Chapters 58-62 (Secrets of the Past)
Rosamond has a miscarriage because she goes out riding with Lydgate’s aristocratic cousin, in spite of her husband’s warning. Lydgate is beginning to realize his powerlessness over his wife. His superior mind holds no attraction to her, and affection does not make her compliant. Though he sacrifices for her, it is an endurance mingled with discontent, for there is no meeting of minds or hearts. Instead of his old ambition for great discoveries, he only wishes release from his cares.
Once Rosamond has recovered, Lydgate speaks to her of their financial trouble. As he prepares to tell her the news, he thinks of two kinds of women: Madame Laure, who had killed her husband, and Dorothea, who sacrificed all. Dorothea, whom he once dismissed as uninteresting, has now become for him, “That voice of deep-souled womanhood.” He has been too proud to ask anyone for help and explains to Rosamond they must return their plate and her jewels. Rosamond has been pampered and scorns Lydgate’s plight. She secretly asks her father for help, and he refuses, saying he himself might need help.
Will learns about the codicil from Rosamond, and is mortified that the whole town knows. He keeps delaying his departure, wanting to see Dorothea. At an auction, he meets Raffles who asks him if his mother was Sarah Dunkirk. He says yes, and Raffles begins to tell him he knows why his mother ran away from her family. This is something that Will has never known, but he shuns Raffles.
Raffles then goes to Bulstrode and gets more money out of him. Bulstrode is in a panic, knowing Raffles could destroy his reputation. He thinks back over his life.
He was religious, a young Dissenter in London, and became the accountant of Mr. Dunkirk who was a pawnbroker. Will’s mother was his daughter. Mr. Dunkirk died, the daughter ran away, and Bulstrode married the widow and got her fortune. Bulstrode knew the whereabouts of the daughter and her starving family, but he kept the secret so he could have the money, telling himself he was doing it for God’s glory.
Now, Bulstrode makes a deal with God. He will make amends if God will keep Raffles away. Bulstrode sends for Ladislaw, explains the past, and offers him money. Ladislaw is repulsed and angry, understanding why his mother ran away and is ashamed of coming from a pawnbroker’s family that would make money from “lost souls.” He refuses Bulstrode’s money, knowing Dorothea would not want him to take money that comes from human misery.
Will is bent on seeing Dorothea and quitting Middlemarch. He now knows two things he did not know the last time he saw her: Casaubon’s will and his own background and connection to Bulstrode. He has no hope he can ever be equal to Dorothea.
Mrs. Cadwallader, hoping to disillusion Dorothea, tells her the gossip that Will is spending a lot of time with Rosamond. Dorothea defends him. She runs into Will at the Grange, and he defends his character to her, in reference to Casaubon’s codicil. She says she never thought anything bad of him. He says his life is over because what he wants is forbidden to him. She thinks he might mean Rosamond, but his last words reveal the truth to her when he says he is in danger of forgetting everything but her. Love begins to bloom, but too late, it seems. He leaves the room.
Like Dickens, Eliot reveals the hidden past connections between characters as the action progresses, thus tying the different plotlines together. Mystery about Bulstrode’s past and Ladislaw’s past are thus surprisingly linked. Will is offered a chance to regain his rightful inheritance that would enable him to marry Dorothea, but he is sensitive to the moral implications of the origin of the money. He is ashamed, like his mother must have been, of the pawnbroker trade. He could not be a hypocrite, like Bulstrode. He loves Dorothea because of her nobility, and he knows she expects the same of him. Their love depends upon their goodness.
Bulstrode’s trying to make a deal with God in order to save himself makes him more sympathetic as well as pathetic. Eliot spends some time on one of her favorite topics, hypocrisy in religion. She has exposed egoism in every walk of life; now she reveals the egoism of the religious fanatic, who covers up weakness in platitudes when he should be exercising his religion in “fellow feeling.”
Will and Dorothea have come one step closer to the revelation of their love through Will’s last admission that she is chiefly in his mind, but he does not wait for her response. The love still seems impossible, and he realizes only a miracle could bring them together. He feels the best hope of his life has passed by already. Everything else can only be to fill up the time.