Middlemarch Summary and Analysis of Chapters 23-33

Chapter 23:


Fred still has a debt to pay, and the money he got from Featherstone will not cover the balance; even worse, his dear Mary's brother, Caleb, co-signed on Fred's debt and will be held responsible if he defaults. Fred decides to make money to pay his debt by speculating on horses; unfortunately, he buys a horse that lames itself in a stable accident, and has even less money with which to pay his debt. Fred is a fool to risk all that he has on such an uncertain plan; but the boy is slow to learn, and cannot help himself.


The Vincy household certainly did their children no favors in giving them no idea of the value of money; Rosamond has expensive tastes that mean she requires a wealthy husband, and Fred has already gotten himself into trouble because he expects others to pay off his own debts. Those who have little money, like Farebrother and Lydgate, are more responsible and essentially less materialistic; money is a necessary evil, but for those who have no income and rely on other people to provide for their foolishness, it is a great liability as well.

There is a sobering irony at work in Fred's life, almost like fate is trying to get him to be responsible. Of course, as we find out at the beginning of the next chapter, Fred has indeed lost his investment; but what is most unfair is that Caleb Garth will have to cover for this foolish boy if he cannot take care of himself. The horse that Fred buys is a symbol of his foolishness, and his inability to hold onto his money, and the affair proves again that Fred is irresponsible and needs to assume financial responsibility for himself.

Chapter 24:


Fred finally feels very sorry about his debt, and the fact that he has only fifty pounds and five days to pay up. Fred is most sorry because Mary's father is going to have to pay, and he feels this will jeopardize his chances with Mary. Fred goes to the Garth household to tell Caleb Garth, whose wife is very fond of Fred, but probably will not be after he tells her. Mrs. Garth is teaching her children their lessons in the kitchen, and Fred sits down and tells her and Mr. Garth the news. Mrs. Garth will have to give up the money she was saving to send her son to school; Fred feels terrible, as he should, knowing that his irresponsibility is costing them so much. Mr. Garth knows then that he was a fool to trust Fred, and they believe that there is little chance Mary will regard him so highly when she finds out.


The theme of the importance of money resurfaces again, as the Garths find themselves hard-pressed to pay for their trust in Fred. Although the Garths work very hard, they have little money because Mr. Garth does not like to charge much, if anything, for his work. However, in this case, money does not mean happiness; the Garths are very happy, certainly much happier than people like Dorothea and Casaubon who have plenty of money.

How ironic that responsible, hard-working people are forced to pay the debt of another person. In comparison with the Garths, Fred appears even more irresponsible, flighty, and lazy; in order to win Mary's affection, he will certainly have to work very, very hard. It is a good thing for Fred that he is very sorry for what he has done; perhaps it will teach him some lessons in responsibility, and he will be able to win back Mary's regard by working hard and repaying his debt to her family.

Chapter 25:


Fred goes to Stone Court to tell Mary the news; he is not as repentant as he should be, and wants comforting words from Mary about his irresponsibility. He still doesn't see the entire magnitude of what he did; he tries to rationalize things with his good intentions, and by claiming that he is not so bad, compared to what other people do. Mary is upset, and says that she cannot trust him, and that he should be more sorry for what he did. Caleb comes later, to ask for whatever she has saved up; Mary gives it gladly. Caleb Garth is worried that his daughter has some feelings for


Mr. Garth makes a good point about marital relations: "a womanŠ has to put up with the life her husband makes for her" (257). The statement is a very accurate piece of social commentary, and certainly demonstrated as a valid theme within the book so far. Dorothea has been suffering because the life her husband has made for her is very lonely and gives her little of value to do. If Mary does decide to marry Fred, she will have to bear the brunt of his irresponsibility and spendthrift qualities; since women are economically and socially dependent upon men, and divorce is out of the question, women are forced to put up with the personalities of their husbands and the living that they choose to make. A woman's decision to marry was something she could not afford to think lightly of, as her future would be almost entirely determined by the match she made.

Another good bit of advice, which Dorothea would have benefited from hearing, is Caleb Garth's observations on how a relationship changes from courting to marriage. When couples first dream of marriage, "they may think it all holidayŠbut it soon turns into working day" (257). This truth is one that plagues Dorothea and Casaubon's marriage, as their idealistic views of their union have failed to prepare them for the realities of marriage. Caleb Garth may be too trusting of his fellow man, but he is a great source of wisdom and sense in the book.

Chapter 26:


Fred is foolish enough to go back in search of his old horse, and ends up with an even worse one. He soon becomes ill, and after their regular doctor tries to help and fails, Lydgate is brought in and says he has scarlet fever. Mr. and Mrs. Vincy get angry at their regular doctor, Mr. Wrench, for failing to catch such a serious illness; Mr. Wrench is in turn angry at Lydgate for interfering, and very uncivil to the new doctor. Rumors spread about the confrontation between Mr. Wrench and the Vincys, and between Mr. Wrench and Lydgate. Various opinions and stories surface about the alleged scuffles, leaving everyone worse off as subjects of untrue gossip.


Mrs. Vincy proves to be as overprotective a mother as previously shown; upon Fred's diagnosis by Lydgate, she becomes like "Niobe," overly full of tears and sorrow. The allusion shows how much Mrs. Vincy dotes on her oldest son, which cannot be healthy, regarding his irresponsible and selfish nature. Although Fred's faults are his own, he cannot help that these traits were bred into him through his upbringing; he has the difficult task of leaving his parents' protection and becoming independent, a struggle which is as much his own fault as it is his parents'.

The medical profession in Middlemarch seems to be more political than politics, even; people take Mr. Wrench's side because Bulstrode swears by him, or like Lydgate because the Vincys and others do, and Fred's condition is manipulated and exaggerated by hearsay fueled by what people think of the parties involved. It seems that the livelihood of Middlemarch doctors is made or broken by what people say and think about them; and the greatest irony is that they are not judged by their skill, but by whether people say good things about them. The Wrench/ Lydgate situation parallels the machinations of the Tyke/ Farebrother debate; people align themselves with either party due to who they feel they must align themselves with, who they might have a personal grudge against, and based on what embellished news they have heard about either of them. The real issue, of who is a better doctor, seems to have no place in this debate; again, Middlemarch comes off as looking like the most backward of backward towns, more concerned with squabbles among townsfolk than obtaining good health care and better doctors.

Chapter 27:


Mrs. Vincy becomes completely consumed by Fred and his illness, to an unhealthy extent; Lydgate is around the house frequently, and sees a good bit of Rosamond as well. Lydgate's attentions to Rosamond are causing some resentment in the neighborhood, as rivals for her affection become jealous of him; Rosamond continues to believe that Lydgate is in love with her and intends marriage, while Lydgate merely enjoys her pleasant company. At the end of the chapter, Lydgate receives a summons from Sir James Chettam, who he has not attended to before.


Eliot's extended metaphor of Rosamond's luck to scratches in a pier-glass is an apt one; Rosamond does believe herself to be lucky and served by fate, and events do seem to happen by chance that further her designs. It is another good thing that Rosamond recognizes a good chance when she happens upon it, and so takes advantage of the opportunity to become closer to Lydgate. Rosamond, for all her flaws, is a very canny girl, and able to use situations to her benefit.

The vanity of Middlemarch men becomes apparent, as they all begin to resent Lydgate for gaining Rosamond's attentions. They prefer to blame Lydgate, though it is Rosamond who is responsible, and they are loathe to admit that maybe she just isn't interested in them. Skins are rather thin in Middlemarch, and it seems that people try hard to blame other people, rather than to realize a truth that might hurt them.

Unfortunately for Lydgate, not only is he making enemies, but he is failing in his attempts to get close to Rosamond, yet keep marriage at a distance. Eliot compares the plight of Lydgate's plan to a "jellyfish which gets melted without knowing it"; the metaphor reinforces the danger that Lydgate is in, of being pushed into a relationship which he is in no way ready for.

Chapter 28:


Dorothea arrives at Lowick with her husband in January, after their honeymoon. Dorothea, who had been so dejected during their honeymoon, feels revived by being home, in familiar surroundings. However, she is still haunted by the knowledge that her vision of marriage is yet unfulfilled, and the depressing atmosphere of Lowick. Her sister Celia finally arrives, brightening up the place with her presence; Celia tells Dorothea of her engagement to Sir James, and Dorothea is very happy for her sister.


The many images of liveliness in Dorothea's appearance convey her change of heart, how she feels renewed and hopeful at her future again; the irony of these feelings is how false they are, and how they do nothing to prepare her for what she will have to endure. Perhaps Dorothea is trying to falsely reassure herself that everything will be alright, now that she is in Middlemarch again; but the same problems that dogged her in Rome have not gone away so easily, and she will find her married life very difficult. The "ghostly stag" that appears in her room is a symbol of Dorothea's married life; both are trapped, flattened into decoration, and live in the same "chill, colorless, narrowed landscape" (274).

"Each remembered thing in the room was disenchanted, was deadened as an unlit transparency," to Dorothea; Eliot's metaphor conveys Dorothea's despair, and the lack of color in her life. In her new situation, Dorothea feels that there must be parallels between her and Julia, Will Ladislaw's grandmother, who was doomed by a bad marriage. She finally sees that her match was also badly made, and that the same consequences and unhappiness might be in store for her.

Chapter 29:


Mr. Casaubon's beliefs about marriage are reiterated; he wanted to marry someone young and impressionable, so that she would be pleasant and able to help him with his work and be taught by him. He also believed that marriage would make him happy for the first time; but marriage could never instantly change his disposition, and his hopes for his union were too high, as were Dorothea's. Casaubon and Dorothea have a bit of a tiff, as Casaubon tells her that he does not want Ladislaw to visit, and Dorothea resents the condescending and mean-natured tone he takes with her. Casaubon is weakened, and Dorothea strengthened by this altercation; it seems like this relationship is going to make her stronger, though it will definitely not work out.


Here, Eliot foreshadows the outcome of Casaubon and Dorothea's relationship; though, with every clash Casaubon feels weaker and more vulnerable, Dorothea only learns how to defend herself and becomes more confident. The tables have just turned, and it is unlikely that their relationship will be able to last any significant amount of time. Casaubon's dearest fantasy, about marriage bringing him perfect contentment and filling the gaps in his life, is falling apart, and he is faltering along with it.

Sir James' misgivings about Dorothea's union prove true; the question is, will the problems in her union resolve themselves, or will she just be trapped? Dorothea does not deserve to pay such a penance for anything she is done; it comes down to whether fate is kind to her or not as to what happens, and how her story ends.

Chapter 30:


Lydgate comes to check on Casaubon, and cannot find anything immediately wrong; he asks that Casaubon give up his studies for the time being, and focus on leisurely pursuits. Dorothea is informed as to the details of whatever ails Casaubon; Lydgate says that he must be kept from any stresses, or else his condition might be aggravated, and his life cut short. Dorothea is sad, but not sure exactly what to think; Ladislaw is supposed to be arriving there in a few days, and she asks Mr. Brooke to write Ladislaw a letter saying that Casaubon is ill, and not to visit. Mr. Brooke does write a letter, but the contents are nothing like Dorothea intends; Mr. Brooke invites Ladislaw, and also proposes that he might work for Mr. Brooke's newspaper, since Mr. Brooke has been favorably impressed with what he has heard.


It is ironic that the very thing which Dorothea wants Ladislaw to know is the opposite of what is communicated to him; Dorothea would, because of Casaubon's condition, have Ladislaw anywhere but near them, yet providence seems to have arranged that Ladislaw is going to live and work in Middlemarch with Mr. Brooke. It seems that Casaubon's wishes are being thwarted once again, and he is destined for aggravation; this situation will do nothing to extend his life-span, and seems to be arranged in order to cause Casaubon more illness.

The tone of Lydgate's message, and the content of what he says, is a definite foreshadowing of Casaubon's coming illness. Lydgate does say that Casaubon could live for some time if he is not aggravated; but, with all the unpleasant surprises in store for him, compounded with Lydgate's harsh warning about what could happen, mean that Casaubon is in for trouble.

Chapter 31:


Lydgate and Rosamond become closer, as Lydgate is about to be sucked into a relationship which he is unprepared for because of the nature of Middlemarch society. Mrs. Bulstrode and Mrs. Plymdale gossip about Rosamond's pride, and how Lydgate might suit her; Mrs. Plymdale thinks that the match would be unwise for Lydgate, since Rosamond has expensive habits, and Mrs. Bulstrode goes to speak to Rosamond out of concern. When Mrs. Bulstrode sees Rosamond and her fine garments, she knows that Mrs. Plymdale was at least right about that one point. Mrs. Bulstrode speaks to her, telling her that if she marries Lydgate, she will not be able to keep her expensive habits; Rosamond admits that he has made no offer of marriage to her, and seems intent on ignoring her aunt's good advice. Then, Mrs. Bulstrode approaches Lydgate, and tells him that he should not press his advantages as a romantic-seeming outsider with the Middlemarch girls; Lydgate sees that others believe him to be engaged to Rosamond, and wants to avoid marriage at all costs.

However, Lydgate ends up going by the house after an absence of two weeks, to deliver bad news about Mr. Featherstone's health; Rosamond cries when she sees him again, and this display of affection touches him enough to abandon his plans and reasonable thinking, and propose to her. Rosamond accepts, and they are engaged.


Rosamond's first priority in all things seems to be "playing the part prettily," as she is in Mrs. Bulstrode's frank discussion with her. Rosamond refuses to take good, practical advice, even when it is offered to her in a sincere way; she is stubborn and wants to hold onto this stubbornness, and proves vain about more than just her looks. Vanity is a key issue that Rosamond needs to overcome; not only does she pride herself on looking and acting beautifully, she likes to think that her ideas and manner of living are above reproach, and her character needs no correction.

Lydgate's pride is his failing, and his own issue to get over; he blames Mrs. Bulstrode's diction for his stung feelings when she speaks to him about Rosamond, rather than his own character issues. However, Lydgate, unlike Rosamond, is not too vain to think that his character and his perception are beyond reproach; he takes Mrs. Bulstrode's talking to him to mean that Rosamond is set on him, and others expect them to marry, and decides to serve his original intention of remaining single. Lydgate had not previously realized the power of other people's expectations, another theme in the novel. He wants to disprove that his situation is metaphorically akin to being tempted by a siren, as Farebrother states that Lydgate's situation might be; the allusion particularly upsets Lydgate, as he realizes that the sirens, whom Farebrother alludes to, might stand for the expectations and ideas of those around him.

Rosamond seems to be more in love with the way Lydgate compliments her and flatters her vanity, more than Lydgate as a person. She is a rather mild version of Ariadne, Eliot says, with the allusion emphasizing Rosamond's relatively shallow feelings and the sometime ridiculousness of her expectations. Lydgate proposes to her out of his great weakness, pride; he is somewhat proud of the fact that Rosamond is unhappy without him, for the brief period of time that he avoids her home. He sees that Rosamond looks up to him and has some feelings for him, and this cements their engagement. Since Rosamond and Lydgate's relationship is based on their mutual need to feed their flawed natures, it is doomed to fail; there are greater considerations for marriage than the fulfillment of pride and vanity, and intellectually and ideologically, they are ill-suited.

Chapter 32:


Mr. Featherstone's relatives begin to pop out and appear, and all expect that he will die soon, and will leave them some bit of money, since he is their rich relation. They all expect that he should do something for them, that he owes them money because they are relatives; they do not consider that they have done nothing for him, but are like vultures circling, waiting to pick up his money once he dies.

Mr. Featherstone wants to see none of the greedy, crowding relatives; Mary Garth has to try and turn them away, but doesn't have the heart for the task. Mrs. Vincy hovers around, sure that Fred will receive most of the property and money anyway, as Featherstone regards and treats them so much better than his other relatives. Trumbull, an auctioneer and assistant to Featherstone in business matters, is the other person who Featherstone shows any regard for; on the basis of behavior alone, it would seem that these people would receive most from Featherstone's will. Mary Garth must put up with the various visitors and their varying degrees of rudeness, but manages to stay calm and make the constant crush of daytime visitors as comfortable as she can.


The theme of family and family obligations comes to the fore once again as Mr. Featherstone is dying; Featherstone, being the mean-hearted, always distempered person that he is, feels no kinship or kindness for family members, while others only pretend affection for him thinking that he will leave them money. People's conceptions of blood ties and what they entail vary widely; Mr. Featherstone disregards them entirely, some relatives believe it entitles them to gifts in Featherstone's will.

Fred and the Vincys believe that the fact that they are closely related to Featherstone means that they will gain the bulk of the money in the will, and regard Mr. Featherstone as a benefactor. There is a great deal of hypocrisy in people's conceptions of family, especially with the herds of distant relatives who believe that they are owed money simply because of being related, and not because they have done anything nice or been well-acquainted with Mr. Featherstone. It is a good thing that Featherstone sees through these attempts to flatter themselves into money, but a shame that he regards nearly everyone with great suspicion and meanness.

It is interesting how impressions of Mary Garth vary according to the personality of the person appraising her. Mrs. Waule, a naturally suspicious person, regards Mary as tricky because of her potential influence on Mr. Featherstone, and because she appears shy and intelligent; this view is ironic, since Mary is both of those things, but that Mrs. Waule loads these traits with such negative baggage. Mr. Trumbull compliments her and is very polite to her, because he is a person who regards his own social graces highly; others regard her kindly merely because they are looking for some way to get into Featherstone's will, and think that she is trustworthy enough to help them with that.

Mr. Trumbull makes a point worth noting at the end of the chapter, about marriage; "a manŠshould think of his wife as a nurse," he says, and "some men must marry to elevate themselves a little" (313). The first point is most applicable to Casaubon, who believes that Dorothea is responsible for curing all his ails, mental more so than physical; but it does no good to regard your wife as a nurse when you refuse to tell her what you need fixed, especially when it is something that only a person can fix for themselves. It seems that Lydgate is about to marry to elevate himself, in terms of style, breeding, and refinement; but it is still to be seen whether this will work. Mr. Trumbull's remarks aren't directed at any situation in particular, but his words put an interesting frame on a few of the relationships in the novel.

Chapter 33:


Mary Garth is sitting with Mr. Featherstone at night, as she usually does, reflecting on the events of the day, and sitting in silence, for the most part. She figures that the issue of Featherstone's will shall disappoint everyone involved. Mr. Featherstone suddenly tells her to open the chest with his will in it, and burn one of them; Mary refuses, even when she is offered a sizable amount of money to do so. Mary is scared of his sudden energy, and does not think that he is in his right mind; Mr. Featherstone drifts off to sleep, and by the morning he is dead.


Mary is quite a paradox; she is sweet, modest, and uncomplicated, yet she has a great deal of wisdom about human nature, and a keen sense of humor, neither of which can be guessed from her day-to-day dealings. She seems very plain, but inside she is anything but; few people in the book suspect that this difference between what Mary is in her common interactions, and what she is to herself, which makes their judgments of her particularly laden with irony. Mary also has a great deal of foresight, which few people have seen in action; she knows that everyone will be disappointed by Featherstone's will, though there is more to be decided on this issue still.

By the end of the chapter, whether Mary has done or not done the right thing is a pressing question. Mr. Featherstone's frantic tone must have put her off; he is acting "like an aged hyena," the simile denoting his nervous energy, and his uncharacteristic behavior. Mary did manage to avoid the temptation of money, which is the weakness of many in the book, especially Fred; and, she also did nothing that could have haunted her later, or made suspicion fall on her, which was also a good decision. But what the repercussions of Mary's upright behavior will be, is soon to be seen.