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Literature Study GuidesMiddlemarchBook 8 Chapters 84 86 And Finale Summary

Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Book 8, Chapters 84–86 and Finale: Sunset and Sunrise

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 8, Chapters 84–86 and Finale: Sunset and Sunrise from George Eliot's novel Middlemarch.

Middlemarch | Book 8, Chapters 84–86 and Finale : Sunset and Sunrise | Summary



Chapter 84

The Chettams and Cadwalladers have gathered at Freshitt and are expecting Mr. Brooke. After they discuss the Reform Bill and everyone is settled, Brooke delivers the news that Dorothea plans to marry Ladislaw. There is much consternation, and Sir James goes so far as to say, "I think that Dorothea committed a wrong act in marrying Ladislaw." Mrs. Cadwallader remarks that "Mr. Casaubon has prepared all this as beautifully as possible. He made himself disagreeable—or it pleased God to make him so—and then dared her to contradict him. It's the way to make any trumpery tempting, to ticket it at a high price."

Chapter 85

Bulstrode does not make a full confession to his wife, but he feels immense gratitude toward her and asks if there's anything she would like him to do about property arrangements. She asks him to do something for Lydgate, but he tells her he has returned the money after getting Mrs. Casaubon's loan. However, he suggests that Fred take over the management of Stone Court and pay him a share of the profits rather than rent. He asks her to speak to Garth about it.

Chapter 86

Mr. Garth has agreed to Mrs. Bulstrode's proposal, and he shares the news with Mary and Fred. The couple can now marry sooner since Fred has a home and some prospects.


The narrator wraps up the story of the principal characters by revealing how their lives turned out. Fred and Mary achieve a "solid mutual happiness" and prosper. Lydgate and Rosamund continue to struggle with each other; Lydgate dies at 50, after gaining "an excellent practice" among the rich. Nonetheless, he considers himself to be a failure. Rosamund remarries an elderly, wealthy physician. Dorothea always feels she could have done more. She is glad to have married Will Ladislaw, however, and "[t]hey are bound to each other by a love stronger than any impulses which could have marred it." Dorothea's story is still told in Middlemarch, and those who did not know her thought she was foolish to have made two ill-advised marriages. Others who knew her thought it a shame she hadn't done more with her life, but the narrator bitterly comments that it is those others, as society, who thwart the ambitions of potential heroines. Still, "the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts." Moreover, "things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been ... owing to the number who lived a faithfully hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."


When Mr. Brooke breaks the news about Dorothea's engagement, it comes as no surprise to Mrs. Cadwallader. The author uses the rector's wife as a kind of public mouthpiece that expresses many of the feelings held by Middlemarch's public. She also represents the prejudice of the upper classes in many of her pronouncements and provides comic relief as well with her witticisms. But she is also an astute judge of character. She herself chose to "marry down" for love, and she quite expected Dorothea to do the same, especially since Mr. Casaubon practically made it an inevitability by forbidding her to do so.

Bulstrode never relinquishes his pride, although perhaps he can be forgiven for not telling his wife the entire truth, since her love is all he has left in the area of human regard. He cannot bear to lose that. Nonetheless, he is somewhat chastised and wishes to do something for his wife's family, which is how Fred, ironically, winds up at Stone Court after all, albeit by a different and more morally uplifting route.

In the Finale the narrator uses her bully pulpit to pronounce final words over the lives of the major characters. Fred is reformed, through the love of others—Mary and Mr. Garth. Lydgate learns to bitterly live with his lot, at one point calling Rosamund a basil plant, which he knew could flourish on a dead man's brains. He does not entirely take responsibility for his failure, but then, who does? Dorothea has a happy life with Ladislaw but also feels she has fallen short in not achieving a lofty goal. Others agree with her, but the narrator bitterly says, "no one stated exactly what else that was in her power she ought rather to have done." Women had few arenas to act in up until very recently, so it is no wonder that Dorothea finds herself stymied. The narrator leaves much of the blame for failed heroic expectations at the door of society, which has the habit of thwarting individuals wherever it can. Nonetheless, she ends on a hopeful note, because great souls exist among us and make an important difference, albeit quietly, in the lives of everyday people.

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