Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Middlemarch | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Middlemarch why won't Rosamund support her husband during his financial crisis?

Rosamund has all the symptoms of extreme narcissism. She believes that she has no duties as a wife other than to be an attractive ornament for her husband. In exchange she expects to be well taken care of, and when Lydgate runs into financial difficulties, she believes it is his job to deal with it and hold up his end of the bargain. For her, marriage is a financial and social transaction, not a pledge of love. When Lydgate first asks for her support, she responds with, "What can I do, Tertius?"—meaning she doesn't expect to do anything. In fact, she thwarts his efforts to change their lifestyle so that they might climb out of debt.

In Middlemarch why is Sarah Dunkirk ashamed of the way her family makes money?

Sarah Dunkirk finds out from a jilted suitor that her father is a pawnbroker. He buys various types of goods and then sells them at a profit. This is a disreputable business for two reasons: first, her father doesn't look too closely into where the items come from (some are probably stolen goods). Second, ordinary people pawn items that are valuable to them when they need ready cash, and they usually lose the items while receiving only a fraction of their worth. Thus, pawnbrokers take advantage of people's vulnerability to make their own living. For this reason Sarah runs away from her family and becomes an actress.

In Middlemarch how does the pier glass symbol apply to Bulstrode's worldview?

The pier glass (large mirror) is a symbol of how people find patterns in their lives. People who believe in patterns do not usually believe that important things happen by coincidence. Religious people such as Mr. Bulstrode believe that divine Providence controls events in their lives for certain purposes. A devout Christian, Mr. Bulstrode believes "that God intended him for a special instrumentality." He sees his developing friendship with the richest man in the congregation as a sign from God, and when he becomes part of the man's business and realizes it is shady, he justifies the profits "made out of lost souls" as "God's way of saving His chosen." And when events line up in his favor to marry his former partner's rich widow, Mrs. Dunkirk, he attributes that good fortune as God's favor. From there he rationalizes that "God's service" would not call for a fortune being wasted on "a young woman and her husband ... given up to the lightest pursuits." Thus, he justifies robbing the widow's fortune.

In Middlemarch how are Will Ladislaw and Mr. Brooke similar and different?

Both Will Ladislaw and Mr. Brooke begin life as dilettantes (people with superficial interests in the arts or other areas of knowledge). Like Ladislaw, Brooke has traveled and even painted. Both men are interested in politics, and both are interested in reform. In some ways, both men are nonconformists, although Brooke is much less likely to stand up for what he believes in. For example, Brooke is not able to stand up to his niece Dorothea, even though he knows that her marriage to Casaubon is not a good idea. He also runs away as soon as he experiences some opposition to his candidacy as a reform candidate. Ladislaw, on the other hand, has a moral backbone. He stands up to Casaubon, and he easily turns Bulstrode down when he offers him tainted money, even though he himself is impoverished. Brooke remains a dilettante all his life, while Ladislaw marries and goes on to serve in Parliament.

In Middlemarch why is Lydgate more concerned that he love Rosamund than vice-versa?

Unlike Rosamund, Lydgate has made an emotional commitment to marriage born out of feelings of love. He is more afraid of falling out of love with her than vice-versa because for him, who has a large heart, living under the same roof with a woman he didn't love would be unbearable. "The first great disappointment had been borne: the tender devotedness and docile adoration of the ideal wife must be renounced ... But the real wife had not only her claims, she had still a hold on his heart, and it was his intense desire that the hold should remain strong," the narrator says.

In Middlemarch does Bulstrode believe he deserves to be punished by God?

Mr. Bulstrode believes he deserves to be punished by God for his wrongdoing. He considers Raffles's appearance to be "a divine visitation, a chastisement, a preparation." On the other hand, he hopes that it might be "for the Divine glory that he should escape dishonor," since God has used him as an instrument for good works. In Chapter 70, when he sits by Raffles's bedside, he thinks he has a duty to "submit to the punishment divinely appointed for him rather than to wish for evil to another." But he also thinks that if Providence determines that Raffles should die, there is no harm in rejoicing.

In Middlemarch how does Bulstrode demonstrate that vocation and a thirst for power are incompatible?

A person with a true vocation not only owns the requisite skill, but also loves and respects the work, partly because it benefits others. Bulstrode's life is a study in doing exactly the opposite. He puts his own ego—in the form of a thirst for power—ahead of his vocation, which is supposed to be serving people or bringing them to his version of God. This is why he is so deeply disliked, even before his misdeeds are revealed. He thinks he is a philanthropist for the glory of God, but everything he does is for the glory of his own self. The ultimate proof of his twisted vocation is his willingness to kill Raffles, the man he is "nursing," rather than face disgrace.

How does Lydgate change from the beginning to the end of Middlemarch?

Lydgate changes from a confident and hopeful young doctor, with the promise of making a significant contribution to the field of medicine, into a dutiful husband of a spoiled and selfish wife. He must considerably narrow his aspirations so that Rosamund may have an upper middle-class lifestyle. Lydgate also is diminished by his bankruptcy, losing his pride and arrogance. While before he criticized Farebrother for gambling at cards for small sums, he tries his hand at billiards. Where before he was proud to be independent of Mr. Bulstrode, he finds himself asking for a loan of 1,000 pounds. Early on, he considers his integrity above reproach; later, he is compromised because people think he conspired with the banker to hasten the death of Raffles.

In Middlemarch what role does gossip play in maiming people's lives and reputations?

The narrator's view is that people are restricted in their freedom by public expectations and public opinion, and that when an individual refuses to conform, he or she is severely chastised. This is true for Ladislaw and even more true for Lydgate and Bulstrode. Clearly, public gossip ruins Lydgate's reputation and makes it impossible for Dorothea to resuscitate it. In Chapter 71, the narrator discusses at length how people revel in the gossip about Bulstrode and Lydgate with a "zest which could not be won from the question whether the Lords would throw out the Reform Bill." In Chapter 73, Lydgate realizes that even people who had only vulgar standards regard his reputation as "irrevocably damaged."

In Middlemarch how is Mrs. Bulstrode an exemplar of spousal love and mercy?

Unlike Rosamund Mrs. Bulstrode has good reason to be angry at her husband for deceiving her during their entire married life and for being a liar and a hypocrite all the while. One of the most poignant scenes in the novel takes place in Chapter 74, when Mrs. Bulstrode locks herself in her room and contemplates her husband's character, realizing "she could not judge him leniently." Nonetheless, she had shared his prosperity and he had "cherished her," and it was not "possible ... in any sense to forsake him." In a ritual act of taking on her husband's penance, she takes off all her ornaments and dons a plain black gown, takes off her cap and bows, and brushes her hair down. She then goes down to her husband and cries with him in shame and sorrow. She doesn't reproach him, and she doesn't interrogate him.

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