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MonkeyNotes-Middlemarch by George Eliot
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Chapter 46

Summary

Middlemarch folk had earlier treated Lydgate’s reforms, and local scandals as major controversies. Gradually, they become aware of massive political changes taking place at the national level. This is the epoch of the first Reform Bill of 1832 floated by Lord John Russell. This Bill was a reflection of a tremendous shift in power in Britain from the old landed gentry to the industrialists and traders. It had a revolutionary potential, and classes as well as political parties found themselves taking sides on the provisions of the Reform Bill.

In Middlemarch, the Pioneer, the paper owned by Brooke is seen as pro-reform, while the Trumpet, its sworn enemy, defends the old order. Brooke himself of the gentry, vacillates on the question of Reform, and annoys Ladislaw. Yet Brooke has made it possible for him to stay in Middlemarch, close to Dorothea, and to immerse himself in interesting work, which he has never done before.

Will is considered a brilliant writer and an effective speaker by the townspeople, but he is also looked upon suspiciously, as he is a stranger. Also, he is thought of as eccentric. Lydgate calls him "a gypsy." Being contemptuous of class distinctions Will has formed a small band of poor children, whom he often takes out on picnics. He is also very friendly with Lydgate and Rosamond, Mr. Farebrother and his family, and visits Bulstrode. Thus he has made a life for himself though it does not include meeting Dorothea. One day, Lydgate and Will get into a heated argument about the fitness of Brooke to represent Middlemarch as a political representative. Lydgate feels that he would disappoint his constituency and is not reliable. Will is more cynical feels the vote for reform is essential, regardless of the ethical fitness of the politicians who fight for it. He is resentful about Lydgate, feeling the doctor is accusing him of selfish personal motives. The argument ends when Lydgate realizes that he could be said to side with Bulstrode for selfish reasons whereas he only regards him as a means of continuing his pioneering work.

One reason for Lydgate’s anger has been the arrival of an outstanding bill for furniture. He is disturbed about their expenses but doesn’t wish to disturb Rosamond, as she is pregnant.


Notes

This chapter places Middlemarch issues against the larger natural canvas of sweeping change. It also brings in moral questions troubling two of the protagonists - and how they try to resolve the question of political and financial support and its sources. Lydgate and Will are both agents of change in the area and Will serve as parallels in the rest of the novel. The brief reference at the close of the chapter shows domestic financial pressures gradually affecting Lydgate’s progress.

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