Literature Study GuidesMiddlemarchBook 3 Chapters 27 29 Summary

Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Middlemarch | Book 3, Chapters 27–29 : Waiting for Death | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 27

The narrator begins this chapter with a metaphor that symbolizes an important theme running through the novel: a pier glass or any polished surface continually rubbed will have hundreds of random scratches, but when the light of a candle is shone on its center, the scratches appear in a concentric pattern. Similarly, life's random events and the haphazard or unconscious choices that people make appear as a pattern to an individual ego, which ascribes a given meaning to their life and experience. Since typhoid fever was known to be contagious, the children are packed off with their governess, but Rosamund chooses to stay behind, professing concern for her mother and brother. She thinks it fateful that Fred's sickness will bring her and Lydgate into regular and close proximity, and she works hard to develop a relationship with him, since her mother spends most of her time at Fred's bedside. After Fred gets well Lydgate continues to socialize with Rosamund at the Vincy house. He looks at his flirtation with Rosamund as an innocent diversion, knowing that for financial and professional reasons he cannot possibly marry, but for Rosamund they are on the cusp of becoming engaged.

Chapter 28

The Casaubons return from their wedding journey, and Dorothea's disappointment is beginning to ripen. She feels "the stifling oppression of that gentlewoman's world, where everything was done for her and none asked for her aid." Dorothea looks upon the miniature of Julia Ladislaw, Will's grandmother, with new eyes, as a kind of spirit she can commiserate with in the trials and tribulations of marriage. She, too, made a marriage her friends disapproved of, and perhaps she had regrets. Mr. Casaubon has not been feeling well, suffering palpitations, but he greets Mr. Brooke and Celia, and the two sisters warmly reunite. Celia tells Dorothea that she is engaged to Sir James, and her sister is happy to hear the news, calling him a "good, honorable man."

Chapter 29

Mr. Casaubon continues to be depressed about the fact that his union with Dorothea has not created bliss in his life, but rather, marriage has become an additional arena in which he has the possibility of failing. Although he would rather not have Dorothea help him with his work, her insistence had earned her a place by his side, reading to him or copying what he assigns. One morning, while Sir James and Celia are visiting at Lowick, Casaubon gets a letter from Ladislaw, with an enclosed letter to Dorothea. He tells her to read it but that he has already decided that he wants no visits from Will, who is a distraction to his work. Dorothea is highly offended that he would attribute to her "a wish for anything that would annoy [him]." She speaks to him in a passionate tone and refuses to read the letters. Soon after he has a heart attack, and Sir James's man goes for Dr. Lydgate.

Analysis

Initially Lydgate has no intent to flirt with Rosamund, but their somewhat awkward relations blossom into a full-blown flirtation. He believes he is not in any danger because it would be foolish for him to marry so early in his career. From the perspective of his ego, he is not leading Rosamund on. She, on the other hand, believes he is falling in love with her. She has no thought about his professional aspirations or financial position. She simply knows that he is of the right class, has the right manners, and is worthy of her attention. On his part, "he held it one of the prettiest attitudes of the feminine mind to adore a man's pre-eminence without too precise a knowledge of what it consisted in." But her ignorance about his preeminence and aspirations disqualifies her as a suitable wife.

On her part Dorothea is still trying to learn to be a suitable wife to Casaubon. Although she has convinced him to allow her to act as a secretary, this work is nothing like the dream she had of "wifely devotion which was to strengthen her husband's life and exalt her own."

Dorothea is disappointed anew when Casaubon assumes she desires Will to visit. She is outraged by his implied accusation that she would put her needs and pleasures before his own. In truth he is jealous of his young cousin. Shortly after her outburst, Casaubon has a heart attack. No doubt his heart is weak, but the pressure and expectations of marriage and this second altercation with Dorothea have likely pushed him over the edge.

The narrator provides glimpses into the psyche of Casaubon, who hoped to find happiness and family pleasures in marriage. She implies, however, that Casaubon is incapable of being sexual with his wife. He had never been very joyful, the narrator says. The reader feels sympathy and perhaps empathy for Casaubon, as his own worst enemy, unable to just let go. But on the other hand, the reader feels revulsion for the small-minded man with the monumental ego, so afraid of criticism that he never could actually hire a secretary, and so full of his own importance that "his religious faith wavered with his wavering trust in his own authorship." It is hard to like a man in midlife with so little sympathy or empathy for others that he sees his wife merely as one more arena in which he must "acquit himself." Shortsighted Dorothea, initially failing to see Casaubon, has already developed empathy for the husband with the failed Key to all Mythologies and will continue to enlarge her sympathetic imagination until the day that he dies. The same cannot be said for the minister.

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