Middlemarch

Middlemarch

by

George Eliot

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Middlemarch: Book 2, Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Gossip abounds over whether Mr. Tyke will be appointed chaplain of the hospital. Bulstrode is disliked and distrusted, but many people in Middlemarch think compromising with him is a necessary evil. This is not only because Bulstrode is wealthy and powerful, but also because he is a self-appointed administer of justice when it comes to petty disputes among the townspeople. He believes that whatever power he gains within Middlemarch is ultimately a way of serving God.
Bulstrode’s role in the Middlemarch community suggests it is sometimes possible to wield authority simply by conferring it onto yourself. At the same time, many people in Middlemarch are suspicious of “self-made” men and believe that authority should emerge from social class. Bulstrode’s power may therefore not last forever.
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Lydgate is having dinner at the Vincys’ when the chaplaincy is brought up in discussion. Despite his familial connection to Bulstrode, Mr. Vincy is open about the fact that he does not want Mr. Tyke to be appointed chaplain. Vincy much prefers Mr. Farebrother and would happily see him receive the chaplain’s salary at the hospital. Still, Vincy admits that he is relieved not to be on the hospital’s board of directors, meaning that he does not have to publicly take a position on the matter.
There is an extent to which the conflicts and alliances within Middlemarch are a kind of microcosm of parliamentary politics. While the political issues affecting Middlemarch do not always correlate directly to the ones facing the nation, the careful diplomacy required of ordinary Middlemarchers is something we would usually associate with politicians.
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Vincy asks Lydgate about his opinion, and Lydgate replies that he doesn’t know much about the two candidates, but adds that he thinks appointments like this are usually overly dictated by interpersonal preference. He points out that the best candidate for the job is not necessarily the person who is best liked. The popular and esteemed Dr. Sprague, who is also at the table, feels uncomfortable. A debate ensues over whether knowledge is truly the most important factor in appointing someone to a position. In Middlemarch, “it [is] dangerous to insist on knowledge as a qualification for any salaried office.”
Lydgate’s idea that popularity should not be a major factor in qualifying someone to serve in a professional capacity is clearly controversial in Middlemarch. Yet where there are some roles where popularity may be important (such as political positions, or indeed chaplaincies), it is presumably much more important to have medical skill than to be popular when it comes to being a doctor.
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Later, Lydgate manages to have a private conversation with Rosamond. They discuss music, and Lydgate says he hopes he will get to hear Rosamond play. Rosamond says Mr. Vincy will surely make her sing, but she is nervous to do so in front of Lydgate. She admits that she feels like “a raw country girl.” Fred begins to play the piano, and Rosamond goes to stop him. Finally Rosamond herself begins to play, and Lydgate is captivated. It is the nicest party he has been to in Middlemarch.
Rosamond clearly delights in feeling that Lydgate is superior to her, but this is because she has hopes of marrying him and, in doing so, rising to his rank. In this sense, her actions echo those of Dorothea, who hopes she will be able to achieve her intellectual and religious ambitions through marrying Casaubon.
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Mr. Farebrother arrives, and his presence brings further warmth to the atmosphere of the party. After she has finished performing, Rosamond tells Lydgate she expects that he won’t like Middlemarch, as it is very “stupid.” Lydgate says he’s found that everyone thinks their town is more stupid than others. He adds that he’s found something in Middlemarch that pleases him—meaning Rosamond—and asks her to dance with him one day. Walking home, he thinks about how much he likes Rosamond, although he is sure he will never feel the same all-consuming love for her as he did for Laure.
By putting down Middlemarch, Rosamond clearly hopes to elevate herself as better than (or indeed the best of) other Middlemarch women. However, this might turn out to be a form of hubris (fatal pride). While Middlemarch may have its problems, completely dissociating oneself from the place one comes from is a fantasy that is often doomed to fail. 
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Moreover, Lydgate does not plan to get married for another five years. At home, he reads about fever until the early hours of the morning. He is fascinated by the “minute processes” of nature. He puts his book down with an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction and excitement. He feels enormously grateful that he discovered his passion for medicine when he was young. He thinks about the evening. The narrator comments that both Lydgate and Rosamond live in worlds of their own, “of which the other knew nothing.”
The narrator’s comments about Lydgate and Rosamond’s respective worlds suggest that they are both prone to fantasy as a result of their ambition. However, this will not necessarily unite them, as their fantasies are of very different natures. Furthermore, indulging too much in fantasy can become dangerous, as confronting reality will come as an inevitable disappointment.
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Rosamond does not spend much time considering what is going on in Lydgate’s mind. She is happy that he is intelligent, ambitious, and handsome, but the thing she really cares about is his “good birth.” Because pretty much every man who has encountered Rosamond has fallen in love with her, she is confident that Lydgate will be no exception. She sets her mind to being the “perfect lady,” sketching drawings, practicing music, reading “the best novels,” and memorizing poems. All the older men who visit the Vincys conclude that Rosamond is indeed “the best girl in the world.” Only Mrs. Plymdale believes that Rosamond is overeducated, as she will have no use for all her interests and talents once married.
Mrs. Plymdale’s belief that there is no use for Rosamond’s education is cynical and rather depressing, but the book shows that there is an important truth in it. Women are trained to be “perfect” in order to marry the best man on the market. However, once a marriage actually takes place women don’t have much use for the skills and pursuits they have acquired. In this sense, marriage is a kind of dead end for women, an idea that is explored throughout the novel.
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