George Eliot – Middlemarch (Novel Summary)

Short Biography of George Eliot:

Mary Ann Evans, better known as George Eliot, was born in Warwickshire, in 1819 and spent the early years of her life with her father an estate agent, and her brother, Isaac. From childhood, she showed an unusual aptitude for study and was far ahead of her brother in academic achievements. At the age of twenty-two, she went with her father to Coventry, and soon began to free herself from the narrow religious outlook which bound her family. She later came into contact with thinkers like Francis Newman, Herbert Spencer and was deeply influenced by their philosophy. She then met George Henry Lewes, and defying Victorian convention, lived with him for the rest of her life. Poverty and misfortune dogged them for a while, but Lewes recognised her superior intellect and encouraged her with praise and devotion. Inspired by him, in 1857, she wrote Scenes from Clerical Life. Adam Bede appeared in 1859, and The Mill on the Floss, which is largely autobiographical, in 1860. Both the novels were very well acclaimed as also her Silas Marner (1861), Romola (1863), Felix Holt (1866), Middlemarch (1871-72), and Daniel Deronda (1873).

George Eliot

Of all the women novelists of the 19th century, George Eliot was the most learned and in her creative achievement, the most adult. She was a rationalist, and what interested her above all, were the human motives that she tried to explore and comprehend. She tried to analyse the thoughts of her characters, to probe their deepest desires, and while doing so, displays a deep compassion and understanding of human nature. Thus, George Eliot’s novels contain numerous examples of subtle psychological study.

Characters in Middlemarch:

  • Dorothea Brooke – Oldest of two daughters, and raised by her bachelor uncle, Mr. Brooke.
  • Celia Brooke – Dorothea’s younger sister, the more calm and ordinary of the two.
  • Mr. Brooke – Dorothea and Celia’s guardian and uncle, brother to their deceased father.
  • Edward Casaubon – Dorothea’s middle-aged husband, a crusty old scholar with an inability to feel emotion or love.
  • Sir James Chettam – Begins pursuing Dorothea at the beginning of the novel, but gives her up for her sister Celia when Dorothea becomes engaged to Casaubon.
  • Mr. Cadwallader – Preacher of Sir James’ parish, and a trusted friend and advisor to him as well.
  • Mrs. Cadwallader – Wife of Mr. Cadwallader, also rather kind-hearted, though with a tendency to be a bit of a busy-body.
  • Will Ladislaw – Young cousin of Mr. Casaubon, whom Casaubon has little regard for.
  • Dr. Tertius Lydgate – Young man of about 30, of good family and social connections.
  • Rosamond Vincy – Very vain, empty-headed young woman, though her social graces and manner are perfect.
  • Mr. Vincy – Rosamond and Fred’s father, mayor of Middlemarch.
  • Mrs. Vincy – Wife to Mr. Vincy, and originator of many of her daughter Rosamond’s flaws.
  • Fred Vincy – The Vincys’ only son.
  • Mary Garth – Oldest child of the Garths, she works for Mr. Featherstone at Stone Court until his death.
  • Caleb Garth – Mary’s father, a hard-working man who manages estates.
  • Mrs. Garth – Wife of Caleb, just as honest and upstanding.
  • Mr. Featherstone – Owner of Stone Court, and very wealthy.
  • Mr. Rigg – Illegitimate son of Featherstone.
  • Mr. Bulstrode – Another prominent figure in Middlemarch, who runs a bank, a hospital, and other institutions.
  • Mrs. Bulstrode – Mr. Vincy’s sister; she is a very good woman, honest, upstanding, and faithful.

Summary of Middlemarch :

Dorothea Brooke and her younger sister, Ceila were young women of good birth, who lived with their bachelor uncle at Tipton Grange near the town of Middlemarch. So serious was Dorothea’s cast of mind that she was reluctant to keep jewelry she had inherited from her dead mother, and she gave all of it to her sister. Upon reconsideration, however, she did keep a ring and a bracelet. At a dinner party where Edward Casaubon, a middle-aged scholar, and Sir James Chettam both vied for her attention, she was much more attracted to the serious-minded Casaubon. Casaubon must have had inkling that his chances with Dorothea were good, for the next morning he sought her out. Ceila, who did not like his complexion or his moles, disapproved of the matter. That afternoon Dorothea, contemplating the wisdom of the scholar, was walking and by chance encountered Sir James who was in love with her and mistook her silence for and supposed she might love him in return. When Casaubon made his proposal of marriage by letter, Dorothea accepted him at once. Mr. Brooke, her uncle, thought Sir James a much better match; Dorothea’s acceptance merely confirmed his bachelor views that women were difficult to understand. He decided not to interfere in her plans, but Celia felt that the event would be more like a funeral than a marriage, and frankly said so.

Casaubon took Dorothea, Celia, and Mr. Brooke to see his home so that Dorothea might order any necessary changes. Dorothea, intending in all things to defer to Casaubon’s tastes, said she would make no changes in the house. During the visit Dorothea met Will Ladislaw, Casaubon’s second cousin, who seemed to be hardly in sympathy with his elderly cousin’s marriage plans. While Dorothea and her new husband were travelling in Italy, Tertius Lydgate, an ambitious and poor young doctor, was meeting pretty Rosamond Vincy, to whom he was much attracted. Fred Vincy, Rosamond’s brother, had indicated that he expected to come into a fine inheritance when his uncle, Mr. Featherstone, should die. Vincy, meanwhile, was pressed by a debt he was unable to pay.

Lydgate became involved in petty local politics. When the time came to choose a chaplain for the new hospital of which Lydgate was the head, the young doctor realised that it was to his best interest to vote in accordance with the wishes of Nicholas Bulstrode, an influential banker and founder of the hospital. A clergyman man named Tyke received the office. In Rome, Ladislaw encountered Dorothea had begun to realise too late how pompous and incompatible she found Casaubon. Seeing her unhappiness, Ladislaw first pitied and then fell in love with his cousin’s wife. Unwilling to live any longer on Casaubon’s charity, Ladislaw announced his intention of returning to England and finding some kind of gainful occupation.

When Fred Vincy’s note came due, he tried to sell a horse at a profit but the animal tried to be vicious. Caleb Garth, who had signed his note, now stood to lose a hundred and ten pounds because of Fred’s inability to raise the money. Fred fell ill, and Lydgate was summoned to attend him. Lydgate used his professional calls to further his suit with Rosamond. Dorothea and her husband returned from Rome in time to hear of Celia’s engagement to Sir James Chettam. Will Ladislaw included a note to Dorothea in a letter he wrote to Casaubon. This attention precipitated a quarrel which was followed by Casaubon’s serious illness. Lydgate, who attended him, urged him to give up his studies for the time being. To Dorothea, Lydgate confided that Casaubon had a weak heart and must be guarded from all excitement.

Meanwhile all the relatives of old Mr. Featherstone were waiting impatiently for his death, but he hoped to circumvent their desires by giving his fortune to Mary Garth, daughter of the man who had signed Fred Vincy’s note. When she refused it, he fell into a rage and died soon afterwards. When his will was read, it was learned he had left nothing to his relatives; most of his money was to go to a Joshua Riggs, who was to take the name of Featherstone and a part of his fortune was to endow the Featherstone Almshouses for old men. Plans were made for Rosamond’s marriage with Lydgate. Fred Vincy was ordered to prepare himself finally for the ministry, since he was to have no inheritance from his uncle. Mr. Brooke, having gone into politics, enlisted the help of Ladislaw in publishing a liberal paper. Mr. Casaubon had come to dislike Ladislaw intensely after his cousin had rejected further assistance, and he had forbidden Ladislaw to enter his house. Casaubon died suddenly.

A codicil to his will gave Dorothea all of his property as long as she did not marry Ladislaw. This strange provision caused Dorothea’s friends and relatives some concern because if publicly given out, it would appear that Dorothea and Ladislaw had been indiscreet.

Mr. Brooke, on the advice of his Tory friends, gave up his liberal newspaper and thus cut off his connection with Ladislaw. The latter realised that Dorothea’s family was in some way trying to separate him from Dorothea but he refused to be disconcerted about the matter. He resolved to stay on in Middlemarch until he was ready to leave. When he heard of the codicil to Casaubon’s will, he was more than ever determined to remain so that he could eventually disprove the suspicions of the village concerning him and Dorothea. Meanwhile Lydgate and Rosamond had married, and the doctor had gone deeply in debt to furnish his house. When he found that his income did not meet his wife’s spendthrift habits, he asked her to help him economize. He and his wife began to quarrel. His practice and popularity decreased.

A disreputable man named Raffles appeared in Middlemarch. Raffles knew that Ladislaw’s grandfather had amassed a fortune as a receiver of stolen goods and that Nicholas Bulstrode, the highly respected banker, had once been the confidential clerk of Ladislaw’s ancestor. More than that, Bulstrode’s first wife had been his employer’s widow. Upon money inherited from her, money which should have gone to Ladislaw’s mother, Bulstrode had built his own fortune. Already blackened by Raffles, Bulstrode reasoned that the scoundrel would tell Ladislaw the whole story. To forestall trouble, he sent for Ladislaw and offered him an annuity of five hundred pounds and liberal provision in his will. Ladislaw, feeling that his relatives had already tainted his honour, refused, unwilling to be associated in any way with the unsavory business. Deciding to leave Middlemarch, Ladislaw went to London without assurance that Dorothea loved him.

Lydgate drifted deeper into debt. When he wished to sell what he could and take cheaper lodgings, Rosamond managed to make him hold on, to keep up the pretense of prosperity a little longer. At the same time Bulstrode gave up his interest in the new hospital and withdrew his financial support. Faced at last with the seizure of his goods, Lydgate went to Bulstrode and asked for a loan. The banker advised him to seek aid from Dorothea and abruptly ended the conversation. But when Raffles, in the last stages of alcoholism, returned to Middlemarch and Lydgate was called in to attend him, Bulstrode, afraid the doctor would learn the banker’s secret from Raffles’ drunken ravings, changed his mind and gave Lydgate a cheque for a thousand pounds. The loan came in time to save Lydgate’s goods and reputation. When Raffles died, Bulstrode felt at peace at last. But it soon became common gossip that Bulstrode had given money to Lydgate and that Lydgate had attended Raffles in his final illness. Bulstrode and Lydgate were publicly accused of malpractice in Raffles’ death. Only Dorothea took up Lydgate’s defense. The rest of the town was busy with gossip over the affair. Rosamond was anxious to leave Middlemarch to avoid public disgrace. Bulstrode also was anxious to leave the town after his secret, which Raffles had told while drunk in a neighbouring village, became known. But he became ill and his doctors would not permit him to leave his bed. Dorothea, sympathetic with Lydgate, determined to give her support to the hospital and to try to convince Rosamond that the only way Lydgate could recover his honour was by remaining in Middlemarch.

Unfortunately, she came upon Will Ladislaw, to whom poor Rosamond was pouring out her grief. Afraid Rosamond was involved with Ladislaw, Dorothea left abruptly. Angered at the false position Rosamond had put him in, Ladislaw explained that he had always loved Dorothea, but from a distance. When Dorothea forced herself to return to Lydgate’s house on the following morning, Rosamond told her of Ladislaw’s declaration. Dorothea realised she was willing to give up Casaubon’s fortune for Ladislaw’s affection.

Inspite of the protests of her family and friends, they were married several weeks later and went to live in London. Lydgate and Rosamond lived together with better understanding and prospects of a happier future. Fred Vincy became engaged to Mary Garth, with whom he had long been in love. For a long time Dorothea’s family disregarded her, but they were finally reconciled after Dorothea’s son was born and Ladislaw was elected to Parliament


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