Middlemarch Summary and Analysis of Chapters 12-22

Chapter 12:


Fred and Rosamond travel to Stone Court, the house of their wealthy uncle, Mr. Featherstone. Mrs. Waule, Mr. Featherstone's sister, is there; and though she is also well off, she tries to get even more money from her brother. Mary Garth is Mr. Featherstone's servant, and Fred admires her very much. Mrs. Waule's visit is to lobby for more money in Mr. Featherstone's will, and she tries to discredit Fred, of whom Mr. Featherstone is very fond, by alluding to rumors about Fred's gambling debts. Mr. Featherstone bothers Fred on this subject, and Fred insists he has done nothing of the sort; Mr. Featherstone continues to shame and embarrass Fred, and finally insist that he get proof in writing from Bulstrode, who started this rumor, that it is indeed false.

Mary Garth is plain and amiable, and very honest and kind. Rosamond continues to be supremely interested in Lydgate, whom Mary has met and does not think terribly highly of. Lydgate and Rosamond finally meet, and it seems like their romance has already been destined to occur.


Despite Rosamond's snobbish disposition, she has no compunctions about socializing with Mary Garth, a servant; although Rosamond has certain ideas about social class, at least she does not hold these ideas of hers against long-standing friends. Rosamond is pleasant enough to her friends, and to her uncle, though she does show hostility to people who do not strike her fancy, like Mrs.Waule.

The weight of rumor is a theme that is very relevant to Middlemarch life; rumors are circulated like currency, and a person's reputation certainly depends on what people say or think about them. Rumors are also given a lot of credibility in this provincial life; it is a rumor that causes Featherstone to threaten to take away Fred's inheritance, and this rumor is given some credit because it originated with Bulstrode, one of the most well-known citizens of the town. Rumors are often vicious, and just as often untrue, and represent the more pernicious and flawed aspects of human nature; still, they are important in determining the reputation and caliber of the many people of Middlemarch, and rumors are also an integral part of social life there as well.

Rosamond and Lydgate's romance, though nonexistent at this point, seems to be foreshadowed by Rosamond's own stubborn conceptions about falling in love with a stranger, and him falling in love with her almost immediately. Rosamond decides to like Lydgate, since he is young, good looking, has good prospects, and is of good family; emotional connection doesn't seem to enter into the equation, and they are as shallow as a couple as they are about the opposite sex.

Chapter 13:


Mr. Vincy goes to see Mr. Bulstrode at the bank on his son Fred's behalf; Lydgate is already there with Bulstrode, talking about the construction of a new hospital in town. Bulstrode likes Lydgate, and expects that he will make reforms and improve medical care in the town, but both are aware of the professional jealousy that will arise from Lydgate's new position, if he is indeed elected as head of the hospital. Bulstrode, for some reason, wants a man named Mr. Tyke to be chaplain of the new hospital, in place of another man named Mr. Farebrother.

Mr. Vincy enters, and broaches the subject of Fred and his need for Bulstrode's reassurances; Mr. Bulstrode does not want to be involved. Bulstrode criticizes Fred's upbringing and personal qualities, making the matter more personal than it needs to be. This matter is complicated by the fact that Bulstrode and Vincy are brothers-in-law, and Vincy believes it is Bulstrode's family obligation to comply, though Bulstrode does not.


Lydgate's case in this chapter shows how small-mindedness, jealousy, and petty squabbles between people can impede progress completely; in Middlemarch, this is an important issue, and one that will thwart Lydgate, as an outsider. Middlemarch is exceedingly political, as becomes apparent in the scene with Mr. Bulstrode; friends will be made and lost through political alliances, and it seems that Lydgate's hopes depend on his siding with Bulstrode in a matter that does not concern him at all.

Bulstrode is an arrogant, self-important man who would use his power to tell people where they are right and wrong. Much like other characters, who are embodiments and representation of certain forces in society, Bulstrode is symbolic of Middlemarch politics and power, and how both of these can lead to pettiness and an inflated ego. That he and Mr. Vincy are married to sisters complicates things; family members have some kind of obligation to one another, but on the other hand, people must do what they feel compelled to do. Middlemarch is a place of tangled family alliances, old grudges, and strongheaded personalities; no decision is simply clear-cut, and many people are trying to fulfill their own interests, rather than trying to help other people.

The importance of family is a theme that reappears within the novel; what do people really owe to their family, and are there stronger ties between people than the blood ties of kinship? Friendship can certainly be a powerful bond; Sir James' friendships with Dorothea and Celia are strong enough not to be broken by Dorothea's marriage. However, there are many different views within the novel of how family ties obligate people to behave; the Vincys believe that Featherstone owes an inheritance to Fred, as his nephew, Mr. Vincy believes that Bulstrode, as a relative, should help Fred, and Casaubon believes that he is obligated to support his cousin Ladislaw for some time. But when personal interests, like greed, mingle with these ideas of family obligations, things become very tricky, and intentions are not always honorable.

Chapter 14:


Bulstrode writes out a letter to the effect that Fred has not borrowed money on his inheritance from Featherstone, because his wife Harriet, Fred's aunt, wishes him to do so. In fact, Fred is in debt, and is given some money by Featherstone on the spot, though it is not enough to unburden him. Fred is grateful, but not as grateful as he could be; Featherstone takes pleasure in the fact that the young man depends on him for funds, and uses this to threaten Fred as well. Fred tries to talk to Mary Garth, whom he has feelings for, about his living and his feelings for her as well. Mary is realistic about his prospects, and knows that he cannot marry until he finds a living and a stable income.


The importance of money is a theme that is intermingled with Fred Vincy's story; indeed, money is an important thing, and how a person uses money shows a great deal about his character. Featherstone is as much of a financial miser as he is an emotional one; his joys in the power to hold back money from people is perverse, and he is miserly in his friendliness as he is with his funds. Fred is full of hope that fate will get him out of any scrapes he gets into; he spends money with this belief in mind, his naïve optimism getting him into trouble, and into debt.

Socially, money also determines a person's place; Lydgate is socially disadvantaged because he is poor, and Sir James is highly regarded not only because he is friendly, but because he is wealthy too. Although family connections are important in determining a person's place and how much respect they receive, middle-class people who are able to make money for themselves, like the Vincys, are able to lift themselves into a higher class through their gains in wealth. That isn't to say that the British class system, which is determined by birth, is dead at the time of this novel; but the class system is becoming more solvent because of the money being made by ordinary people, and allows those people to climb up the social ladder.

There is great irony in the fact that the only young couple who are truly suited and know each other well, Fred and Mary Garth, cannot get married for financial reasons. Unlike Casaubon and Dorothea, and Lydgate and Rosamond, these two are close friends, and regard each other with the greatest love and respect. As a couple, they contrast greatly with all the other young couples in the book; they seem to be the most compatible emotionally and practically, yet it comes down to a decision of finances about whether they should be joined.

Mary Garth, for her plain and humble appearance, is a clever girl with a good deal of knowledge. That she is able to make allusions to Shakespeare and Victorian literature so easily demonstrates her good grasp of literature, and that she is fairly well read‹certainly more well-read than Fred, and he has even gone to college. Mary is not a flirt, but she is good at understatement; though she loves Fred, she avoids getting his hopes up by replying to his questions of whether she loves him by merely stating, playfully, "my experience is rather mixed" (138). Mary is a very realistic girl, however; she disregards Fred's romantic, hopeful, and somewhat unrealistic tone when speaking to her of marriage, and she maintains a considerate, even-tempered, but informed tone when replying to him. Where Fred is flighty, Mary is dependable; he is too idle to deserve her, but together, they could do well for each other.

Chapter 15:


Eliot begins the chapter with a bit of narration about the scope of the book, and then begins to delve into Lydgate's background. Lydgate was very intelligent as a young man, and fell in love with anatomy at a young age. He is a hard worker, driven to succeed in his field and make innovations, and to help people get better rather than make money, which seems to be the focus of many doctors of the time.


Here, Eliot takes a bit of a break from the novel, in order to insert some commentary, which is not an uncommon occurrence in the English novel. Previously, the novel had simply flowed over the events and characters involved; Eliot, as a narrator, becomes a kind of transparent presence, allowing the reader a direct window into the proceedings, without placing herself in the way. Eliot's purpose in suddenly interjecting in the proceedings is to convey the overall purpose of the novel; the purpose is to delve into the lives, motivations, personalities, and circumstances of people in a rural English community, and show the workings of human nature in the characters she chooses to create.

Middlemarch is not necessarily meant to provide a wide-ranging view of Victorian society, or to serve as a commentary on English society of the time; although the novel may have elements of social criticism included in it, this is meant as a focused study and not a sociological of epic proportions. This explains why Eliot chooses to have the narrator relate the events, with little commentary relating the people and happenings of Middlemarch to the outside world of the time.

Lydgate, as the sole outsider of Middlemarch, is an interesting case; the way that people regard him and treat him is not due to who he is, but what they believe him to be and how they feel about strangers. Lydgate stands in stark contrast with people like Fred Vincy, who feel no particular call or motivation; Lydgate, along with Dorothea, is one of few whose passion is improving the lives of the people of Middlemarch, with little concern for politics or anything that would hinder his greater purpose. Lydgate's intentions and his drive are honorable, like Dorothea's are; but it will not be so simple for him to fulfill his purposes in the tangled world of Middlemarch politics and connections.

A bit about Lydgate's personality is laid bare, and it indicates that Lydgate is susceptible to making mistakes in love. This major weakness in his nature foreshadows that he will not be able to choose wisely when it is time to marry; he can be rash when it is least convenient, especially when it comes to affairs of the heart. His overstated resolve, to "take a strictly scientific view of a woman," is certainly not supported by the way that he views Rosamond, nor by the criteria by which he judges her; Lydgate is weak when it comes to women, and his weakness is not expected by the people of Middlemarch.

The way in which Middlemarch society works concerning strangers is laid bare; if a person is considered worthy, people rush to accept him and make him one of the community. This theory of assimilation, however, is neither carefully considered nor does it take into account some people's resistance to change. It also leaves out a crucial examination of the person in consideration, which could mean the person that is accepted is not the same person who lives among them.

Chapter 16:


Mr. Bulstrode's power becomes plain; as a banker, he has some control over those he lends money to, and he defends people in return for certain expected favors. There is a debate going on whether Bulstrode's choice of Mr. Tyke for the chaplain's position at the hospital is indeed correct; Lydgate, Mr. Vincy, Mr. Chichely, and Dr. Sprague debate this question, with Mr. Vincy firmly supporting Farebrother. Lydgate is soon able to sneak away and talk with Rosamond, whom he finds very refined and beautiful. He meets Farebrother, whom he also finds agreeable. Lydgate is in no hurry to marry, since he has no money yet; but he will certainly keep Rosamond in mind in the meantime. Rosamond, however, is sure that Lydgate is in love with her; and, with little else to think about, she sets her mind on marrying Lydgate.


Mr. Bulstrode is a very shrewd politician; he makes sure he carries a great deal of influence not only through his financial role in the town, but through the favors he chooses to do for people and the obligations he chooses to create. Politics is a theme that has great importance in a Middlemarcher's life, and, if one is as politically adept as Mr. Bulstrode, a great deal of power and influence can result. Bulstrode insists that he is gaining power "for the glory of God"; but the truth is that he does it out of selfish ambition, and certainly is not as clean-living as he seems. Bulstrode's great ambition and his wily ways foreshadow a fall from grace, if he dares to do anything corrupt; just as people fear and are grateful to him, many people dislike the power that Bulstrode wields, and seek to bring him low.

Politics and people blend in an interesting way; and the regards in which politics influences people's decisions and behavior toward one another is an issue that Lydgate, at least, will have to deal with. Soon, Lydgate will find himself torn between deciding on Mr. Tyke, in order to curry more favor with Bulstrode, or Farebrother, in which case Mr. Vincy would be most pleased. Lydgate also finds that "it was dangerous to insist on knowledge as a qualification for any salaried office" in Middlemarch, as certain positions are usually held by people who are not quite suited to them; this is a great irony, and one that Lydgate does not want to face. Some Middlemarch traditions are impractical and nonsensical, but yet people still cling to them; this is another example of the theme of progress vs. tradition, and in this case, tradition seems to be the more stubborn.

Lydgate soon finds himself becoming fond of Rosamond, but it is her beauty and her good manners, rather than her personality, which attracts him. He rhapsodizes about her fair looks, which he describes as being "as if the petals of some gigantic flower had just opened and disclosed her"; he devotes this elaborate simile to her attractiveness, yet can say nothing of her personality except that she is "clever" (159). He attributes "ready, self-possessed grace" not to her, but to her hair; the personification may do honor to her beauty, but he is missing the essence of Rosamond's personality entirely. Lydgate certainly does not realize that she is nothing, as Eliot's simile declares, "like a kitten" that is innocent and sincere; she has been trained and taught, and these graces and looks with which he falls in love have little to do with her real self.

The differences between the worlds of men and women are made clear by the juxtaposition of Rosamond and Lydgate. Lydgate, like most men, has a profession, plenty to do outside the home, and many professional goals; he is a very busy man, which means that marrying and starting a household come second for him. However, Rosamond, as a proper young woman, has no other interests besides marrying and living in her own home; she has the temporary diversions of music, socializing, and other light tasks, but nothing to consume her time and thought other than dreams and thoughts about marriage. The worlds of Lydgate and Rosamond contrast greatly, and there will probably be a conflict between Rosamond's eagerness and Lydgate's wish to wait for marriage.

Chapter 17:


Lydgate goes to see Farebrother at home, and observes his domestic situation. Farebrother's mother engages Lydgate in a debate about changes in religion, which Farebrother and Lydgate seem to espouse. Farebrother is a man of science, like Lydgate; they get along well, which makes Lydgate question Bulstrode's championing of Mr. Tyke even more. However, Farebrother is knowledgeable about Middlemarch politics, and knows that Lydgate must vote with Bulstrode if he wants to get ahead; Lydgate listens to this advice, but wants to vote with his conscience instead.


There are quite a few parallels in the lives and personalities of Lydgate and Farebrother. Both are men of scientific minds, with a great amount of interest in natural things and natural processes. Neither is in a great financial situation, meaning that marriage is not in the cards; and both are somewhat worldly and progressive-minded, clinging to changes that are being made in their own professions. Farebrother and Lydgate are also of the same opinion of many of the people of Middlemarch; they know that they must humor many people and speak very carefully to all those people who they really regard as idiots.

Farebrother is also able to inform Lydgate about a great deal regarding Middlemarch politics, of which Lydgate still has much to learn. Lydgate alludes to Voltaire when explaining his reservations about Bulstrode; but it does not matter what Lydgate's feelings about the man are, it all comes down to whose support he wants. Farebrother describes Bulstrode and his set more correctly; he posits the metaphor that "mankind [is] a doomed carcase which is to nourish them for heaven," and knows that Bulstrode and his ilk can be as unpleasant as they are ignorant. Farebrother shows great generosity and honesty in advising Lydgate to vote with Bulstrode; Farebrother is a truly intelligent and perceptive man, with a good understanding of the way Middlemarch politics work, and of how to keep from getting burned by them.

Chapter 18:


Lydgate is compelled to vote for Farebrother, at the expense of any help from Bulstrode; he debates this with himself, and the outcomes of either decision. Lydgate wants to secure Farebrother the much needed money, but also wants to keep in Bulstrode's good graces, and knows that Tyke might be better suited to the position. The voting meeting begins, with Lydgate still waffling; people have their various reasons for voting for Farebrother or for Lydgate, and they all vary widely. Lydgate finally decides upon Mr. Tyke.


Lydgate finally realizes the importance of money, a theme within the book that touches on many characters, especially Fred Vincy and Farebrother. Lydgate does not feel that his lack of funds is all that important, especially since he is in no hurry to marry; but, he sees that with a man like Farebrother, who makes a very slender living and has relatives to support, money is a thing of great consequence. Money has determined how Farebrother has lived and his inability to marry; money has also dictated Fred's inability to marry, and has kept him from being truly respectable. Money can limit the way a person lives, and how much respect they are accorded; money can mean happiness or unhappiness, which Lydgate finally realizes.

The influence of one's conscience becomes an issue with which Lydgate, and many of the other men voting, are preoccupied with; when trying to make a decision, should you support the man whom you know to be a better human being, or should you support the man that will get you farther? It is a battle between conscience and self-interest, another important theme, and with Lydgate, self-interest wins; this is something that every person voting had to decide upon, with various results from each of them. Conscience does not necessarily outweigh self-interest; one must debate the merits of each choice, and go with the one that seems most important and beneficial.

In choosing Tyke, Lydgate contradicts the very essence of his nature. He must resign his pride, and vote according to the wishes of a man whom he does not like; he also must override his feelings, and rationalize himself out of making the more palatable choice. Lydgate is a man who is swayed by friendship, yet he cannot let that make his decision in this case; Lydgate, ironically, forswears the instincts that are most natural to him, and somewhat regrets the decision.

Chapter 19:


Dorothea is at last in Rome on her honeymoon, and Will Ladislaw is there too, spotting her but not daring to approach. Will's friend, Naumann, is there too, is taken with her beauty and wants to paint her picture; Will is still under the influence of his negative first impression of her, and does not want to see her at the risk of finding her as unpleasant as he suspects.


At the beginning of this chapter is one of the first indications of the time period in which this book is taking place. Although Eliot wrote this book in the 1870's, the setting is at the close of the reign of George IV, and the beginning of the era of Queen Victoria. The romantic movement had not yet hit its peak, and times were more innocent of the world at large, according to Eliot. Eliot's book reflects upon the past, and the stories contained within it may illuminate the progress and the changes in attitude that have happened since. Likely, Eliot chose this time period because of the many forces which were beginning to clash; industrialism vs. the bucolic, the class system vs. new money, tradition vs. progress, superstition vs. science, all of which are issues contained within the novel.

Wisdom says that appearances are usually deceiving, but in the case of Dorothea, the way she appears to others conveys exactly what she is. Will's friend Naumann pegs her as a "Christian Antigone," the interesting allusion conveying perfectly her "sensuous force controlled by spiritual passion" (190). Will is moved by her in spite of himself, actually admitting to admiring her voice; he seems to like her though his protestations would convey other feelings.

Chapter 20:


Dorothea is in shock by the combination of lately having become a wife, being in a place so foreign to her as Rome, and being completely alone, with the absence of her husband due to his study. Dorothea appeals to her husband to let her help, so that he may get his work finished and published; in her desperation for some emotional response, she sobs, which immediately makes Casaubon even more remote. Casaubon wants her support and affection, which she is giving him, but not in the way he wishes. They have a fundamental communication block, which upsets both of them, especially since it is their honeymoon. Casaubon continues his studies, and nothing is resolved.


Dorothea is just beginning to realize how her marriage cannot live up to her expectations. Casaubon is the same as he ever was, but pays little attention to her, and she cannot talk to him for fear of upsetting him. Dorothea already finds herself lacking emotional support and a like mind, and as she continues to grow out of her naivete and learn more about her marriage, these requirements will probably become more plain to her.

Casaubon's lack of emotion or passion finally dawns on Dorothea, though she has not yet realized that the deficiencies she feels in the marriage are due to her being unsuited to her husband, rather than from any deficiency on her part. As Eliot states, "Dorothea's ideas and resolves seemed like melting ice floating and lost in the warm flood"; Eliot's simile emphasizes how lost and hopeless Dorothea feels, and how her plans and aspirations are left unfulfilled by this union (198). To Casaubon, Dorothea becomes little more than "a personification of that shallow world which surrounds the ill-appreciated or desponding author"; this view is ironic and unfortunate in light of Dorothea's extensive efforts to support, encourage, and aid her husband.

On this honeymoon, Casaubon and Dorothea's completely contrasting natures first come into conflict. Every time Casaubon tries to express himself with his cold, academic tone, Dorothea is exacerbated to some display of affection or emotion, which Casaubon is desperate to avoid. Dorothea thinks of achieving, of Casaubon writing and publishing his great work, with her help; Casaubon is not so goal-oriented, and is threatened by her insistence that he do something that he is ill-qualified to finish. Casaubon and Dorothea could not contrast more than they already do; and their inability to communicate and understand each other means that there will be more conflicts to come.

Chapter 21:


Just as Dorothea is beginning to despair again, Will Ladislaw comes to visit her. Will is surprised to find that she is nice, friendly, and far better than his dried-up old cousin could ever deserve; Will's bad first impression is proven completely wrong. They discuss art, which Dorothea can't understand; Will admits that he has not found his calling in art, and Dorothea is bewildered by his ability to be at leisure all the time. Will also realizes that Dorothea holds Casaubon in unnaturally high regard; he resents this, and wants to get her to realize how she is mistaken. Casaubon returns home, and is not pleased by his cousin's presence. Nevertheless, he invites Will back, and Dorothea senses that she has found a valuable friend.


Will finally learns that Dorothea does not fake ignorance in order to insult; he mistook her remark as having a tone of sarcasm, when in fact she meant what she said with all sincerity. Will returns to his metaphor of the "Aeolian harp" to describe her, in her wonder and beauty; still, he cannot help but be bewildered about someone of such beauty and emotion marrying such a passionless man. Just as Dorothea and Casaubon are completely different kinds of beings, Casaubon and Will contrast in almost every possible way. Where Will is impulsive and emotional, Casaubon is ordered and reserved; Will lives life, and Casaubon seems content to learn about it.

Will and Dorothea actually seem very much alike in temperament, emotional disposition, and in their honesty. That Dorothea finds him the only person she has ever met who seems "likely to understand everything" is very significant; this impression upon such a brief meeting foreshadows that Dorothea and Will shall become close, and that she will take the chance to open her heart to him and express her feelings, which will deepen the relationship.

The brief conversation with Will also brings her to an important realization, that she cannot expect emotional fulfillment or understanding from Casaubon. She begins to know that he also has an emotional void and is not the pillar of strength she thought he was; she starts to realize her husband's humanity, but also that her marriage is fundamentally unsatisfying to her.

Chapter 22:


Will impresses Dorothea with the way he is able to listen to Casaubon and make him feel at ease; Will is also able to engage Dorothea in the conversation, and draw some statements out of her that make Casaubon proud of his well-spoken wife. Will gets Casaubon to agree to bring Dorothea to the studio; once there, Naumann gets Casaubon to sit as a model for Thomas Aquinas, which allows Naumann to also paint Dorothea without Casaubon feeling slighted. Will goes to visit Dorothea later, when Casaubon is not at home; they speak, and Will tells her plainly that she will not be happy with Casaubon, and that her piety is completely unnatural.


The relationship between Will and Dorothea begins to change at a rapid pace; within a space of days, Will has become a "worshipper" of Dorothea, his "soul's sovereign" (218). The metaphor relates how intensely Will loves Dorothea, and how highly he regards her; in turn, Dorothea begins to appreciate Will, and finally learns to understand a bit of art from his passionate mind and eager explanations. How ironic that she married her husband so that he could teach her, yet the only man she has learned from is the last one she expected to meet. Dorothea is beginning to find emotional fulfillment and intellectual stimulation in places other than her marriage; if this, and her attachment to Will, continues, her marriage to Casaubon will then be without purpose.

In Will's most impressive bit of conversation with Dorothea so far, he is able to diagnose the nature of her piety, and tell her exactly how she will be affected if she continues to follow her ideas so religiously. Dorothea counters with absolute frankness about her nature and habits, saying things aloud and before company that she has scarcely been able to admit to herself previously. Dorothea has started on her journey of self-discovery, and from this point on, self-discovery will continue to be one of the most vital themes in her story.

Will's passion becomes plain when he adopts a very passionate tone, and riddles his speech with hyperbole. He is saddened by Dorothea's apparent lack of youth, overstating this sentiment by saying that she acts as if she "had a vision of Hades in [her] childhood" (220). He also states, with passion-fueled hyperbole, that she has been unfairly haunted by "Minotaurs" in some of the things she has been led to believe. Will's hyperbole and overstatement reflect his great concern for Dorothea, and the thought which he has devoted to her person.

Dorothea responds to Will's emotion with equal zest; she is relieved and energized to find someone who understands her so well, and does take the opportunity to open her mind and her heart to him. This is the first time in the novel that Dorothea speaks with real frankness, and dredges up many of the emotions that have been haunting her during these first few days of her marriage. Will is able to bring her out of her shyness and her unnatural brooding, and makes a very big impression on her as well. Will's influence and his aid in helping her understand her situation and her plight has given Dorothea fuel for her attempts to find usefulness and happiness. She already has some idea that she will find neither of these with Casaubon, and if she takes Will's advice to heart, she can stop blaming herself and start to see the error she made in her marriage and become a less naïve person.