Literature Study GuidesMiddlemarchBook 3 Chapters 23 26 Summary

Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Book 3, Chapters 23–26: Waiting for Death

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 3, Chapters 23–26: Waiting for Death from George Eliot's novel Middlemarch.

Middlemarch | Book 3, Chapters 23–26 : Waiting for Death | Summary



Chapter 23

The narrator relates that the Vincys live "in an easy profuse way," and the elder children are spoiled. Although the Garths and Vincys have a long acquaintance, Mr. and Mrs. Vincy keep their distance from the lower-class Garths. Fred still has to cover his debt for laming a horse and gambling but has not asked his father for help because he already owes money for college and has failed his examination. Fred decides to sacrifice his horse for the sake of not compromising Mr. Garth and heads to the horse fair with two rascals, Mr. Bambridge, to whom he owes the money, and Mr. Horrock. His companions contrive for him to trade his horse plus 30 pounds for what looks to be a fine steed that Fred hopes to sell at a profit.

Chapter 24

Fred's new horse turns out to be a bad bargain with a vicious temper and lames itself by catching its leg in a rope in the stable. Fred has no choice but to turn the remaining 50 pounds from Featherstone over to Mr. Garth and tell him that he cannot pay the rest of the money. When Fred tells the Garths, he gets his first taste of real remorse for his irresponsibility. Mrs. Garth is a housewife and a teacher, and she takes pupils to augment the family income. To cover Fred's debt, Mrs. Garth must now give her husband the money she has been saving for her son Alfred's apprenticeship and ask Mary for some of her earnings from keeping house for Featherstone. After Fred leaves in shame, Mrs. Garth says: "I knew he was extravagant, but I did not think that he would be so mean as to hang his risks on his oldest friends, who could the least afford to lose." The Garths have fallen on hard times because, although Mr. Garth is highly competent as a builder, surveyor, and agent, he is less good at making a profit from other people.

Chapter 25

Fred next confesses to Mary, who is more concerned about her parents' loss. Fred wants Mary to feel sorry for him, and she replies that "selfish people always think their own discomfort of more importance than anything else in the world." Mary's father comes in the evening to borrow Mary's money. Mr. Garth, knowing there is something between Fred and his daughter, warns her that Fred can't be trusted and that a woman must suffer her husband's foibles for the rest of her life. She responds that "I will never engage myself to one who has no manly independence, and who goes on loitering away his time on the chance that others will provide for him."

Chapter 26

Fred becomes very sick and Mr. Wrench, the family physician, says it's nothing serious and sends medicine. Dr. Lydgate is in the neighborhood, and Mrs. Vincy asks him to look in on her son who is not getting better. He declares that Fred has typhoid fever and prescribes a different regimen, including bed rest. The Vincy parents are very angry at Wrench for what they perceive as cursory attention to their son, while Wrench is angry at Lydgate for interfering in his case. Lydgate offers to work with Wrench, but he withdraws, and Lydgate becomes the family's physician.


The amiable but irresponsible Fred Vincy is used to getting what he wants. His family lives large for their income bracket, and the children have learned "no standard of economy." Thus it is not surprising that Fred gets into trouble with his expensive sporting habits and gambling. He is reluctant to ask his father for help because Mr. Vincy is already resentful about having to pay college debts that will not bear fruit, since Fred has failed and has declared he will not become a clergyman. Fred's relationship with Caleb Garth dates back to his childhood, and he is almost like a member of the Garth family. Fred mostly keeps his feelings about Mary to himself, since his parents would not approve of the alliance for reasons of class, and Mrs. Vincy thinks Mary is too plain for Fred. Mr. Garth is generous with other people to a fault, which is why he is so poor and why he agrees to guarantee Fred's debt.

Fred is used to taking the easy way out, so instead of immediately turning over the 100 pounds he got from Featherstone to Bambridge, the horse dealer, he tries to turn a profit on his mediocre horse, allowing himself to be tricked into a bad bargain by his shady friends. Fred's major concern in delivering the bad news to the Garths is that he will appear dishonorable. But Fred does realize that he is "robbing two women of their savings" and is genuinely sorry. His immaturity and selfishness, however, continue to be evident in wanting Mary to feel sorry for him for both his physical and mental suffering over the incident. He wants reassurances that she loves him, despite the fact that he has yet to prove he is worthy of her love and has even shown himself to be a menace to her family. She scolds him for spending money on himself without knowing how he will pay or thinking about "what others may lose." The two of them remain friends, but Mary reiterates to her father what she has already told Fred in Chapter 14, that she will not marry a reckless layabout.

Dr. Lydgate does his best to stay on good on good terms with Wrench, but the older doctor already doesn't like him because he is bringing "flighty, foreign notions, which will not wear" to Middlemarch's medical practice. Like the other medical men, he is also angry at Lydgate for what they see as his "ungentlemanly attempts to discredit the sale of drugs by his professional brethren." Now that Lydgate is attending Fred, he is in regular and close proximity to Rosamund, which is likely to facilitate increasingly friendly relations between them.

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