Middlemarch

Middlemarch

by

George Eliot

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Middlemarch: Book 3, Chapter 33 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mary often likes to sit in Mr. Featherstone’s room after midnight, keeping watch over him and immersing herself in her own private thoughts. At 3 am, she hears Featherstone call her name. He opens a tin box that contains several keys, and asks how many of his relatives are currently in the house. Featherstone calls them “fools,” and then tells Mary that he has made two wills and intends to burn one of them. He asks Mary to use the key to unlock his iron chest and get one of the wills. She refuses, saying that if she gets involved people will be suspicious of her.
Mary’s wisdom, honesty, and pragmatism here save her from a potentially disastrous turn of events. Even when faced with the demand of a man who has authority over her, Mary trusts her own instincts. This is part of what makes her such an admirable and unusual character.
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When Mary continues to refuse to help, Featherstone begins to cry. He then asks her to call Fred instead and, panicked, she says she’ll only do that if she can get the other relatives as well. Featherstone tries to give Mary almost £200 in banknotes, stressing that she will certainly never receive such an amount again. She refuses and offers him cordial, saying they can speak about it in the morning. Featherstone attempts to throw his walking stick at her and misses. Mary goes back to her seat by the fire, hoping Featherstone will fall asleep again. Some time passes, and Mary notices that he has died, still holding the keys in one hand and the money in the other.
Here Mary’s behavior is so noble that it is difficult to not to wonder if she is actually acting in a foolish way. As we have seen, her entire life savings amounted to £24 (before £20 of them had to be used to bail out Fred), and thus we know how much of a difference £200 would make to her. However, given her wisdom, it is likely that she was right in refusing to comply with Featherstone’s request. This refusal becomes especially dramatic considering that Featherstone dies immediately afterward. 
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