Middlemarch | George Eliot

Summary of: Middlemarch
By: George Eliot


Embark on a journey to the town of Middlemarch, as we delve into George Eliot’s acclaimed novel. This summary introduces you to the complex lives of its characters, their personal ambitions, and the romantic entanglements that ensue. Encounter Dorothea Brooke, an idealistic young woman whose misguided marriage to a much older man is far from what she envisioned. Meet the ambitious doctor Tertius Lydgate and the beautiful yet superficial Rosamond Vincy, whose relationship becomes increasingly strained as they face the challenges of life. Witness the trials and tribulations faced by other residents of Middlemarch, whose fates intertwine as they navigate societal expectations and the constraints of their time.

A Marriage of Duty

Dorothea Brooke, a young and independent-minded woman, is pursued by two suitors: the jovial Sir James Chettam and the erudite Edward Casaubon. Her idealistic view of marriage leads her to accept Casaubon’s offer, despite his age and dry personality. They quickly marry and set off on their honeymoon, where Casaubon seeks time for his research. However, their union surprises and appalls their friends and relatives. Dorothea’s belief in marriage as a “higher duty” and Casaubon’s quest for intellectual and spiritual insight make for a complicated marriage of duty.

Middlemarch’s Political and Romantic Intrigues

Tertius is a young doctor who has moved to Middlemarch to escape London’s professional jealousies and intrigues. He is passionate about combining scientific study and discoveries with charity, but his first experience with the political minefield of small town Middlemarch occurs when he has to choose a curate for the new hospital against his convictions. Meanwhile, Rosamond is keen to marry Tertius as she believes it will elevate her social status. Tertius enjoys flirting with Rosamond, but his research is too important to get married soon. Dorothea, on the other hand, falls out of love with Casaubon, her husband, after realizing that her hopes and dreams were just an illusion. She then spends time with Casaubon’s young cousin, Will Ladislaw, who falls in love with her. As the story unfolds, readers witness the intriguing political and romantic plots that envelop the lives of the book’s characters.

Love, Money, and Misfortune

Fred Vincy’s financial woes lead to a string of unfortunate events as characters in different plot lines grapple with love, money, and their consequences.

Fred Vincy’s run of bad luck begins when he fails his theology exam, leaving him in debt after borrowing money from local horse dealer Mr. Bambridge to hire horses. He then injures one of the horses and can’t afford to pay for its medical expenses. To make matters worse, he’s in love with Mary Garth, Caleb’s daughter, who rejects him due to his frivolous nature.

Meanwhile, Dr. Lydgate’s status in the community rises after curing Fred of typhus, leading to jealousy among established doctors in the area. Lydgate becomes engaged to Rosamond after a misunderstanding, but their relationship takes a tumultuous turn as he sees it as a pleasant diversion while she’s already planning their future home.

Dorothea and Casaubon return from Rome only to learn that Chettam and Celia are engaged. Casaubon becomes increasingly anxious about his work, and Dorothea feels like a burden to him. When Ladislaw asks if he can visit, Dorothea’s temper snaps, causing Casaubon to fall ill. While Lydgate treats him, Dorothea asks Brooke to write to Ladislaw, but he invites him to stay with him instead.

Featherstone’s impending death adds another layer of complexity as Mary becomes his carer. Mary learns that he’s written two wills and wants to destroy the second one. After refusing to touch anything to avoid suspicion of money-grabbing, Featherstone dies that night, leaving everyone to deal with the aftermath.

Throughout the story, the characters grapple with love, money, and the consequences of their actions. No one is immune, and misfortune can strike anyone at any time. This compelling narrative is a reminder to weigh the potential consequences of one’s actions before acting on impulse.

Unexpected Inheritance

Featherstone’s illegitimate son inherits the family fortune, leaving the rest of the family empty-handed. Meanwhile, Casaubon’s dislike of Ladislaw intensifies, leading him to order him to leave Middlemarch. Ladislaw settles as a newspaper editor unbeknown to Dorothea.

Featherstone’s family gathers for the will reading, only to find out that Featherstone’s illegitimate son, Joshua Rigg, is the sole recipient of Featherstone’s fortune. Mary feels responsible for Fred’s misfortune as she refused to destroy the second will, in which Fred and the rest of the family are left empty-handed. However, Chettam offers Garth the job of managing both his and Mr. Brooke’s estates, ending Garth’s financial problems while Mary stays in Middlemarch.

In the meantime, Casaubon’s hostility towards Ladislaw deepens, leading him to order him to leave Middlemarch. Ladislaw, however, finds a job as a newspaper editor thanks to Brooke’s purchase of the newspaper. Casaubon believes that Ladislaw is trying to win Dorothea so that he can inherit her money after Casaubon’s death.

Love and Loss

Newly-wedded Lydgate and Rosamond experience strains in their relationship due to differences in ambitions and financial struggles. Dorothea and Casaubon grow more estranged, leading to a final confrontation after his death. Dorothea inherits his estate but is bound by a clause that forbids her from marrying Ladislaw. Fred Vincy’s love for Mary is complicated by his lack of ambition, prompting him to seek help from his vicar-friend.

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