Middlemarch

by: George Eliot

Book IV: Chapters 38-42

Summary Book IV: Chapters 38-42

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.