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Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Middlemarch | Discussion Questions 51 - 52


In Middlemarch why does Mary choose to marry Fred Vincy instead of Rev. Farebrother?

Mary chooses Fred over Rev. Farebrother because she has loved Fred since childhood and has a loyal heart. Fred has always accepted her and taken her part. Because she is often passed over or condescended to as a plain girl and woman, she has an abiding gratefulness toward Fred for having always loved her. In Chapter 57, she finally understands that she has a choice between Fred and Rev. Farebrother, and for a moment she wistfully pauses, and the narrator says, "Mary earnestly desired to be always clear that she loved Fred best. When a tender affection has been storing itself in us through many of our years, the idea that we could accept any exchange for it seems to be a cheapening of our lives." Mary further thinks that Fred has lost all other expectations, and he must be able to count on her love. Thus, although Rev. Farebrother is a better match in terms of social class and character, and though he also obtains a decent income from Mrs. Casaubon, Mary chooses Fred. Even though she is flattered to learn that the man she has always admired most, Rev. Farebrother, has a romantic interest in her, she remains loyal to Fred.

In Middlemarch how do the Vincy children's difference in character guide their choice of marriage partners and determine their ultimate fates?

Although both Vincy children have been raised by materialistic, shallow parents, Fred is naturally warm-hearted and loving, while Rosamund is, to some degree, sociopathic and has little ability to feel deep emotion and less ability to empathize with others. Fred loves little Mary in childhood, and he continues to love her as he grows to be a man. Although he is spoiled and unused to hard work, his love for Mary acts as an instrument of transformation. For her he goes against his father's desire that he improve his social status by becoming a clergyman—a profession for which he has neither the temperament nor vocation. He figures out a way to make a living—asking Caleb to take him on so he can learn land management. He does all of this to earn the respect and the hand of Mary, but in the process he improves himself because she wants what is best for him and what will make him a worthy man. On the other hand, Rosamund has never loved anybody except herself. She marries for status, and she is completely indifferent to the needs of her partner, Lydgate. If she were patient, he could have provided her with a comfortable, middle-class life and probably more contact with his aristocratic relatives. But her selfishness demands that he immediately bend to her requirements, so he gives up his dream of making a medical discovery and begins treating the rich so that he can support her in style. Of course, before he succumbs to her demands, she first puts him through the trial of aligning himself with Bulstrode (by taking his financial help) and ultimately suffering disgrace. While the end result of Fred and Mary's marriage is happiness, neither Lydgate nor Rosamund are happy, and Lydgate dies early.

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