Literature Study GuidesMiddlemarchBook 2 Chapters 16 18 Summary

Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Book 2, Chapters 16–18: Old and Young

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 2, Chapters 16–18: Old and Young from George Eliot's novel Middlemarch.

Middlemarch | Book 2, Chapters 16–18 : Old and Young | Summary



Chapter 16

The subject of the chaplaincy is a hot topic of conversation at the Vincys when Lydgate comes to dine. He begins to realize that Bulstrode rules the town, although he is not without "an opposition party." The banker's power, which he accumulates "for the glory of God," derives not only from knowing people's financial secrets in the course of his profession, but also from providing them with personal loans. Rosamund has the opportunity to become further acquainted with the new doctor during this visit and enchants him with her beauty, manners, and excellent piano playing. He also meets Mr. Farebrother, a handsome clergyman of forty "whose black was very threadbare;" he has come to play cards. Farebrother is a naturalist by avocation, and he invites Lydgate over to look at his beetle collection. After Lydgate leaves Rosalind meditates on Lydgate as a marriage partner who would get her "a little nearer to that celestial condition on earth in which she would have nothing to do with vulgar people ... ."

Chapter 17

Lydgate visits Farebrother the next day and learns that he supports his mother, maiden aunt, and an elder sister. Farebrother's mother brings up the issue of Rev. Tyke, who wants to "push aside my son on pretense of doctrine." Farebrother says he is zealous and not very learned, ironically adding, "and not very wise, I think—because I don't agree with him." When the two men look at Farebrother's collections and books on natural history, Lydgate thinks about how the vicar spends his winnings at cards. He is surprised by Farebrother's openness, in which he implies he might not be altogether in the right vocation. Lydgate speaks with impatience about "humbug" in the medical field, and Farebrother comments on how difficult it is to act on one's idealism. Before Lydgate leaves Farebrother tells him plainly that if he chooses to vote with Bulstrode, the doctor should not allow that to come between them because he is in need of Lydgate's friendship.

Chapter 18

Over the next weeks the friendship between Lydgate and Farebrother grows, and Lydgate learns he is a devoted family man and a gifted preacher. But the doctor is bothered that Farebrother gambles and wants the chaplaincy for the extra money. Lydgate has never had to worry about money, since his needs have been provided for up until now. In thinking about the upcoming vote for chaplain, he doesn't want to be Bulstrode's pawn. At the same time he realizes it's in his best interests to vote with the banker. Moreover, although Tyke is not well liked, he has more time for the extra duties of the office. On the day of the board meeting, Lydgate arrives late, after everyone has voted. The vote is a tie, and it remains for the doctor to break it. When Mr. Wrench says everyone already knows how Lydgate will vote, he gets angry and immediately writes down "Tyke." Lydgate says to himself that "if he had been quite free from indirect bias he should have voted for Mr. Farebrother."


These three chapters develop Lydgate's progress as he is assimilated into Middlemarch's culture and begins to gradually lose the independence necessary to be a trailblazer. After Lydgate leaves the Vincys, he considers the question of love and marriage with a woman like Miss Vincy, who is polished, refined, and seemingly docile. He thinks that these very traits that would not allow her to bear the hardship of being married to someone who is married to his profession.

Farebrother is something of a foil (contrasting character) to Lydgate. He has more than a decade of additional life experience and knows that a person is never just an "I" operating in a vacuum. This is something that Lydgate has yet to learn. Farebrother is not judgmental, and people from outside of his parish come to hear his preaching. He is "sweet tempered, ready-witted, frank." Yet, while Lydgate is growing attached to the vicar, he still thinks of himself as superior.

It doesn't occur to Lydgate that his choice of a wife will affect what he can do in a career or that, in accepting the help of Bulstrode, he naturally will have to compromise his principles. Lydgate is repulsed by the vicar's "pursuit of small gains" and never calculates "the ratio between the Vicar's income and his more or less necessary expenditure." Thus, Lydgate shows an inability to empathize with people in difficult circumstances. As he himself begins to feel the tightening of constraints inevitably imposed by community life, he lies about his own motives and ability to keep himself above the fray.

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