Middlemarch

Middlemarch

by

George Eliot

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Middlemarch: Book 2, Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As the vote about the chaplaincy approaches, Lydgate remains undecided. He doesn’t really care either way, and thus should logically vote for Tyke to please Bulstrode. However, he has developed an affection for Farebrother, who he now believes is an upstanding person. Farebrother is such a beloved preacher that people come to hear him speak from outside his parish; in person, he is “sweet-tempered, ready-witted, [and] frank.” On the other hand, Lydgate also knows that he plays billiards at the Green Dragon for real money, which is concerning. Lydgate has never been able to understand the motivation behind gambling.   
With the exception of a few characters (namely Bulstrode, Casaubon, and Dorothea) members of the Middlemarch community are not very pious. They often have quite lax moral principles, and the global community is also clearly influenced by the rise of secularism, as shown by the prominent role of science in the novel. Farebrother is very much a clergyman who acts in accordance with this increasingly secular community.  
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Lydgate is torn. He feels he should probably just vote for Farebrother; at the same time, the only bad thing he has ever heard about Tyke is that people “could not bear him.” He goes to the board meeting hoping that he will hear something during the discussion that will help him decide for sure. When he arrives at the meeting, Dr. Sprague and some of the other doctors are already there. Sprague supports Farebrother. He is suspected of being an atheist, but people don’t mind this; in fact, it likely increases their faith in his medical abilities. A very pious doctor would likely be distrusted in Middlemarch.
The detail that people cannot bear Tyke but that this is the only thing said against him suggests that the widespread dislike of him is baseless. Unfortunately, this does not really help Lydgate resolve the dilemma he faces. Meanwhile, the acceptance of Dr. Sprague’s atheism again highlights the secularism of the Middlemarch community.
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Dr. Minchin’s religious beliefs are helpfully vague. His reputation as a doctor is around the same as Dr. Sprague’s; both are “Middlemarch institutions.” Neither particularly likes Bulstrode, although Mrs. Bulstrode is fond of Dr. Minchin as the only person who truly understands her health. The medical practitioners Mr. Wrench and Mr. Toller are also at the meeting. The discussion begins, and there is a debate over whether the real issue at hand is the souls of sick people or the question of who should get the chaplain’s salary.
Here we get more of a sense of why Middlemarch is opposed to reform. Dr. Sprague and Dr. Minchin are treasured as “institutions” within the community, meaning that simply the fact that they have been around a long time qualifies them to be respected.
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A lawyer named Mr. Hawley argues that Farebrother has been performing the role of hospital chaplain for free, and thus if it is to become a salaried position Farebrother should obviously get it. Someone else suggests that Farebrother isn’t spiritual enough, while another person argues that too much dramatic preaching and praying is bad for sick people. Mr. Brooke is also present, along with the Rev. Edward Thesiger. Brooke says he is happy with whatever is best for Middlemarch, and thinks a salaried chaplaincy is a good idea. He says he has heard positive things about Mr. Tyke and thus plans to vote for him. 
As we have seen thus far, Mr. Brooke is far from the most intelligent person in Middlemarch and is prone to changing his opinion. However, his age, rank, and wealth mean that he occupies a position of some authority, and he never lets his ignorance prevent him from joining in on discussions.
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Others claim that Mr. Brooke must have received biased assessments of the two candidates. The men debate whether there should be a discussion at all or whether they should simply vote; in the end they choose the latter option, and everyone places the name of the man they’re voting for into a glass. The group is evenly split; Bulstrode notices that Lydgate has not yet voted, and thus must make the deciding vote. Mr. Wrench declares that everyone knows Lydgate will vote with Bulstrode. Fulfilling this expectation, Lydgate votes for Tyke.
The dramatic conclusion of this scene serves as a reminder that it may well prove impossible for Lydgate to take a neutral position and remain uninvolved with the petty politics of Middlemarch society.
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