header logo

Middlemarch Summary


Here you will find a Middlemarch summary (George Eliot's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

P.S.: As an Amazon Associate, we earn money from purchases made through links in this page. But the summaries are totally free!

Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

Middlemarch Summary Overview

Within this unique narrative, the author defies the Victorian norms by infusing elements that are more aligned with modern novels. The story was met with varying reactions, due to its atypically melancholy mood and frequent references to obscure literature and science, an unexpected style from a female writer of the time. The author rejects the traditional romantic standards often seen in women's writing of the era, illustrating this through the marriage of Rosamond and Lydgate, who base their relationship on obsolete romantic notions. The author also breaks from tradition by continuing the story past the marriage, allowing for a reflection on the authenticity of their union. The author's refusal to adhere to standard "happily ever after" tropes drew criticism, particularly due to her gender. For example, she features a failed marriage between two mismatched individuals that never truly finds harmony, as seen in the lives of Lydgate and Dorothea. The latter escapes a life of regret when her older husband dies unexpectedly, while Rosamond and Lydgate marry at a young age, setting themselves up for inevitable difficulties. The narrative is largely guided by two primary life decisions: marriage and profession. The author emphasizes the consequences of rushed, idealistic courtships that result in marriages lacking understanding and compatibility. Yet, she also shows the success of unions where women have more authority, like the marriage between Fred and Mary. Choosing an occupation is another significant theme, exploring the ramifications of wrong career decisions and the impacts of confining women purely to domestic responsibilities. The narrative's complexity extends from society to individual characters, showcasing human life's array of quiet tragedies, small victories, and moments of dignity. Furthermore, the story's unique structure, focusing on multiple characters instead of a single protagonist, reinforces its experimental nature and the author's desire to portray the intricacy of provincial life.

book 1

Dorothea Brooke, an orphan from a rich family, lives with her sister Celia and their uncle, Mr. Brooke. Despite her wealth, Dorothea prefers a simple lifestyle and is more focused on various philanthropic projects. She fails to notice the affection of Sir James Chettam, a frequent visitor, believing his interest to be in her sister. Celia, anxious about their mother's jewelry, asks Dorothea to divide it. Dorothea, not one for vanity, takes a ring and bracelet, leaving the rest for Celia. At a dinner party, Dorothea's keen interest in charitable projects catches the attention of Mr. Casaubon, a middle-aged scholar and clergyman. As Dorothea and Casaubon begin to converse frequently, they develop mutual admiration. Sir James, attempting to win Dorothea's favor, shows interest in her housing plans for the tenants on their estate. Dorothea and Sir James start working together on the project. When Celia informs Dorothea of Sir James's intentions, she plans to dissuade him, only to find out that Casaubon has proposed to her. Despite her sister's concerns, Dorothea happily accepts. Casaubon anticipates the end of courtship and hints at his desire to return to his scholarly pursuits. Dorothea, eager to be involved, offers to learn Latin and Greek to assist him. However, Brooke believes that such pursuits are too demanding for a woman, suggesting music as a more fitting entertainment. Sir James disapproves of Dorothea's engagement to the older Casaubon and seeks help from Mr. Cadwallader to halt the wedding. Despite this, Sir James finds his relationship with Dorothea easier without romantic intentions. When visiting Casaubon's residence, they meet his second cousin, Will Ladislaw. Casaubon views Will as ambitionless and is funding his trip abroad to find a profession. As the wedding day approaches, Casaubon feels unsettled rather than elated. He worries that Dorothea will feel lonely during their honeymoon while he works. When Dorothea dismisses his concern, she regrets her harsh response. At their engagement party, Lydgate, a new young surgeon, and Rosamond Vincy, the mayor's daughter, are introduced. Lydgate finds Dorothea too serious and enjoys Rosamond's company more, sparking her interest as she prefers men outside of Middlemarch. Lastly, Rosamond and Fred, her brother, visit their uncle, Peter Featherstone, hoping to inherit his wealth. Featherstone accuses Fred of gambling and borrowing money against his potential inheritance. Fred must now secure a letter from his other uncle, Mr. Bulstrode, a wealthy banker, to clear his name.

book 2

Bulstrode aims to appoint Lydgate as head of the new Fever Hospital, but Farebrother cautions Lydgate about professional envy due to his proposed medical reforms. Bulstrode prefers Mr. Tyke over Farebrother as hospital chaplain, despite the hospital being in Farebrother's parish. Lydgate doesn't wish to engage in cleric disagreements. Lydgate, an orphan and son of a soldier, was drawn to medicine from a young age. After an actress he loved murdered her husband, he decided to stay away from romantic relationships. He seeks to uncover the fundamental building block of life. Bulstrode, married to Mr. Vincy's sister, effectively inserted himself into a prominent family two decades ago. His wealth offers him an influential position in the community, which he uses to enforce his strict Protestant beliefs. Bulstrode enjoys wielding power. When Mr. Vincy shows up, Lydgate is spared from an awkward situation. Bulstrode agrees to write a letter for Fred upon Vincy's insistence, despite disapproving of Fred's lifestyle. Fred delivers the letter to Featherstone, receiving a hundred pounds in return. Despite failing his exam and having no desire to be a clergyman, he asks Mary to marry him. She declines, and he returns home with a heavy heart and a gambling debt. At a dinner at the Vincy's, disagreements about Tyke and medical reforms arise. Lydgate finds himself attracted to Rosamond, despite being in a minority with his views. Lydgate learns more about Farebrother's life and his responsibilities to his family on his small income. Farebrother warns Lydgate of local politics and potential conflict with Bulstrode. Lydgate is conflicted about his vote for the hospital chaplaincy. Lydgate's regard for Farebrother grows, although he disapproves of his gambling. He's conflicted about his vote, knowing it could affect his relationship with Bulstrode. Annoyed with the politics, he eventually votes for Tyke. In Rome, Will Ladislaw's artist friend, Naumann, is captivated by Dorothea. He wants her to pose for a portrait. Meanwhile, Dorothea is unhappy and her marriage is not as she had hoped. Casaubon wishes to return to his work but is offended when Dorothea suggests he start writing. When Ladislaw visits, only Dorothea is home. The pair are interrupted by Casaubon’s arrival. Ladislaw agrees to dine with them the next day. Dorothea apologizes for an earlier argument, though tension remains. Naumann sketches Dorothea and Casaubon at his studio. Ladislaw admires Dorothea and plans to visit her alone. Despite her sadness, Dorothea defends her decision to live in Lowick Manor and Casaubon's work. After expressing his intention to be independent, Will is asked by Dorothea not to mock Casaubon's work. She informs Casaubon of Will's plans, to which he responds with disinterest and asks her not to bring up Will again.

book 3

Fred Vincy, burdened with debt, avoids his angry father and seeks help from Caleb Garth, a kind but poor man. Despite his financial troubles, Garth, who works managing rich people's estates and whose wife teaches to make ends meet, co-signs Fred's debt without his wife's knowledge. Fred, however, finds himself unable to pay his debt after a failed attempt to profit from selling a horse. He confesses to Mrs. Garth, who is forced to use her savings and ask her daughter, Mary, to contribute from her savings to cover the debt. Fred, ashamed, confesses to Mary his financial troubles. Fred falls ill with Typhoid, which is initially misdiagnosed by the Vincy family doctor, Wrench, causing conflict within the Vincy family and leading to a new doctor, Lydgate. Featherstone, the owner of Stone Court, sends Fred well-wishes, and the sick Fred hangs onto hope for news about Mary. Meanwhile, Lydgate develops feelings for Rosamond while she dreams of a married life far from Middlemarch, causing jealousy among her other suitors. Dorothea returns from Rome and faces struggles in her marriage with Casaubon who is not as blissful as expected. Casaubon receives letters from Ladislaw proposing a visit, but he declines, causing further tension between him and Dorothea. Casaubon suffers a heart attack and Lydgate advises him to take life easy. Dorothea reaches out to Ladislaw without telling Casaubon, further complicating their relationship. Rumors spread of a secret engagement between Rosamond and Lydgate, causing uproar in the Plymdale family. Rosamond, however, denies the engagement and defends Lydgate's financial position. Despite his intention to avoid the Vincys, Lydgate finds himself engaged to Rosamond after a heartfelt encounter, leaving the Vincy family delighted. With Featherstone on his deathbed, his relatives gather at Stone Court, each eyeing his wealth. Despite their presence, Featherstone refuses to see anyone. He dies clutching his unburned will and the money he tried to bribe Mary with, leaving his legacy uncertain.

book 4

Featherstone's grand funeral draws a large crowd including a peculiar stranger. The Brookes and Dorothea take note of the stranger from a window and learn from Celia that Ladislaw is in Tipton Grange, a fact that irks Casaubon. Casaubon assumes that Dorothea is behind Ladislaw's presence, an assumption Dorothea cannot correct in front of others. As the crowd gathers for Featherstone's will reading, it is rumored that the odd stranger is Mr. Rigg, Featherstone's illegitimate son. The will leaves money to Fred and some land to Joshua Rigg. However, a second will revokes the first, leaving everything to Rigg except some property for charity. Mary frets about her decision refusing Featherstone's last request, which might have cost Fred his inheritance. Mr. Vincy decides to send idle Fred back to school and is reluctant about Rosamond's marriage, demanding to know Lydgate's financial status. Lydgate, preparing for married life, quickly uses up his savings and begins buying on credit. Rosamond plans to have Lydgate move from Middlemarch. Meanwhile, Mr. Brooke hires Ladislaw as the editor for his newly purchased newspaper, the Pioneer. Ladislaw commits to staying close to Dorothea, who he feels was wronged by her marriage to Casaubon. Ladislaw visits Dorothea and shares his family history, revealing disapproval of their marriages. Brooke's political ambition draws criticism from the Trumpet, an opposing newspaper, for his hypocrisy of advocating for the poor while his tenants live in poor conditions. The public backlash pushes him to improve his estate, but he resists hiring Garth as a manager. Dorothea is convinced by Sir James to help reform Brooke, while Brooke's tenant, Dagley, refuses to discipline his son for poaching, adding to Brooke's public embarrassment. Caleb Garth is asked by Sir James to manage the Tipton Grange and Freshitt estates. Fred, heading back to college, asks Farebrother to persuade Mr. Vincy to let him choose a profession other than the Church. The Garths discuss Featherstone's last request and Fred's potential inheritance loss. Joshua Rigg Featherstone is harassed by his stepfather, John Raffles, for money, and Raffles takes away a letter signed by Mr. Bulstrode. Casaubon, despite Dorothea's attentive care, grows suspicious and jealous of her interactions with Will. He consults Lydgate about his frail health, who assures him he might live another fifteen years.

book 5

Dorothea drops by Lydgate's place to ask about her husband's health but finds Will there with Rosamond instead. She leaves quickly to spare her husband's feelings and keep herself from lying to him. Will is hurt by her sudden departure and Rosamond teases him about his feelings for Dorothea. Lydgate reassures Dorothea about her husband's health and shares his struggles in raising funds for the hospital because of Bulstrode's unpopularity. Dorothea kindly donates some money. The townsfolk have mixed feelings about Lydgate's modern medical methods. Despite some success, his unconventional means often lead to conflict with his peers. Bulstrode wants to fund the hospital himself but is saving up to buy Stone Court. To ensure the hospital's future, he needs to secure donations. He gives Lydgate full control over patient treatment, which doesn't sit well with the local doctors. Rosamond expresses her disappointment in Lydgate's profession, arguing that his noble family looks down on him. Lydgate defends his career choice, saying it's a part of who he is. As for Ladislaw, most people share Casaubon's negative view of him, although he is welcomed in some homes, including the Lydgates'. After Casaubon's funeral, Sir James and Mr. Brooke uncover a clause in his will preventing Dorothea from marrying Ladislaw. They decide to hide this from Dorothea but worry about the rumors potentially damaging her reputation. Dorothea looks through Casaubon's papers to understand the ambiguous vow he wanted her to make. She learns about the clause in his will that would leave her penniless if she married Ladislaw, which leaves her feeling betrayed. Lydgate suggests that Dorothea let Farebrother take over the parish at Lowick, not knowing that mentioning Ladislaw's friendship with Farebrother might actually work against him. Ladislaw is unaware of this clause. He feels more distanced from Dorothea and contemplates leaving, despite his desire to support Brooke's campaign. Brooke's election speech is a disaster, with the crowd pelting him with eggs. After this, he informs Ladislaw that he's selling the Pioneer newspaper, leaving Ladislaw jobless. Farebrother is chosen to lead the Lowick parish, much to his family's delight who encourage him to propose to Mary Garth. Fred, who just graduated, also plans to propose to Mary and asks Farebrother to help him find out if he has a chance.

book 6

Dorothea heads back to Lowick Manor, desiring to get closer to Farebrother's family and hoping for news of Will, but she's too scared to ask about him. Will unexpectedly visits Dorothea at Lowick, revealing his intention to leave Middlemarch soon, hoping to provoke an emotional response from her. The moment is spoiled when Sir James interrupts them, treating Will poorly, which angers Will and saddens Dorothea. Mrs. Cadwallader schemes to arrange a quick marriage for Dorothea once her mourning period is over to curb any nasty rumors about her and Will. Dorothea, annoyed at the interference, firmly states she will never remarry. She recruits Caleb Garth to oversee her estate, and he ends up dealing with disgruntled locals when negotiating with a company planning to build a railway through Lowick parish. After a tense confrontation, Fred Vincy steps in to help, eventually offering his services to Garth. Fred admits his feelings for Mary to Garth, and shares her refusal to marry him if he becomes a priest. Garth agrees to consider hiring Fred, but wants to discuss it with his wife first. Mrs. Garth is disheartened to learn that Farebrother might miss out on marrying her daughter. Despite Fred's awful handwriting, Garth gives him a chance, asking him to practice daily. Fred disappoints his family by choosing to work for Garth, but remains firm in his decision. Fred seeks Mrs. Garth's approval, and she shares her surprise at Mary's openness to marrying him. She criticizes him for having Farebrother speak to Mary on his behalf, hinting at Farebrother's own feelings for Mary. In shock, Fred confirms Farebrother's love for Mary. Rosamond disobeys her husband's orders not to ride due to her pregnancy, subsequently suffering a miscarriage. Financial woes worsen for the couple as Lydgate surrenders furniture as debt security. Rosamond's attempts to convince him to leave Middlemarch and sell everything are unsuccessful. News about the changes to Casaubon's will become the talk of Middlemarch. Despite Lydgate's advice to keep it under wraps, Rosamond divulges the information to Will, who was unaware of it. Bulstrode hires Will to bid for a painting at an auction where he encounters John Raffles, who reveals some unsavory truths about Will's family history. Bulstrode becomes uncomfortable when Raffles begins to blackmail him and fears he may lose his wife's respect. Bulstrode's past comes to light as it's revealed he was involved in selling stolen goods, and he silenced Raffles to keep the secret from his wife. Despite his illicit activities, Bulstrode continued to present himself as a devout man publicly. After his partner's death, Bulstrode married the wealthy widow, but not before bribing Raffles to hide the existence of her long-lost daughter and her child, Will.

book 7

Farebrother talks with Lydgate at a dinner event, expressing gratitude for helping him quit gambling by securing him the Lowick parish through Dorothea. Lydgate, however, seems unimpressed by monetary gains, which puzzles Farebrother. When the latter insinuates that Lydgate might need friends, he responds evasively, which hurts Farebrother. Lydgate, grappling with significant debts, discusses downsizing their residence with wife Rosamond. He hopes the wealthy Plymdales might buy their house and much of its furniture. Despite Rosamond's request that he borrow money from Sir Godwin, Lydgate declines. Undeterred, Rosamond cancels the sale to the Plymdales and secretly requests money from Sir Godwin herself. When Lydgate discovers this, he becomes furious and contemplates asking Sir Godwin for help. A response from Sir Godwin arrives, berating Lydgate for his wife's secret correspondence and denying them financial help. Lydgate angrily confronts Rosamond, who defends her actions. Despite their argument, Lydgate comforts his tearful wife. At the Green Dragon, Lydgate tries to trade his horse for a cheaper one with Mr. Bambridge. He ends up playing and betting on billiards while waiting. Despite winning initially, he starts losing money. Fred Vincy, who arrives later, is surprised by Lydgate's behavior and avoids betting. Fred meets Farebrother downstairs, who warns him against reverting to his past extravagance and suggests he might court Mary if Fred doesn't mend his ways. Fred pledges to avoid the Green Dragon. Raffles, appearing unwell, stays over Christmas Eve at Bulstrode's and leaves with a hundred pounds the next morning. Bulstrode also organizes to hand over his bank and hospital duties, tasking Caleb Garth with managing Stone Court. This move angers Bulstrode's wife, leading him to help Fred to appease her. Garth finds a sick Raffles at Stone Court and advises Bulstrode to get him a doctor. Bulstrode worries that Raffles may have revealed his secrets to Garth, fears confirmed when Garth cuts ties with him but promises to keep quiet. Lydgate visits Stone Court, where Raffles is suffering from alcoholism. He recommends rest and no alcohol for Raffles, then leaves feeling bitter toward Bulstrode for aiding Raffles, but not helping him clear his debts. Bulstrode has a change of heart and gives a relieved Lydgate a thousand pound loan. He then gives into Raffles' pleas for alcohol, leading to Raffles' death shortly after. Lydgate, taken aback by Raffles' sudden demise, fails to probe it further due to his relief over his financial situation.

book 8

Dorothea queries Farebrother on assisting Lydgate with the scandal, but is advised to tread carefully. After some contemplation, she decides to discuss the hospital matter with Lydgate first before bringing up the scandal. Meanwhile, Lydgate realizes that Bulstrode's loan was a means to control him, a realization that leads to his isolation and loss of clients in Middlemarch. Despite the fear of Rosamond's reaction, he is determined to face the consequences. Mrs. Bulstrode, troubled by Lydgate's visit and the secrecy around her husband, seeks out her brother, Mr. Vincy. He tells her the whole story and reassures her of his support. Bulstrode, aware of his wife's knowledge of the scandal, prepares for the worst. Their silent exchange of tears and unspoken promises reveal their decision to face the situation together. Rosamond, relieved from debt, plans a dinner party and hopes to persuade Lydgate to leave Middlemarch. She's jealous of Will Ladislaw's admiration for Dorothea. Sadly, all her dinner invitations are rejected, and she learns from her parents that Lydgate might need to leave town due to the scandal. Dorothea finds her anger fading and decides to meet Rosamond. After securing Lydgate's consent to manage his debt, she reassures Rosamond of her support and advice to stand by Lydgate. Rosamond defends Ladislaw and hints at his love for another woman. This leads to a shaky peace between Lydgate and Rosamond. Rosamond informs Will that she cleared his name with Dorothea. Will enlists Miss Noble's help to facilitate a meeting with Dorothea. Dorothea learns about Will's refusal of Bulstrode's money and the gossip surrounding his parentage. Despite these obstacles, they confess their love for each other and decide to become engaged, inciting Sir James' anger. Bulstrode plans to leave Middlemarch and asks his wife about any last requests. Mrs. Bulstrode's suggestion to help Lydgate is rejected, and Bulstrode proposes that she ask Garth to manage Stone Court. Meanwhile, Garth assures Mary of her decision to marry Fred despite the scandal, leading to their happy marriage. Fred and Mary enjoy a contented marriage, while Lydgate moves to a new city and builds a successful practice. Despite his success, he considers himself a failure and passes away at fifty. Dorothea marries Will Ladislaw and leads a happy life, while Rosamond marries a wealthy doctor later on.

Enjoying this summary?
Buy the book! (it's better)

Lists that recommended Middlemarch