(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!)
It’s the Fourth of July as I write this, and what’s more American than musing on a massive classic British novel? Yes, I celebrated our nation’s independence earlier today by eating too much potato salad and lemon blueberry icebox cake and hanging out with family, but now it’s time to talk about Book Seven, the next-to-last section of Middlemarch. It might as well have been titled Poor Lydgate! I do feel sorry for Tertius, even if he has gotten himself into this fine mess by marrying someone he can’t trust, spending way above his means, and aligning himself with the town pariah, Mr. Bulstrode.
What I connected with the most from this section was the marital strife between Lydgate and Rosamund. He is consumed by his debt, and determines that nothing short of one thousand pounds will alleviate the pressure. Only how to acquire it? He is a proud man, desiring to sell his house and furniture to Ned Plymdale rather than borrow money from family. Rosamund, however, has other ideas. She goes behind Lydgate’s back and cancels the plans to sell the house, essentially taking it off the market. She then takes the liberty of writing to Lydgate’s wealthy uncle Sir Godwin, asking him for money and neglecting to make it clear that Lydgate didn’t know anything about her letter. OH BOY. Trouble! We readers watch as Lydgate struggles with the revelation of Rosamund’s first deception, as yet unaware of her second. At the end of Chapter 64 he reluctantly determines to go visit his uncle Godwin, as only an in person visit and not a letter will do. Oh, the dramatic irony!
When Godwin’s humiliating response arrives the next day in the mail, Tertius is understandably apoplectic. “…it has been of no use for me to think of anything. You have always been counteracting me secretly. You delude me with a false assent, and then I am at the mercy of your devices. If you mean to resist every wish I express, say so and defy me. I shall at least know what I am doing then.” Rosamund’s response is basically, You’re the one who married me and led me to believe that I would be taken care of in the manner to which I have become accustomed! She pretty much refuses to admit that what she did was wrong. He is flummoxed by her stubborn tenacity in acting like the wronged party. It’s like he’s dealing with a child, and indeed Rosamund strikes me as very childlike. But they both went into this marriage with little knowledge of the other person, and much in the way of dreamy fantasies of what married life was supposed to be like. Eliot writes their arguments with such emotional depth and nuance; I am in awe of her skill.
So Lydgate and Rosamund’s marriage and finances are hanging in the balance. Meanwhile, the devious Mr. Raffles comes back to town, only this time he is gravely ill. Somehow Bulstrode gets him to convalesce at his place, with Lydgate giving medical advice. Bulstrode knowingly does not precisely inform his housekeeper to follow Lydgate’s strict instructions, and as a result, Raffles dies. Just before, however, Bulstrode happens to write Lydgate a check for the thousand pounds that he so desperately needs. Lydgate had his suspicions about the case, but he didn’t follow up on his intuition. However, when the rest of the town, who had been hearing all about Bulstrode’s previous misdeeds, hears of Raffles’ death and Lydgate’s sudden windfall, they assume the worst of both men.
The lovely and good-natured Dorothea is absent from this book, until the very end, when she returns from travels in Yorkshire. When informed of the momentous happenings with Lydgate and Bulstrode, she emphatically defends Lydgate. “You don’t believe that Mr. Lydgate is guilty of anything base? I will not believe it. Let us find out the truth and clear him!” It leaves me with a note of hope that there may be some small sense of professional and personal redemption for Lydgate after all, even if his marriage to Rosamund is damaged beyond repair.
One more section to go! So much to be resolved! I have been thinking about tackling another hefty classic novel after I finish Middlemarch – taking it slowly, dividing it up by sections and writing about it. I am still pondering, but if you have a suggestion for a good, meaty classic novel I would love to hear it.