Literature Study GuidesMiddlemarchBook 6 Chapters 58 62 Summary

Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Book 6, Chapters 58–62: The Widow and the Wife

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 6, Chapters 58–62: The Widow and the Wife from George Eliot's novel Middlemarch.

Middlemarch | Book 6, Chapters 58–62 : The Widow and the Wife | Summary



Chapter 58

A pregnant Rosamund is so enamored of her husband's empty-headed cousin, Captain Lydgate, who has come for a visit, that she goes riding with him despite her husband's prohibition and loses the baby. Lydgate begins to realize that Rosamund has a "terrible tenacity" and will do what she likes. He has no power over her. He privately broods over the fact that he is deep in debt after 18 months of marriage. This is a result of not being economical either in setting up house or entertaining people as a married couple. When he finally takes Rosamund into his confidence about their worsening financial situation, she replies, "What can I do, Tertius?" The narrator points out that the inflection of these words makes all the difference in their meaning, and "Rosamund's thin utterance threw into the words ... as much neutrality as they could hold." Lydgate is sadly disappointed by his wife's response and resignedly explains to her that his creditors will be coming to make an inventory of the furniture in case it has to be repossessed; he asks her to check off on a list the things they can do without. Her response is they can apply to her father for a loan or leave town. She will not look at the list and plans to be out of the house when the creditors come. "Now we have been united, Rosy, you should not leave me to myself in the first trouble that has come," her husband responds. Thus, she reluctantly agrees to stay home, and "an appearance of accord was recovered for the time." But Lydgate dreads "the inevitable future discussions about expenditure and the necessity for a complete change in their way of living."

Chapter 59

News about the codicil is spreading through Middlemarch. Fred mentions the codicil to Rosamund, and Lydgate asks her not to mention it to Ladislaw. But true to form, she disregards Lydgate and mentions it in a joking manner to Ladislaw, who frequently visits her at home. Will is appalled and leaves abruptly after Rosamund won't let the matter drop. She is bored and depressed after his departure, thinking that Lydgate's relations have not written to her and that her father has turned down her request for a loan—which her husband forbade her to ask for.

Chapter 60

A big auction of estate furniture brings various classes of people together. Mrs. Bulstrode wants one of the paintings, and the day before the sale her husband stops to see Will at the office of the Pioneer to ask him to bid on the painting. Although Will has been training his replacement for weeks, he has yet to leave town. Will purchases the painting at a good price and is spied by Raffles. He has wandered back into Middlemarch, latching onto Bambridge, the horse trader. Raffles approaches Will to confirm that his mother was Sarah Dunkirk, the daughter of Bulstrode's first wife. Ladislaw speaks to him roughly and reluctantly, but Raffles is not put off. He tells Will that Sarah ran away when she found out her father engaged in "respectable thieving" as a pawnbroker. Ladislaw abruptly walks away from him and declines to hear more.

Chapter 61

Mrs. Bulstrode is a slightly upset when Raffles shows up at her house looking for her husband. Bulstrode tells her he is a "dissolute wretch, whom I helped too much in days gone by." Raffles enjoys tormenting Bulstrode as much as he likes extorting money, and the banker is able to send him away again temporarily with another small infusion of cash. The narrator takes the opportunity to provide the details of Bulstrode's previous life and transgressions. What Mrs. Bulstrode knows is only the bare bones of his story: that he previously worked in banking and in business and that his first wife, a much older widow, was a London dissenter. He has "married up" in becoming part of the Vincy family, and his wife believes him to be a good and pious man.

The fuller story began with Bulstrode's early life as an orphan at a commercial charity school. He became a banker's clerk and a rising young star in a Calvinist church. Bustrode believed he was intended for something particular and special by God. Soon he was recruited away from banking by the richest man in the congregation to work for him in the pawnbroker business as his confidential accountant. The business was lucrative, and it was likely that some of the goods traded were stolen. The wealthy pawnbroker died and left behind a pious widow. She came to "adore" Bulstrode as her "priest" and enlisted his help in finding her lost family members before she would marry him. When they were found, Bulstrode bribed Raffles to keep silent. At times he thought his actions were "unrighteous," the narrator says, but there was no going back. Bulstrode continued to enrich himself through the business after his first wife died and increased his influence and philanthropy, eventually finding his way to Middlemarch.

Before Raffles leaves town again, he informs Bulstrode that Ladislaw is Sarah Dunkirk's son. Bulstrode believes that divine Providence is calling for some restitution. The banker meets with Ladislaw and proposes to give him a significant amount of money to make up for what he lost. He admits, upon questioning from Will, that he knew about Will's mother's existence, and he confirms that the business was disreputable. Ladislaw then disdainfully refuses the money on the grounds that it is tainted. Will feels the money as a stain on his character, but he also thinks that it would be impossible to ever tell Dorothea he accepted it. After Will leaves, Bulstrode falls to weeping.

Chapter 62

Will is determined to see Dorothea one more time, while Sir James remains concerned that he's still in the neighborhood. He contrives to have Mrs. Cadwallader tell her about another rumor swirling around Ladislaw, which is that he is continually at Lydgate's house, flirting with his wife. Dorothea defends him but has a moment of doubt, thinking back to how she came upon him there. Still, she refuses to believe he has committed any impropriety. When they meet again before his departure, she reassures Will about the codicil: "I am sure no safeguard was ever needed against you." Her seeming neutral words upset him, but he does manage to say "What I care for more than I can ever care for anything else is absolutely forbidden to me ... by my own pride and honor." Again, Dorothea thinks of Rosamund. She asks him to remember her, and when he says, "[a]s if I were not in danger of forgetting everything else," she realizes that he does love her. Thus they part at this romantic impasse.


The story of Rosamund and Lydgate unfolds as a tragedy of wasted talent and ambition and failed expectations. Lydgate has imprisoned himself in a relationship that thwarts him at every turn. Rosamund is a narcissist and a near sociopath. She exhibits no love for anyone—not even her husband or her unborn child. She cares only for outward show and lives to impress others with her looks, her clothes, and her breeding. She thinks her husband is only her instrument—to provide for her so that she can live in the style to which she has become accustomed. She has no trouble lying to him and doing exactly the opposite of what he asks her to do. When he reveals their financial problems, she withdraws—they are his financial problems. She refuses to help him decide what household goods should be returned, and she agrees to stay when the agent comes to assess their property only because she doesn't want appear to be shirking her wifely duties. In truth she has no desire to be a true wife or partner, but sees marriage simply as a new sphere of life in which she can continue to play the role of an exquisite doll.

When she reveals to Will the terms of the codicil and he reacts with such emotion and abruptly leaves, she is disappointed. She is a married woman who has no right to expect anything from Ladislaw, yet she feels jealous that he clearly cares about Mrs. Casaubon and is offended by the "foul insult to her and to me" that is the result of Casaubon's codicil. Rosamund seems to have no ability to actually engage with a man's feelings except on a very superficial level, which is why she is growing estranged from her husband and now needs the diversion of a new man who would be enchanted by her. But she has misjudged Will and will experience a rude awakening at his hands in a subsequent chapter.

Raffles's return to Middlemarch brings the revelation of Will's pedigree on his mother's side, and while Will cannot be proud of his maternal grandfather, he finds comfort in the fact that his mother turned her back on her family's dishonorable income. His chance meeting with Raffles, who has come back mostly to torment Bulstrode, garners Raffles an additional malicious bonus. Upon recognizing Ladislaw's name as identical to the surname of the man that Sarah Dunkirk married, he reveals him to Bulstrode as a kind of unconscious nemesis. The author uses Chapter 61 to explore the psychology of religious hypocrisy. The author examines the ways in which people compartmentalize and rationalize to marry opposing belief systems. Bulstrode is also an exemplar of a twisted vocation, in which a desire for power becomes an end in itself, overshadowing what is good about work and its effects in the world. In Middlemarch he continues to consolidate and wield power and thinks he is doing God's work by foisting his Christianity on other people however he can and criticizing the morals and behavior of others.

Nonetheless, the narrator says that Bulstrode is not one of those "coarse hypocrites" who fools people with pretended beliefs, but rather "a man whose desires had been stronger than his theoretic beliefs." He is not without guilt for what he has done and sees Raffles's reentry into his life as divine retribution, but he continues to hope that he can prevent his history from becoming well known and having to face the scorn of the community he has treated with a "holier than thou" attitude. His desire to make amends—and perhaps keep divine wrath at bay—is manifested in his attempt to give Will money, even though he is not legally bound to do so, since his crimes fall into the moral arena. When Will turns him down he cries bitterly because that rectitude from a gentleman—one with no resources at all—holds up a clear mirror to him reflecting back his own sinfulness and hypocrisy.

At the end of her interaction with Will, Dorothea realizes that he does love her, she feels joy in the notion that she could "think of him unrestrainedly," and she is happy even while losing him. But Dorothea is taking her idealism too far in thinking it will be enough to love Ladislaw in her mind and vice-versa. Ladislaw has no choice but to separate himself from her, mostly because he feels a need to live up to her high standards and not lose standing in her eyes. If Dorothea would have given him an opening to court her, no doubt he would have stayed in Middlemarch without worrying about his honor. He doesn't care what other people think about him. Dorothea is not quite at his level of nonconformity, although she will eventually get there. At this point in the novel, it is clear that their love story is not ended but has simply been put on pause.

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