(The #Marchalong continues! Many thanks to Juhi from Nooks and Crannies for hosting the Middlemarch readalong and giving me an excuse to reread this marvelous book!)
Friends, we are now two-thirds finished with Middlemarch. Only two more sections to go! I have loved the slow pace of this readalong, as it has allowed me the freedom to read other things while still rereading this amazing novel. Reading it slowly has also allowed me to connect with these characters in a way that I feel like I will never forget them. My husband, who has never read it, marvels that I am “still reading that book,” but I view it as a treat and a privilege to be able to linger in these pages a while, and really enjoy the luxurious feeling of a close, slow read.
Book Six is not as exciting a section as Book Five, but there are several significant developments. The train line is coming through Middlemarch, which some folks are vehemently opposed to, and people are revealing all sorts of secrets right and left. Mrs. Garth tells Fred Vincy that Farebrother harbors feelings for Mary. Lydgate admits to Rosamund the depths of their financial troubles. Rosamund reveals to Will Ladislaw that Causabon has included the codicil in his will forbidding Dorothea from marrying him. And Bulstrode tells Will that he kept his mother and grandmother apart and stole the money that should rightfully be his. And perhaps most significant of all, Dorothea finally understands that Ladislaw is in love with her.
What struck me about Book 6 was the awakening of Dorothea. After her husband’s death and three months spent with her sister Celia at Freshitt, she is ready to go back home and get to work. She seems to have regained her energy and desire to do good that she had at the outset of the novel. Of course, part of her desire to get back to Lowick involves her desire to see Ladislaw again – she is self-aware enough to admit this to herself. Everybody seems to have so many FEELINGS about what Dorothea should do now. Celia wants to her to stay and watch her baby Arthur being bathed every day, as if it’s the most fascinating prospect in the world. Mrs. Cadwallader wants her to get married again, but Lady Chettam is aghast at the notion. James Chettam wants her to remain a widow. But Dorothea simply goes home and starts working with Caleb Garth to “improve the land and build a great many good cottages.”
Another notable plot point is that Fred Vincy seems to finally be getting on track, both with his career and with his beloved Mary Garth. Caleb generously takes him under his wing and makes him an apprentice of sorts, even going so far as to hilariously berate his atrocious handwriting. (“The Lord have mercy on us, Fred, I can’t put up with this!”) He also takes Fred’s part up with Mrs. Garth, who is not convinced that Fred will make a good match for her daughter. Caleb identifies with Fred, in that he, too, was seen as not a good prospect for Mrs. Garth when they were married. Caleb is so sweet and honorable! He is truly a good-hearted, trusting man. Even though Fred and Mary talk, nothing is definitely settled by the end of Book 6, but this reader feels that things will work out for them in the end.
Rosamund and Lydgate… oh my. We learn that Rosamund has lost the baby after being thrown from her horse on a ride that Lydgate didn’t want her to take in the first place with his “vapid fop” of a cousin, Captain Lydgate. Both Rosamund and Lydgate are disillusioned with one another, finally seeing each other for who they are, and not exactly liking what they see. Lydgate finally tells Rosamund how badly they are in debt, and Rosamund immediately gets her jewelry box and hands it to Lydgate, telling him to take whatever he wants. She acts cold and distant, and says she’s going to her parents’ house for the day. Lydgate asks her to reconsider, and reminds her that it would be better for her to be there when the man comes to collect some items, so that the servants are as unaware of their situation as possible. She relents, and they end up embracing, but it is not a wholeheartedly convincing reconciliation.
Mr. Bulstrode, meanwhile, is still haunted by the specter of his blackmailer, Raffles. He tells Will Ladislaw his secret, that he knew the whereabouts of Will and his mother, and kept that knowledge secret from Will’s grandmother. He also offers Will money, the money that is rightfully Will’s inheritance. But it seems Bulstrode has also added to his fortune with questionable businesses, and Raffles has told Will as much. I love how Will refuses the money, saying, “My unblemished honour is important to me. It is important to me to have no stain on my birth and connections. And now I find there is a stain which I can’t help. My mother felt it, and tried to keep as clear of it as she could, and so will I. You shall keep your ill-gotten money.”
Will finally leaves Middlemarch in the last chapter, after talking about leaving basically the entirety of Book 6. In the meantime Dorothea has heard some juicy gossip that Will is flirting (or worse) with Rosamund, since he’s always hanging around and playing piano with her. Dorothea refuses to believe it, but she’s stung all the same, crying on the way home from Freshitt. When they meet soon thereafter they are terribly awkward with one another. Will wants to reassure Dorothea that he’s not after her money, and Dorothea wants to make him believe that she has never thought ill of him. It’s all very pained and vague, and Dorothea at one point questions whether Will really does have feelings for Rosamund. But in the end, she believes that he only has feelings for her, and it makes her happy even though Will is leaving, seemingly never to return.
Everything is up in the air at the end of Book 6. Eliot has two more sections, about 200 pages, with which to tie up all the loose ends. I am still very much invested in the lives of these characters, and can’t wait to see what happens next. I am sad for Rosamund and Lydgate – they went into the marriage with such high hopes but are realizing just how unsuited they are for one another. Will they find happiness? Will Bulstrode be exposed? Will Fred succeed at business and finally propose to Mary? What will Dorothea do now that Will has left town? Stay tuned!