Literature Study GuidesMiddlemarchBook 8 Chapters 72 75 Summary

Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Middlemarch | Book 8, Chapters 72–75 : Sunset and Sunrise | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 72

Dorothea speaks to her family about what they can do to clear Lydgate's name. Mr. Farebrother says that he can imagine Lydgate taking a bribe to remain quiet about scandalous facts from the past but not for anything worse than that. Dorothea argues that a man's character speaks for him, to which Farebrother replies, "character is not cut in marble ... it is something living and changing, and may become diseased as our bodies do." Sir James advises Dorothea to "keep back at the present, and not volunteer any meddling."

Chapter 73

Lydgate feels ready to curse the day he came to Middlemarch. His "honorable ambition" is in tatters, his reputation "irrevocably damaged," and his marriage an "unmitigated calamity." He begins to think that Bulstrode tampered with his orders. He questions his own judgment, wondering if he would have acted differently when he found Raffles dead if he hadn't taken the money. Still, Lydgate resolves not to "shrink from showing his full sense of obligation to Bulstrode." Certainly if he could exchange the loan for beggary, rather than be tarred with the suspicion of taking a bribe, he would do it. But he still "would not turn away from this crushed fellow-mortal whose aid he had used."

Chapter 74

Mrs. Bulstrode knows something is amiss; she visits two of her friends and can tell by their ready sympathy and avoidance of talk about her husband that some great misfortune has occurred. She finally seeks out her brother who tells her the whole story. When she comes home she goes to her room to compose herself. Mrs. Bulstrode removes all her ornaments and changes into a plain black gown. Bulstrode knows she has learned the truth and feels himself "perishing slowly in unpitied misery," thinking he will never see affection on his wife's face again. Instead, she meets him with compassion and tenderness. Together they cry for his misfortune: "She could not say, 'How much is only slander and false suspicion?' and he did not say, 'I am innocent.'"

Chapter 75

Although Rosamund is relieved that the debt has been taken care of, she has nothing to look forward to except an occasional letter from Ladislaw. She believes that Will secretly harbors strong feelings for her. When the Lydgates get a letter that Will plans to visit, she is overjoyed. Meanwhile, she decides to have a dinner party and invites several people without telling her husband. He soon gets wind of it and becomes very angry, especially because he surmises that everyone is declining. Rosamund asks her father what is wrong, and he delivers the bad news. Rosamund doesn't question her husband, and he finally brings it up, waiting for her to make some avowal that she believes in him. He imagines together they can face down the slander and weather the storm. Instead she says to him, "Surely now at least you have given up the idea of staying in Middlemarch. I cannot go on living here. Let us go to London. Papa, and everyone else says you had better go."

Analysis

No one comes to Lydgate's rescue, and he feels besieged on all sides. He honestly questions himself and his own motives with regard to the Raffles affair, thinking he may have done more to find out about whether his protocol was followed if he hadn't taken the money. Lydgate shows himself to be an honorable man in the crisis of his life. He is not prepared to throw Bulstrode to the wolves of public opinion, and will not try to clear himself at the banker's expense.

Likewise, Mrs. Bulstrode, formerly Harriet Vincy, shows her strength of spirit and loyalty. She has been completely innocent of knowledge of her husband's dubious past and has taken him at face value—believing him to be a pious Christian and a role model for others. She has become more religious as a result of marrying him, although she has never given up her worldly outlook. But when he is revealed as thief and a hypocrite, she proves to be a better Christian than him. She does not judge him or hold him up to scorn and ridicule, as he has done to so many people throughout his life. Rather, she embraces him with all his flaws and lets him know that she will stand by him and help him carry his burden of shame. Mrs. Bulstrode's response to her husband's calamity is in stark juxtaposition to the response of her niece Rosamund. Her husband is actually innocent of wrongdoing, and yet she neither stands by him nor provides him with any comfort. The best she can do is to tell him to move out of town. This way she will avoid the consequences of his disgrace. In fact she cares little whether her husband did wrong or not; what matters to her is how he has been tried in the court of public opinion because that affects her.

Rosamund constructs a fantasy romance between herself and Will Ladislaw because she cannot even imagine that any man would prefer some other woman over her—such is the high opinion she has of herself and her power to charm. Her delusions are indicative of the narrowness of her emotional register. She does not understand depth of feeling or an attraction that encompasses more than the physical.

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