At Mr. Toller’s Christmas dinner party, he and Farebrother discuss Lydgate, who is very busy at the New Hospital these days, preparing a new cholera ward. Toller is disdainful of Lydgate’s efforts, and some of the other men discuss their jealousy over his marrying Rosamond. They also gossip that Lydgate has been living beyond his means. Farebrother has known Lydgate to be practically allergic to discussing his personal life, but wants Lydgate to know that if he ever wants someone to talk to, Farebrother’s “friendly ear” is waiting.
Lydgate’s struggle exists in large part because of his isolation. Shunned by the other Middlemarch doctors and alienated from Rosamond, he is left to deal with his problems alone. However, he then makes this worse by isolating himself even further, refusing to discuss his personal life with friends and acquaintances.
On New Year’s Day Farebrother goes to a party at the Vincys’. All the Vincy children are there, along with Lydgate and Mary Garth. Mrs. Farebrother comments that Lydgate spends a lot of time away from Rosamond, and Mrs. Vincy chimes in that it has been very difficult for Rosamond to have a husband who works so much. Mary is telling the Rumpelstiltskin story to the children, and Farebrother has been looking longingly at her while pretending he is just absorbed in the story. Farebrother has recently realized that Fred is jealous of him—and that his feelings for Mary haven’t gone away.
This scene reminds us of the fact that private emotions always seem to end up becoming matters of public business in Middlemarch. Issues that should remain between two people are debated as if they are everybody’s concern. This makes it especially difficult to face personal problems in the community, because the problem itself will also be accompanied by public scrutiny.
Farerbrother approaches Lydgate and says he heard from Mr. Brooke that Lydgate was responsible for persuading Dorothea to give Farebrother the position at Lowick. Lydgate calls Mr. Brooke “a leaky-minded old fool.” Farebrother continues his attempt to be friendly, telling Lydgate that life is easier when one can rely on one’s friends. Lydgate knows Farebrother is reaching out to help and support him but his pride means that he would rather die than accept. Feeling hurt, Farebrother drops the subject.
Farebrother’s kind nature means that his offer of support to Lydgate does not just emerge from a sense of duty after Lydgate’s favor to him. Farebrother can see that Lydgate is suffering in silence and knows that his self-imposed isolation is only making it worse. However, because Lydgate refuses to accept help, nothing can be done.