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Literature Study GuidesMiddlemarchBook 2 Chapters 13 15 Summary

Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Book 2, Chapters 13–15: Old and Young

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 2, Chapters 13–15: Old and Young from George Eliot's novel Middlemarch.

Middlemarch | Book 2, Chapters 13–15 : Old and Young | Summary



Chapter 13

In a conference with Lydgate in his office at the bank, Bulstrode gives him the superintendence of the new fever hospital, which will provide care for people with serious illnesses such as tuberculosis or typhoid fever. The hospital will now pay a chaplain in attendance, and Bulstrode asks Lydgate to support his candidate, Mr. Tyke, an Evangelical Christian like Bulstrode, over Mr. Farebrother. Lydgate doesn't know either clergyman and says religion is not his business. Their conversation is cut short by the arrival of Mr. Vincy, who invites Lydgate to dinner. Vincy then broaches the subject of the letter requested by Featherstone. Bulstrode initially refuses to exonerate Fred and scolds Vincy for his lax upbringing of his son and vanity in presuming to educate him for the Church. Vincy accuses his brother-in-law of religious hypocrisy, citing the fact that he does business with shady characters like Mr. Plymdale, who buys dyes that rot silk. He adds that his wife (Vincy's sister) will not appreciate his family disloyalty. At the end of the conversation, Bulstrode has more or less agreed to write the letter.

Chapter 14

Fred brings Featherstone the letter, and he is satisfied enough to give his nephew 100 pounds. In truth, Fred was hoping for more to pay his debts, but he pretends to be grateful. He has actually backed his loan with a signature from Mr. Garth, Mary's father. When the farm bailiff arrives to speak to Featherstone, Fred escapes downstairs to speak to Mary. They have been good friends since childhood, and Mary is in the habit of teasing and scolding Fred. He is very much in love with her and says he could be a better man if he were sure his love was returned. Mary refuses reassurance, noting that both of their families would be against a match. Despite Mary's discouragement, Fred believes she does care for him.

Chapter 15

The narrator pauses in this chapter to provide backstory on the secondary protagonist, Tertius Lydgate, who was orphaned early and educated by his guardians. At the age of 10, Lydgate already knew his vocation, and as a young man (now 27) he received advanced training in Edinburgh and Paris. Lydgate's twin ambitions are to reform medicine according to the latest scientific knowledge and engage in research. In the area of research, he hopes to discover the common basis for the structure of all tissue. Lydgate intends to help many people, but he is arrogant and a poor judge of women. His "spots of commonness" include judgments in ordinary matters, in which he does not use his considerable intellect to penetrate his own prejudices. Lydgate's troubles with the opposite sex are foreshadowed in a previous infatuation with a beautiful foreign actress, whom he pursued and tried to marry until she revealed to him that she had committed the murder for which she was acquitted. After this experience Lydgate wrongly thinks he is safe from further ill-advised romantic entanglements.


Mr. Bulstrode is a powerful man in Middlemarch, with the ability to loan money, fund charitable causes, and confer favors. He considers himself a philanthropist and is eager to align himself with the new doctor who will bring medical reform. As an Evangelical Christian with strict notions of religion, he is in the habit of imposing his beliefs on others. Thus, he would oust Mr. Farebrother, the current infirmary chaplain, in favor of Mr. Tyke, a fellow Evangelical, once the fever hospital is added. Since Bulstrode is aligning himself with Lydgate in the temporal arena and choosing him over his colleagues, he expects Lydgate to vote with him on the religious appointment when it comes before the medical board. Lydgate doesn't expect to get involved in such matters and expresses disinterest rather than give a direct answer.

Bulstrode is a self-righteous fundamentalist who holds that man is basically sinful. These views inform Bulstrode's behavior. He criticizes Vincy, who has a large family to support, for spending money on Fred's expensive education in an attempt to raise his social standing. He disapproves of Fred's habits (including gambling) and surmises that "in his recklessness and ignorance" he probably has tried to raise money on the strength of his future prospects. (In fact, Fred owes money and is in the process of trying to raise capital to pay off a loan.) Bulstrode is even more critical of Farebrother because the minister gambles at cards. On his side, Vincy calls Bulstrode a hypocrite because as a banker he sometimes finances dishonest tradesmen. The two men must get along, however, since they are brothers-in-law with a duty to keep peace in the family; this is one reason why Bulstrode relents.

Dr. Lydgate's history demonstrates that he, like Dorothea and Casaubon, has great expectations. Like Casaubon, he is also looking for a key to unlocking a universal principle—in his case the substrata underlying the structure of all tissue. Of course, the author was aware that soon after the action of her novel, scientists would discover that the cell was the basic unit of life. Thus, she allows Lydgate the possibility of making a monumental discovery, and his failure to do so is not for lack of intellect. Rather, Lydgate is destined to be thwarted by the sticking points in his less than perfect character. For example, he is completely blind to the fact that an actress he is sexually attracted to has murdered her unfortunate husband. Moreover, Lydgate's conceit will get him into trouble.

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