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Dorothea's anger and disappointment dissipate. She resolves to see Rosamond again. Lydgate consents to allow Dorothea to take over his debt from Bulstrode. Dorothea tells Rosamond that she, Farebrother, Sir James, and Mr. Brooke all support Lydgate wholeheartedly. Rosamond bursts into hysterical crying. Dorothea comforts her and counsels her to cling to her husband. Rosamond tells Dorothea that she is wrong to think badly of Ladislaw. She tells her that Will has done nothing wrong. She hints that Will loves another woman. Lydgate and Rosamond reach an uneasy peace.
Rosamond informs Will that she has cleared his name with Dorothea. He engages Miss Noble to speak to Dorothea on his behalf. The kind little woman asks Dorothea if she will consent to speak to Will. She consents. Will tells her that Bulstrode offered him money, but that he refused. However, he still must suffer the gossip about his parentage. People say that he is the grandson of a thieving Jewish pawnbroker. They kiss, but Will declares sorrowfully that they can never be married. Dorothea replies that she cares nothing for her wealth and that her heart will break if they must part. She has a sufficient income from her deceased parents and Mr. Brooke. They become engaged. Sir James reacts with anger, partly because he dislikes Ladislaw and partly because he wants his son to inherit both Tipton and Freshitt. Dorothea decides to go to London and live with Will Ladislaw.
Bulstrode prepares to leave Middlemarch. He doesn't want to sell Stone Court. He asks his wife if there is anything she would like him to do. She asks him to do something for Lydgate and Rosamond, but Bulstrode tells her that Lydgate has refused any further service from him. He tells her that Garth once planned to manage Stone Court in order to place Fred there. Since Garth declined to do business with him, he tells his wife to ask Garth to enter into an agreement with her.
Garth approaches Mary to see if she still wants to marry Fred considering the scandal concerning his uncle Bulstrode and his brother-in-law, Lydgate. She says that she still loves Fred, and that there has been no change in her plans. He tells her of the offer he has received from Mrs. Bulstrode. Fred is delighted at the news. He and Mary plan to marry shortly after he settles into Stone Court.
Fred and Mary settle into a solidly happy marriage and have three sons. They never become rich, but they manage comfortably. Lydgate leaves Middlemarch and sets up a successful practice elsewhere. He still considers himself a failure and dies at fifty. His marriage never becomes a peaceful or wholly happy arrangement. He never has anything but praise for Dorothea, which continually arouses Rosamond's jealousy. Rosamond later marries a wealthy physician. Will Ladislaw becomes an ardent public man working for reforms. Dorothea remains happy in her position as wife and mother. Dorothea's son inherits Tipton Grange.
In the end, Dorothea lives up to the Prelude's prediction. In an extraordinary moment of courage, she returns to see Rosamond a second time. Rosamond herself rises above her vanity and selfishness. She puts aside her own jealousy to tell Dorothea the truth. This means giving up her entertaining fantasies about Will and herself. It is the first time that Rosamond does not act according to her own personal desire, but out of consideration for someone else.
Dorothea cleanses Lydgate's tainted loan by replacing it with her own money. Although it doesn't stop Lydgate from leaving Middlemarch, it removes Lydgate's humiliating relationship with Bulstrode. His reputation in Middlemarch is damaged beyond repair; the virtue of Dorothea's act of kindness toward him is that Lydgate knows that at least one person in Middlemarch has a good opinion of him.
At the last, even Bulstrode himself makes a small step towards redemption. Through his actions, Fred and Mary are finally able to marry. Caleb Garth himself is good enough not to lump Harriet Bulstrode in with her husband's crimes. He doesn't entertain himself with her misery like some people do.
Dorothea's final situation illustrates again the regrettable restrictions on access to the public sphere for women. She makes one independent act by helping Lydgate, and her assistance is a much-needed balm on the misery and stress of the Lydgates. However, her marriage to Will signifies her return to the narrow domestic sphere. The promise she shows as a reforming philanthropist is never realized independently. She lives her chosen occupation through her husband. Will becomes the ardent public advocate of reform, and Dorothea lives in his shadow as his wife and the mother of his children. Rosamond and Lydgate never really achieve an easy peace in their marriage, so it is unclear whether Dorothea's help made much of a difference.
In short, the ending is ambiguous. We have followed two unhappy marriages to their conclusion. Lydgate's only escape from his unhappy marriage is an early death. After becoming a widow, Dorothea marries the man she loves. We are never sure if she is satisfied with the domestic sphere. The unhappy marriages have failed due to various personality differences, unrealistic ideals of the respective roles of husbands and wives, and the processes of self-deception that seem to mark all human activity.
There is one possible, happy marriage that doesn't happen, however. Farebrother advised Lydgate to marry a "good, unworldly woman." This is the opposite of Rosamond. Farebrother was recommending a woman who doesn't mind waiting through the years it takes to build a lucrative practice. Moreover, Farebrother was recommending someone who appreciates Lydgate's passion for his vocation. This advice clearly suggests Dorothea; the marriage that doesn't happen is, obviously, the one between Lydgate and Dorothea. She shares his passion for reform and his human concern for the alleviation of suffering. She doesn't care for wealth. She also showed a strong interest in the New Hospital itself. However, they met before each of them had obtained real life experience. They met before they had lost their unrealistic idealism about marriage. They were married to other people before they could appreciate one another.
It is difficult to tell whether Dorothea would have been able to exercise a public role in the hospital had she married Lydgate, but there is some indication that she would have. The best wife for Lydgate would have been a patient, equal, sensible partner. Dorothea would have been that woman. However, the vicissitudes of fate worked against their marriage.
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