrode and Lydgate suffer for their hubris on that count. However, that does not mean that sitting back and letting chance decide everything is any better. Fred illustrates the problems in that approach. His gambling debt is a metaphor for that extreme. Lydgate's despair leads him to interpret all money and all success as chance-gotten. He is deceiving himself again, however; both he and Rosamond made determined decisions that contributed to their indebtedness.