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Literature Study GuidesMiddlemarchBook 3 Chapters 30 33 Summary

Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Book 3, Chapters 30–33: Waiting for Death

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 3, Chapters 30–33: Waiting for Death from George Eliot's novel Middlemarch.

Middlemarch | Book 3, Chapters 30–33 : Waiting for Death | Summary



Chapter 30

Casaubon recovers from his heart attack. When Dorothea speaks to Lydgate in private, he says that Casaubon could suddenly die or live fifteen or more years, but only if he avoids "mental agitation of all kinds" and "excessive application." Lydgate is moved by Dorothea's devotion to her husband. After he leaves, Dorothea reads Will's letter to his cousin, which reiterates his intention to make his own way in England. He asks if he may visit to drop off Naumann's painting of Casaubon as Aquinas, saying he will be leaving Italy shortly. Dorothea asks her uncle to immediately write to him and beg him not to come. Mr. Brooke writes to Will, but he invites him to come to Tipton Grange instead, thinking he will be good company now that Celia is getting married. He also imagines Will can help him with politics. Unfortunately, he does not mention the invitation to the Casaubons.

Chapter 31

Mrs. Bulstrode is good friends with Mrs. Plymdale, whose son Ned is in love with Rosamund. Mrs. Plymdale is annoyed that Ned has been turned down by Rosamund and mentions that she and Lydgate have been acting as if they are engaged. Alarmed by this gossip, Mrs. Bulstrode visits her niece to determine how far the romance has progressed. She surmises from her conversation that there is expectation on Rosamund's side, but no clear proposal. Later she asks Mr. Bulstrode to inquire whether Lydgate intends to marry soon, and her husband comes back with a decidedly negative answer. The next time she is in company with Lydgate, she broaches the subject of the danger of a young man showing interest in a woman when he has no serious intentions, since such behavior could damage her prospects. Lydgate takes a hint and stops visiting the Vincys. After ten days Lydgate is asked by Mrs. Vincy, who is paying an extended visit to bedridden Mr. Featherstone with her son Fred, to tell her husband that Featherstone has taken a turn for the worse. When he delivers the message Rosamund is home alone, and she is clearly moved by his visit, but then embarrassed when she realizes he's come on business. At one point her eyes well up, and she displays real suffering and disappointment. Lydgate's impetuous side gets the upper hand, and when he asks her what's wrong she begins to cry. He then embraces her. After she confesses her feelings, he proposes marriage, later coming back to ask her father's official permission.

Chapter 32

In Mr. Featherstone's house at Stone Court, a large number of people are coming and going, particularly his blood relatives who are hovering like vultures as he nears death. Featherstone has rich and poor blood relations, all of whom expect him to leave them money. The scene at Stone Court is both comic and dark, as some of the young men eye Mary, either suspiciously as an interloper, or with interest as a possible future heiress. Fred and Mrs. Vincy are in attendance upstairs, and Featherstone insists they stay nearby, even as he pushes his blood relations away—particularly brother Solomon and his sister Mrs. Waule. These relatives have no scruples and hound Peter Featherstone, even on his deathbed, that he should not leave his money to strangers—meaning his relatives through marriage—Fred and Mary.

Chapter 33

Mary Garth watches over Featherstone through the night. She feels disdain for Mrs. Vincy's alarm about leaving her alone with Fred and disgust for the greedy relatives. She worries about Fred because, despite Featherstone's fondness for him, she doesn't think the old man means to leave him any money. Featherstone suddenly summons Mary to his side at 3:00 a.m., commanding her to take his keys to retrieve a will from his iron chest. He says there are two wills and he means to burn one. Mary refuses, and he tries to bribe her with money and gold in the tin box that he keeps nearby. She begs him to wait until morning or to allow her to summon the lawyer. At one point he asks her to get Fred, but she will do so only if she can also call his nephew Jonah. Featherstone refuses. She says to her uncle, "I will not let the close of your life soil the beginning of mine. I will not touch your iron chest or your will." Featherstone finally gives up when he realizes there is no moving Mary, and shortly after he dies.


Dorothea insists on learning the truth about her husband's condition from Lydgate because she wants to ensure that she does everything she can to prolong Casaubon's life. Lydgate wonders about her marriage to Casaubon and is touched by her emotion.

Dorothea tells her uncle to write to Ladislaw so that an ill-timed visit doesn't further upset her husband. Clearly, Will's desire to deliver the painting is a contrivance to snatch an opportunity to see Dorothea again. This is something she doesn't realize, but her husband intuits that Ladislaw has an interest in his wife. Mr. Brooke's inconsideration of others and inability to put himself in another person's shoes will bring additional problems to his niece, since without thinking he has taken it upon himself to invite Will to stay with him when Dorothea clearly means to disinvite him and not have him in the neighborhood.

The Vincys have two dramas playing out in these chapters. First, Mrs. Bulstrode is concerned that her niece may be putting herself in a compromising position. While Mrs. Bulstrode is ruled by her husband's Christianity in one part of her personality, she is a practical materialist in another. She wants what is best for her niece, and she knows her expensive habits are not likely to be supported on the salary of a country doctor, his aristocratic connections notwithstanding. She says to her niece, "Mr. Ned Plymdale is a nice young man—some might think good-looking; and an only son; and a large business of that kind is better than a profession." Rosamund disdains her aunt's suggestion, saying she will never give her heart to Mr. Plymdale.

Mrs. Bulstrode then turns to Lydgate to put an end to what appears to be a flirtation with no serious interest on Lydgate's side. In fact, Lydgate's response to Mrs. Bulstrode's warning seems to confirm his disinclination to marry. So how is it that less than two weeks later Lydgate proposes to Rosamund? One of the themes that runs through the novel is the limits of free will, since a human being is at the mercy of genetics, circumstances, and the wills of other people. Lydgate takes Rosamund for a beautiful doll rather than a being with her own hopes, dreams, and agenda. But when she cries in front of him and reveals genuine emotion, she appeals to his heroic side, the part of him that wants to save people, and he sees himself as her savior in proposing marriage.

At Stone Court Fred Vincy has been called to his dying uncle's bedside, so he is there not as one of the vultures, but rather as a concerned participant. Nonetheless, he does expect his uncle to make him rich, and he has held that hope for some time—a hope that has guided his decisions up until now. Mary is too clear sighted to expect anything from Featherstone. She knows the worst side of him, because he is completely at his ease with her, and she surmises that he will attempt to exercise his power over others even at the end of his life. Mary has an unimpeachable character and cannot be bribed into doing Featherstone's bidding. She knows she is under suspicion in the eyes of the relatives, and she is determined to do nothing that can stain her reputation. Featherstone is an immoral man, and she refuses to be drawn into his deathbed scheming. She takes responsibility for Fred as well, not giving Featherstone the opportunity to do something that could put a black mark on his reputation.

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