Literature Study GuidesMiddlemarchBook 6 Chapters 54 57 Summary

Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Book 6, Chapters 54–57: The Widow and the Wife

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 6, Chapters 54–57: The Widow and the Wife from George Eliot's novel Middlemarch.

Middlemarch | Book 6, Chapters 54–57 : The Widow and the Wife | Summary



Chapter 54

Three months after Casaubon's death, and despite the protests of the Chettams and Mrs. Cadwallader, Dorothea returns to her home for good. Mrs. Cadwallader fears she will "go mad in that house alone" and wants to find her a suitable second husband. According to the cleric's wife, left to her own devices, Mrs. Casaubon is bound to end up with Ladislaw. Dorothea says she wants to get to know the new rector (Mr. Farebrother), but in truth she is also longing to see Will. Ladislaw predictably comes to Lowick to say goodbye to Dorothea. He plans to study law and will likely not be back for a long time—not until he makes his mark in the world. Will has not yet heard about the codicil but is bitter about the family's prohibition against him. Dorothea agrees that he is right to leave; yet both of them keenly feel the separation, and both hold back saying exactly how they feel. Sir James arrives in the middle of their conversation and is rude to Will, since he feels intense revulsion toward him as a potential mate for Dorothea.

Chapter 55

In reflecting on some of Will's indignant remarks, Dorothea assumes he knows about the codicil. Dorothea takes down the miniature of Aunt Julia, now a symbol for Will, "and leaned her cheek upon it, as if that would soothe the creatures who had suffered unjust condemnation." The narrator says that she "did not know then that it was Love who had come to her briefly as in a dream before awaking." When she returns to Freshitt to visit Celia and her baby, she says she will never marry again.

Chapter 56

Dorothea has gone over the improvements at Freshitt and Tipton Grange with Mr. Garth, which results in her putting the land management of some of her property, along with negotiations with the railroad, into his hands. The railroad will be running track through one portion of her property. After Featherstone's brother Solomon stirs up the farm laborers against the railroad, a gang of them attack some railroad workers, and Garth and his assistant jump into the fray. Fred Vincy on horseback happens upon the group and is able to scatter the hooligans with his horse and whip. After everyone calms down, Garth asks Fred to help him finish surveying the land. Fred later asks Caleb if he would be willing to teach him the business. Caleb agrees on the condition that Fred learn to love his work and not feel ashamed of it. Fred also confides that he loves Mary and has some hope of marrying her. When Mrs. Garth hears of her husband's decision, she is not happy, since she would much prefer Mr. Farebrother as a son-in-law. The Vincy parents are also unhappy because their son is stepping down in social class by becoming a land manager. Nevertheless, they resign themselves to his decision.

Chapter 57

Fred stops in to see Mrs. Garth before continuing to Lowick parsonage to see Mary, who is visiting with the Farebrother women. He is looking for some reassurance from Mrs. Garth that she approves of his decision to take up land management and marry her daughter. Mrs. Garth takes the opportunity to harshly lecture him. She can't help but tell him that it was hard for Mr. Farebrother to be his emissary to Mary, since the clergyman is also in love with her daughter. Fred is shocked to get this piece of news and is suddenly conscious of having a rival. When he gets to the parsonage, Farebrother gives the young couple an opportunity to be alone. Mary both reassures Fred and scolds him when he asks if she loves him best.


While Casaubon was alive, there was no danger of Dorothea's feelings for Will turning into sexual love because she was entirely loyal to her husband. But now that he is dead, she is no longer bound. Further, while previously it may not have occurred to her to think of Ladislaw as a potential mate, Casaubon's prohibition has put that possibility at the center of her consciousness. The codicil heaps undeserving disrespect on Will by indicating that he is a fortune hunter who has been pursuing Dorothea even before her husband's death. The imposition of Casaubon's prohibition, her sympathy for Ladislaw, and his youth and good looks naturally combine to make him excessively attractive.

While Dorothea does not yet understand that she is in love, Will is very much aware that he has been in love for a long time. The only way he can hope to win her, he thinks, is to go away for a long while and make a success of himself and then come back on a more equal footing. "Other men have managed to win an honorable position for themselves without family or money," he tells her. He wants some sign from her, however, that she is sorry he is leaving, but before he can get it they are interrupted by Sir James. While Will has every intention of leaving, he cannot quite tear himself away, as the reader learns in subsequent chapters.

Unlike Ladislaw Fred is on his way to sorting out his love problems. Fred cannot go into the Church and has very few secular avenues of work open to him that are gentlemanly, lucrative, and do not require special knowledge. Without practical skills he is not fit for much, so learning Mr. Garth's business is a real opportunity for him. Mr. Garth expects Fred to have pride in his work and in learning to do it well, and while Fred cannot promise to love the work as his mentor does, he is more than willing to commit himself to "business," as Garth calls it, and apply himself.

Garth is the epitome of someone who has a successful vocation. He is neither rich nor famous, but he loves what he does and is a master craftsman. Most important, he knows and appreciates the value of what he does and how it helps society. He is enthusiastic about taking a young person under his wing, especially one attached to his favorite child, and giving him the opportunity to have a vocation too. Mrs. Garth is less enthusiastic because she sees Fred's flaws more clearly and is not convinced he can overcome his spoiled upbringing to become a working man. Moreover, she is disappointed that Mary is losing the opportunity to marry a man that is smarter, more refined, and of a higher class than Fred—and, most important, a man with better character. Fred has a lot of proving to do, and Mrs. Garth will need to be convinced he is redeemable.

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