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Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Middlemarch | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Chapter 22 of Middlemarch why does Ladislaw claim that Casaubon's work is a wasted effort?

Mr. Casaubon's goal in the Key to All Mythologies is to prove that myths in other parts of the world originate in the revealed truths of the Bible. Christian scholars, including Jacob Bryant (who is referenced by Ladislaw), believed that the original language was Hebrew. Ladislaw says Casaubon's thesis is obsolete because a German scholar determined that similarities in many languages spoken in Europe showed a common ancestry in an early Indo-European language. His work was based on the discovery of Sanskrit by Sir William Jones. Casaubon doesn't read German, so he is unaware of these theories (or he rejects them). Ladislaw says that "The subject Mr. Casaubon has chosen is as changing as chemistry: new discoveries are constantly making new points of view ... it is no use now to be crawling a little way after men of the last century ... and correcting their mistakes."

In Chapter 31 of Middlemarch why does Lydgate propose to Rosamund even though he means to stay single?

After Mrs. Bulstrode speaks to Lydgate and says that he may be getting in the way of Rosamund's prospects, he stays away from the house for ten days because he is determined not to marry any woman until he is well established. He is asked by Mrs. Vincy to stop at the house on the eleventh day to leave a message with her husband about Peter Featherstone's condition. Rosalind is overwhelmed to see him, and at some point she begins crying, a moment of rare naturalness that "shook flirtation into love." Lydgate is a warmhearted man who has a history of making rash decisions concerning women. When Rosamund confesses to him that she loves him, he "pour[s] out words of gratitude and tenderness," and by the time he left, he was an engaged man.

In Chapter 34 of Middlemarch why does Dorothea feel sorry for Featherstone as she watches his funeral?

Dorothea has pity on the dead Mr. Featherstone because the only reason so many people are at his funeral is that they expect some portion of his inheritance. Featherstone was not loved by anyone. He had bad relations with his blood relatives, and he used his favoritism of Fred to make them uneasy. He was unkind to Mary, his housekeeper and caretaker, and disliked almost everybody. Mrs. Cadwallader remarks that "[i]t was time the old man died, and none of these people are sorry." In response, Dorothea says, "I cannot bear to think that any one should die and leave no love behind."

In Middlemarch how do Lydgate's class pretensions affect his debt?

Lydgate does not have much money; he has only 800 pounds after buying his practice. Up until now, he has been accustomed to living well and having the best of everything, since he has been funded by his well-to-do relations. Although he knows he needs to establish himself before he marries, he plunges headlong into a marriage with Rosamund. When it comes time to set up house, "it had never occurred to him that he should live in any other than what he would have called an ordinary way, with green glasses for hock, and excellent waiting at table." The hock refers to a kind of excellent wine, served in special green glasses. Thus, Lydgate rents a house that is too big, and he spends too much money to furnish it.

In Middlemarch why does Casaubon shrink from Dorothea's pity and compassion?

Casaubon cannot bear Dorothea's sympathy because "his was a mind which shrank from pity." He has a suspicious mind that wonders whether the person offering him sympathy might be secretly happy that he is suffering, and for this reason, he turns away when Dorothea tries to comfort him after he speaks to Dr. Lydgate about the possibility of his dying suddenly. Furthermore, he does not realize how deeply he hurts his wife when he rejects her sympathy and comfort. Casaubon is imprisoned by his own sensitive ego that would forego genuine human compassion rather than show weakness or risk ridicule.

In Middlemarch how does Casaubon justify in his own mind the writing of the codicil?

Mr. Casaubon continues to believe his wife is innocent, in both thought and action, with regard to his cousin Ladislaw. However, he believes that she is well disposed toward him and that she can be easily swayed by her "affectionate ardor." He feels sure that, once he is dead, Ladislaw will think of "an easy conquest and of entering into my nest." It does not occur to him that Ladislaw might be in love with Dorothea; rather, his focus is on himself and his belief in Ladislaw's desire to thwart him. He believes that, as Dorothea's husband, he is responsible for her well-being, and her well-being will be in danger after he dies, so he protects her by writing the codicil.

In Middlemarch is Casaubon justified in his resentment of Dorothea's friendship with Will?

Mr. Casaubon does have some justification in resenting the friendship between his wife and cousin. First, Ladislaw, for the most part, comes to visit Dorothea when he is not at home. Second, he intuits that Ladislaw is saying unflattering things behind his back to his wife, and this is true. Third, Ladislaw shows a clear partiality to Dorothea and has come to Middlemarch to have opportunities to see her. Casaubon thinks he is doing this simply to annoy him, but he does understand on some level that Ladislaw is trying to take his place in Dorothea's heart. Dorothea herself begins to wonder if perhaps she has been too free in entertaining him when she finds Ladislaw alone with Rosamund, also a married woman. It is true that Casaubon and Ladislaw are cousins, but they are only second cousins, which is not a very close relation.

In Middlemarch why do the other doctors resent Lydgate for not dispensing drugs?

Dr. Lydgate's refusal to dispense drugs calls attention to the fact that medical men who prescribe drugs and dispense them for money have a vested interest in their patients' taking more rather than less medicine, whether they need it or not. No doubt the medical men believe in what they are doing, as most people are able to satisfactorily justify their own actions. But Mr. Gambit, for example, feels that "Lydgate was one of those hypocrites who try to discredit others by advertising their own honesty." Since the viewpoint of Lydgate is so diametrically opposed to the prevailing practices of the doctors, they are bound to be resentful.

In Middlemarch how does Lydgate's arrogance contribute to his failure?

Dr. Lydgate fails to see that his offhand dismissal of the practices of his less skilled colleagues can turn them against him, along with many of the townspeople. For example, he carelessly tells the grocer, who is also a gossip, that it lowers the character of doctors and injures the public "if their only mode of getting paid for their work was by their making out long bills for draughts, boluses, and mixtures." None of the doctors will work at the fever hospital because they dislike both Lydgate's and Bulstrode's arrogance. Moreover, they begin calling Lydgate a charlatan, which has an effect on his business.

In Middlemarch how does Dorothea's compassion for others mature after marriage?

At the beginning of the novel, Dorothea has strong opinions about everything and is somewhat judgmental. For example, she thinks that Sir James Chettam is well meaning but frivolous when compared to Mr. Casaubon. She believes that her sister is an ignorant child, even though she is much more astute in her understanding of human nature than is Dorothea. In the beginning of her marriage, she is more easily angered when she has a disagreement with her husband. But she begins to understand his weaknesses and insecurities when she learns from Ladislaw, for example, that the thesis of her husband's book is out of date. After Casaubon has a heart attack, she learns to curb herself in all things so as not to upset her husband. She does this because she realizes that she is stronger than Casaubon and that he needs her compassion. When he asks her before his death to make him a promise without telling her what it is, she agrees, albeit reluctantly, because she didn't want to hurt him. However, he dies before she can promise.

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