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Literature Study GuidesMiddlemarchBook 5 Chapters 51 53 Summary

Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Book 5, Chapters 51–53: The Dead Hand

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 5, Chapters 51–53: The Dead Hand from George Eliot's novel Middlemarch.

Middlemarch | Book 5, Chapters 51–53 : The Dead Hand | Summary



Chapter 51

Ladislaw is upset that Brooke has stopped inviting him to the Grange and surmises that he is being viewed with some suspicion by Dorothea's family. He now realizes more fully how they are divided and despairs in thinking he cannot show interest without being viewed with suspicion, perhaps even by Dorothea. In his political life Will continues to coach Brooke as a candidate. The day before the nomination, Brooke gets nervous before his speech and drinks an extra glass of sherry, which has the effect of making him even more rambling than usual. Meanwhile, his opponents have prepared a public mockery of him in the form of an effigy that they pelt with eggs. Brooke leaves the balcony of the White Hart inn in the middle of his speech. Will shuts himself in his rooms. He is embarrassed by Brooke's performance and thinks to quit his work with him to take up politics elsewhere so he can prove himself worthy of Dorothea. But he won't leave until he can see her and get some glimmer of hope that they might be united. Brooke saves him the trouble of a decision, however, by taking the advice of his supporters and retiring on the spot. He tells Will that he plans to give up the Pioneer, but will be happy to write him a recommendation to the Whig leader in the House of Commons.

Chapter 52

Mr. Farebrother and his family are overjoyed about Dorothea's decision to give him the living at Lowick, which will increase his income considerably. His female relatives now encourage him to marry and say they much prefer Mary Garth, who is a good friend and whom Farebrother is in love with. About a week later, Fred asks the minister to speak to Mary on his behalf. He is recently back in Middlemarch with his bachelor's degree and ready to go into the Church if he must. But he wants to know if he can have any hope of eventually winning Mary and whether she will categorically reject him if he becomes a priest. Farebrother obliges him and speaks to Mary with some emotion about clearly stating her feelings and preferences, and for the first time it crosses Mary's mind that Farebrother may be in love with her. She tells him that she has strong feelings for Fred that can never be supplanted by another, but she will not promise to marry him until he proves himself worthy. Further, she would never marry him if he becomes a clergyman. Thus, Farebrother puts aside his own hopes.

Chapter 53

The narrator relates that Mr. Bulstrode has purchased Stone Court from Joshua Rigg. While the banker and Mr. Garth are looking over the property one day, they are met by Mr. Raffles, who drops enough innuendos for Garth to realize he is a shady acquaintance from the past. He quickly leaves Bulstrode so he can have privacy. Raffles knew Bulstrode some 25 years ago and has tracked him down by serendipitously picking up his letter when he was last at Stone Court. Bulstrode paid off Raffles in the past and even sent him to America. Now he wants more money in exchange for not exposing Bulstrode's wrongdoings. Raffles reminds him that he never told "the old woman that I'd found her daughter and her grandchild," referring to the widow that Bulstrode married, who later died and left her fortune to him. It becomes clearer in subsequent chapters that Bulstrode concealed the existence of the woman's heirs after they were found. Bulstrode allows Raffles to stay at Stone Court overnight and then gives him a few hundred pounds to get out of town, although Raffles will not promise to disappear for good.


In each of these chapters, three people's life circumstances change drastically. Ladislaw is resentful because Mr. Brooke has cut back drastically on his invitations to the Grange. He initially thinks about leaving Middlemarch because of Brooke's political loss and the intuition that he is slipping further into public contempt as Brooke's "understrapper," even as the chasm between himself and Dorothea widens. If he can make a name for himself, he thinks, "if he could only be sure that she cared for him more than for others; if he could only make her aware that he stood aloof until he could tell his love without lowering himself—then he could go away easily." Brooke, for his part, no longer needs the services of Ladislaw. No doubt he is anxious to unload the Pioneer as quickly as possible, since his foray into politics has cost him much more money than he is accustomed to spend. Now ready to oblige Sir James, Brooke suggests he can write to a prominent figure in Parliament on Will's behalf, which will effectively get the troublesome gypsy out of the neighborhood. Will declines his offer, saying he will stay in Middlemarch for now. Ladislaw, ever the rebel, is not one to easily be scared off, and he will leave town on his schedule, not according to the desires of Dorothea's friends.

Fortune has smiled on Rev. Farebrother in the form of Lydgate's kind intercession with Dorothea. As a clergyman at Lowick Church, he will have a better house and higher salary. The family will no longer have to scrimp in their living expenses, Farebrother can give up gambling at cards, which he has been doing solely to supplement his income, and he can even seriously consider marrying. Not young (about 40), but handsome and well-loved, he can reasonably expect to court Mary Garth. But what providence gives with one hand it takes with the other, coming in the guise of Fred's difficult commission. Being the upstanding clergyman that he is, Farebrother insists on specific information from Mary, both for Fred's sake as well as his own. She is dead-set against Fred's going into the Church because she knows that a religious vocation is antithetical to young Vincy's nature. The author takes the opportunity, in the words she puts in Mary's mouth, to criticize the custom of having middle-class people or lower-level gentry enter the Church to raise their status. Learning that Mary's heart is inextricably linked with Fred's is bitter medicine for Farebrother, and Mary suddenly realizes it.

Bulstrode, on the other hand, is poised for a severe reversal of fortune. He has made a name for himself as a strict Evangelical; moreover, he has a self-righteous streak and assumes his version of Christianity is superior to all others. Indeed, Bulstrode accumulates power and uses it, he tells himself, for the glory of God. How does he square his judgments in the light of his own past deeds? While Bulstrode is no doubt a philanthropist, his entire life in Middlemarch is built on a lie, so all the good that he has done is tainted. The money that he came to town with he stole from the widow's heirs—Mrs. Ladislaw and her son. While Bulstrode lives by the Christian precept that one can atone for one's mistakes, he fails to see how he falls short of repentance, a necessary precursor to forgiveness. He has allowed the missing heirs to stay missing, and has never confessed his deed to anyone. Here is Raffles, carrying with him Bulstrode's sins that have come home to roost.

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