Literature Study GuidesMiddlemarchBook 4 Chapters 34 36 Summary

Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Middlemarch | Book 4, Chapters 34–36 : Three Love Problems | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 34

Peter Featherstone's funeral is a major event, since the old man left details and explicit instructions for a huge sendoff in which his various relatives are required to participate. Featherstone has asked Mr. Cadwallader to officiate, which is why Mrs. Cadwallader is at Casaubon's estate, along with Celia, Sir James, and Lady Chettam. They watch the funeral procession from the window in the upper room and see a large swath of people in every class, from high to low. Mr. Brooke arrives and asks Casaubon to join them at the window. He also announces, after Celia spots Ladislaw in the crowd, that he invited him to stay at Tipton Grange and that Ladislaw would like to come up to Lowick to greet him and bring the painting. Dorothea goes pale when she listens to her uncle, because she knows that Casaubon objects to his cousin and will think she told her uncle to invite him, but she has not opportunity to set the record straight.

Chapter 35

Featherstone's will is read. Present are all the relatives, by blood and marriage, along with a frog-faced stranger named Joshua Rigg, who also attended the funeral. Mr. Standish reads the last will he drew up for Featherstone, as well as a later will, perfectly legal, drawn up by another lawyer. The most recent will is the one that will be executed. In the first will Featherstone leaves small amounts of money to all of his relatives, 10,000 pounds to Fred, and his land to Mr. Rigg. In the second will, most of the first will is revoked, and the land, house, and stock is still left to Rigg, who will take the name of Featherstone. Fred is devastated by the will, and Mary can't help but think she unwittingly played a role in Fred's fate.

Chapter 36

With Fred's prospects irrevocably dashed, his father expects him to return to school and pass his exams so he can become a clergyman. He now wishes to oppose the marriage of Rosamund and Lydgate, since he can give his daughter no dowry and Lydgate has no money. But he is too intimidated by Lydgate's class superiority to challenge him directly, and Rosamund is skilled in manipulating her parents. Moreover, Lydgate is fully committed to going forward with the marriage and gives no thought to the expense he is incurring to set up house. The couple actually moves the wedding up, and Rosamund persuades her father to not make a fuss. She also convinces Lydgate to visit his uncle, Sir Godwin, during their honeymoon.

Analysis

In Chapter 34 the author takes the opportunity to showcase a wide swath of Middlemarch society during Peter Featherstone's funeral. The height from which the gentry watch their neighbors symbolizes the distance between them.

Mary is right in thinking that Featherstone meant to burn the last will he made, but what has become clear after the old man's death is how much the promise of his money has affected the life of Fred and his family. Fred has not applied himself at college and lives above his means in part because he relied on the promise of an inheritance. Deliberately withholding information about the existence of Joshua Rigg, Featherstone has used Fred as a way to torment his own blood relatives, since they thought young Vincy was a threat to their inheritance. Even if he did mean to leave Fred money, Featherstone never meant to leave him his property, which has passed to the man that a later chapter will reveal as his illegitimate son.

Chapter 36 revisits the overarching metaphor of the web, which holds society together and connects people—but also traps them. "Young love-making—that gossamer web! ... The web itself is made of spontaneous beliefs and indefinable joys, yearnings of one life towards another ... And Lydgate fell to spinning that web from his inward self with wonderful rapidity, in spite of experience supposed to be finished off with the drama of Laure." Laure, the murdering actress whom Lydgate attached himself to and who (fortunately) rejected him, was supposed to be his object lesson in getting himself entangled in a romance that would sidetrack his career plans. But clearly, Lydgate's well-laid plans have gone awry as he spins a new tale of love in Middlemarch, spending his limited stock of cash to furnish a house for himself and his bride-to-be. Rosamund has successfully caught Lydgate up in her plans to move up on the social-class ladder, and by the end of this chapter, he agrees to introduce her to his aristocratic relatives during their wedding trip.

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