Detailed Summary and Commentary
These initial couple of pages dwell upon St Teresa, who reformed a religious order. Eliot makes it clear that her work will focus on those - especially women - who have the same "passionate, ideal nature" yet lead "no epic life". This is a story of the failures rather than the successes in "the History of Man".
Book I: Miss Brooke. Chapters 1-12
Dorothea and her sister Celia, orphaned when they were children, have come to live with their uncle Mr Brooke in his estate just outside Middlemarch (chapter 1). There is a dinner with Mr Brooke, Sir James Chettam, a neighbour, and Mr Casaubon, an elderly scholarly cleric (chapter 2). It is clear that Sir James wishes to marry Dorothea although she believes him to be in love with Celia. At this dinner she convinces herself that marriage with Casaubon the elderly scholar will offer her a path into the "higher inward life" that she so craves and thus satisfy her passionate urge to 'do good' in some manner (chapter 3). Dorothea accepts his proposal which shocks the members of her social group - Celia, with great practical force, points out his facial warts (chapters 4-5). Mr Cadwallader, their vicar, and Sir James discuss the situation with disgust but Mr Brooke is too vague to effectively dissuade Dorothea (chapters 6- 8).
Dorothea, Celia and Mr Brooke visit Mr Casaubon's "small-windowed and melancholy-looking" house - representative of his character - and meet Will Ladislaw, Casaubon's cousin. Will, like a Romantic poet, is standing in the garden and painting: he declares himself to have no fixed vocation in life and intends to go to the Continent and travel (chapter 9).
There is a final pre-wedding dinner party before the Casaubons go to Rome on their honeymoon when the reader is introduced to a wider cross-section of Middlemarch society (chapter 10). Mr Vincy the mayor and Mr Bulstrode a "philanthropic banker" are there, as is Lydgate the new doctor. Their opinions on Dorothea reveal a fixed masculine arrogance; Lydgate pronounces her a "fine girl - but a little too earnest".
Lydgate himself has already caught sight of a girl he believes to be all feminine perfection - Rosamund Vincy, whom we are shown sparring with her brother over breakfast, reproaching him for using slang, revealing her deeply ingrained snobbism (chapter 11). Yet she is remarkably fair, elegant, and beautiful - a fine contrast to Mary Garth, whom Fred and Rosamund see at Stone Court where their rich uncle Featherstone lives (chapter 12). Fred hopes to inherit his uncle's fortune and has come to ask him for an advance. Mary acts as his housekeeper. At this point Lydgate comes to minister to Featherstone and his eyes meet with Rosamund's...
Book II: Old and Young. Chapters 13-22
Lydgate finds a sponsor for his new Hospital in the shape of Bulstrode, the wealthy banker who is married to Mr Vincy's sister. In return for his help with the hospital, Bulstrode asks an uneasy Lydgate to support his choice for hospital chaplain: the evangelic Mr Tyke (chapter 13). Meanwhile Fred goes to Stone Court to get some money from Featherstone and to continue flirting with Mary; at which point we discover that Fred has got Mary's father, Caleb Garth, to act as security for £160 that he has borrowed (chapter 14). We also get a detailed introduction to Lydgate (chapter 15) that makes explicit some of the links between scientific investigation and the art of fiction.
Lydgate goes to dinner at the Vincy's and meets one of the established doctors in the town: Dr Sprague, who he antagonises (chapter 16). The talk is of the third clergyman in town, Mr Farebrother, and there is a general agreement that he would be more suitable for the Hospital than Tyke. Lydgate returns delighted with Rosamund but determined not to marry; there are too many things he still wishes to do. Lydgate also visits Farebrother, who lives with his elderly mother, aunt and sister, and warms to him immediately, although he dislikes his habit of playing whist for money (chapter 17). Lydgate unfortunately ends up
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