Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Middlemarch | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In Chapter 1 of Middlemarch what does the narrator mean by referring to Dorothea as a "Papist"?

The narrator refers to Dorothea as a Papist because she is exhibiting religious behaviors normally associated with Roman Catholic rather than Protestant religious practice. Protestants were still fairly hostile toward Catholics in the early 19th century because they had broken away from the mother church over doctrinal differences. In England, King Henry VIII started the Anglican Church (and became its head) because the spiritual head of the Catholic Church—Pope Clement VII—would not allow him to divorce his wife. To call someone a "Papist" was to accuse them of Catholic leanings. Dorothea is overly emotional in her religious expression and seems to want to perform penances—tasks Catholics perform to atone for their sinfulness or to please God.

In Middlemarch why are Mr. Brooke's friends opposed to his running as a Reformist?

Mrs. Cadwallader is against Mr. Brooke's standing for office because he wants to support reform as an independent, which is a Whig position. Because Mr. Brooke is a member of the landed gentry (upper class), Mrs. Cadwallader believes he should take a stand against reform. She says people will say he cannot be counted on—meaning the people of his class who are generally Tories. Furthermore, she thinks he will make a fool of himself "speechifying," and will be "pelted by everybody." Sir James does not want him to run because he thinks he will be criticized for standing as a liberal candidate, even while he lets his tenants live in terrible conditions on his estate. In fact, the opposition paper begins to write editorials alluding to the hypocrisy of his position.

In Middlemarch how do the Whigs and Tories differ on the question of reform?

The Whigs supported Parliamentary reform, and the Tories, who mostly dominated the House of Lords, did not. Specifically, the Reform Act of 1832 got rid of "rotten boroughs" in England and Wales and allowed more people to vote in the middle classes. The rotten borough was a political entity that encompassed a very small number of people and which "elected" parliamentary representatives who were controlled by one or a few powerful men. As the population increased and shifted as a result of the Industrial Revolution, there were areas of the country—specifically, cities and towns—with large populations that were not represented at all. The Reform Act gave representation to those new population areas and also extended the franchise to more people, including some renters. The middle-class characters in Middlemarch generally support reform, although the lawyer Hawley does not. He criticizes Mr. Brooke for being "an old county man" [i.e., a landowner] and courting votes from Tories who support reform.

In Middlemarch how have the Vincy parents taught their children to be egotists?

Walter Vincy is a man who lives above his means and often borrows from his brother-in-law. Mr. Bulstrode points this out to both Lydgate, when he asks for a loan, and his wife, when she asks him to help Rosamund and Lydgate. Mr. Vincy keeps his establishment in style, has people to dine on a regular basis, and engages in expensive hobbies like coursing (hunting on horseback). He has taught his older children, Rosamund and Fred, that they deserve the best of everything and has spoiled them by providing it. Mrs. Vincy is a frivolous woman who is against Fred's marrying Mary because she doesn't have money and is not pretty enough for her son.

In Middlemarch how is Mr. Bulstrode's Evangelicism different from Christianity?

Although Mr. Bulstrode is still an Anglican (and Mrs. Bulstrode minimizes the fact that his first wife was a "Dissenter"), he is part of the Evangelical movement that swept through Anglican Christianity beginning in the 18th century. Evangelicals stressed a literal interpretation of the Bible over Church doctrine, personal piety, and evangelicalism, which is the spreading of the Christian doctrine to unbelievers. Evangelicals are, for the most part, more rigid in their adherence to doctrine and generally believe that their religion is superior to all others. The traditional Anglican church made room for more shades of Christianity and coexisted more peacefully with secular culture than Evangelicalism. Bulstrode is a prime example of a judgmental Evangelical who thinks he is saved and all others are damned if they do not agree with his brand of faith. Mr. Vincy faults him for his judgmental attitude, saying, "I'm a plain Churchman now, just as I used to be before doctrines came up. I take the world as I find it ... I'm contented to be no worse than my neighbors."

In Middlemarch why is Dr. Lydgate establishing a fever hospital?

Lydgate hopes the fever hospital, in addition to the already existing infirmary, will be "the nucleus of a medical school" that will improve medical education throughout the entire country. Although the hospital is meant to treat patients who have any type of fever, cholera from China and Japan had begun to spread through Europe beginning in 1829 and made its way to England by 1831. Lydgate is aware of the danger of cholera and the importance of isolating patients, so he is preparing for a possible epidemic, should the disease make its way to Middlemarch. In fact, the town meeting in Chapter 71 on sanitation is spurred by a case of cholera in Middlemarch.

In Middlemarch what is the area of science in which Lydgate expects to make a new discovery?

Lydgate expects to make a discovery in the area of life sciences. In 1829, Marie-François-Xavier Bichat was the first to claim that the organs of the body were formed through differentiation of cell tissue. Using a microscope, Lydgate expects to build on Bichat's subsequent discoveries. He hopes to discover the underlying commonality among all tissue. In his way Lydgate, like Casaubon, is looking for a key to unlock the secrets of the body. Lydgate's intuition predates cell theory. While the cell had been discovered much earlier, it was only in 1838-39 that scientists determined that a cell was actually alive and formed the basis for all life.

How does Middlemarch illustrate the web connections among people?

Several instances of the web can be found in the novel. For example, in Chapter 15, the narrator compares herself to Henry Fielding, the famous author of Tom Jones, saying that she will not range over as wide a territory as he does: "all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web, and not dispersed over the tempting range of relevancies called the universe." In the Finale, the narrator provides her justification for telling the reader what happened to the principal characters as the years passed, saying that "the fragment of life, however typical, is not the sample of an even web." In this instance, she is referring to all of a person's circumstances, which includes the people they interact with, as an "even web." Other web references occur in Chapters 31, 36, 61, and 86.

In Middlemarch how does Mr. Bulstrode become powerful?

Mr. Bulstrode gains power first by being the county banker. He knows people's financial secrets and grants or withholds credit accordingly. Second, he administers a large number of the town's charities, and third, he gives people private loans. In these ways, he keeps himself active in people's affairs and demands gratitude as well as certain modes of behavior from those he helps. The narrator says, "It was a principle with Mr. Bulstrode to gain as much power as possible, that he might use it for the glory of God." Yet, this power is for selfish gain not for the glory of God. Moreover, people said that since he couldn't enjoy life like normal people did, "he must have a sort of vampire's feast in the sense of mastery."

In Chapter 20 of Middlemarch what angers Casaubon about his wife's suggestion that he write his Key?

Mr. Casaubon becomes angry because Dorothea is essentially reminding him of what he knows already in some part of himself—that he has lingered too long over his notes without actually writing his book. He is insecure about his abilities, and he expects Dorothea to bolster his ego by remaining an uncritical admirer. The last thing he wants is a critic in his own house. The narrator says, "[h]e now foresaw with sudden terror that this capacity [to admire] might be replaced by presumption ... which sees vaguely a great many fine ends, and has not the least notion what it costs to reach them."

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