Middlemarch and Integrity

Unconventional individual personal choices abound in George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Dorothea refuses to limited by her dead husband’s will and gives up her estate to marry Ladislaw. Ladislaw refuses Bulstrode’s (atonement) money because of the corrupt source, much as Mr. Garth refuses to work for Bulstrode, once he knows his employer’s background. Against his father’s wishes, Fred gives up a shot at the ministry to seek his own fortune close to home. Mary Garth refuses to take the dying Featherstone’s bribe money and does not marry Fred till he can support them. Lydgate, though broke, refuses to ask others for money and ultimately returns Bulstrode’s bribe in connection with Raffles’ death. In spite of his financial and marital setbacks, he continues to pursue his curative dreams.

The many temptations and many limits and limitations of money and materialism in Victorian society and in the Middlemarch town notwithstanding, the best personal choices in the book are not made on the basis of those two factors. Characters make difficult unconventional choices and act on the basis of their own inner needs and values. The book is ultimately about personal integrity.

“Souls have complexions too: what will suit one will not suit another.”–Eliot, Middlemarch

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