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MonkeyNotes-Middlemarch by George Eliot
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Chapter 71

Summary

Five days after Raffles’ death, the usual crowd of men are standing around in front of the inn. Mr. Hawley, a solicitor, enters. Seeing Bulstrode ride by, he informs a friend that he has heard some sordid facts about Bulstrode’s past, told to him by an old friend of that gentleman. The tailor is astonished on hearing the name of the old friend and says he has recently assisted at his funeral, at which Bulstrode was the sole mourner. One thing leads to another and the story spreads like wild fire. Both Bulstrode and Lydgate are implicated morally, though none has concrete evidence of criminal acts committed by them.

The culmination takes place at a sanitary committee meeting called to prevent an outbreak of cholera. Hawley attacks Bulstrode and demands his resignation.

Bulstrode, in a state of near collapse, attacks his critics, but is forced to retreat Lydgate, as his doctor has to accompany him safely home, but he bitterly resents the association with Bulstrode which will give by-standers a definite impression.

Later, Brooke and Farebrother are driving towards Lowick. Brooke hopes the promising Lydgate is not part of the scandal, while Farebrother silently fears that he may be. Dorothea comes out to the gate to meet them. On hearing the whole story, she responds with great interest. She is determined to find out the truth and clear Lydgate.


Notes

This is a climax in Lydgate’s gradual downslide of compromises, yet he has never compromised as a doctor. The author is at her best building up the momentum of public feeling. The way she suggests how their personal dislike or envy of Bulstrode or Lydgate predisposes individuals to be confident of their guilt. While none of the medical men can find anything wrong, either with Lydgate’s new treatment of Raffles, or even with Bulstrode’s breach of it, following the old approach, they will not declare this in his support! Bulstrode, sanctimonious to the end, cannot resist mocking his attackers and they close in for the "kill." There is a masterly depiction of Lydgate’s plight, when his medical ethics forces him to attend to the stricken Bulstrode, though the association damns him in the public eye. Lydgate's refusal to leave the town, or to condemn Bulstrode, in spite of his doubts, his terrible loneliness, and the kindness which kept him away from his wife when his temper was worst, all reveal the complexity of character against a rich background of provincial life. In fact, the character of Lydgate has been considered one of the best things in the novel.

Finally, when he is totally isolated, comes Dorothea’s finest hour. After her fall from the idealistic heights of earlier days, she has been caught up in the shallows of a dull existence. Now, she has an opportunity to bring good to someone worthy, in desperate need of it, and she does not hesitate. She is true to her earlier potential, though in a minor key. Here ends the Book VII.

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