Chapters 68-74 (The Fall of Bulstrode and Lydgate)
Raffles shows up at Bulstrode’s on Christmas Eve, drunk, and Bulstrode hides him in his room. He tells his wife he is taking care of a poor man who has a claim on him. Once more he pays Raffles to leave town, but Bulstrode is emotionally going over the edge.
Mr. Garth tries to make a deal with Bulstrode to have Fred manage Stone Court, and Bulstrode is suddenly flexible, hoping to build up support in town. But suddenly, Garth visits Bulstrode to announce that he has a visitor at Stone Court, a Mr. Raffles, who is very ill. Garth resigns his position with Bulstrode because Raffles has told him about his past. Garth promises to say nothing to anyone else about it.
Bulstrode is humiliated by Garth’s resignation and goes to Stone Court. Raffles is very ill and delirious; Lydgate is called in. Bulstrode says he will care for Raffles himself, and Lydgate leaves instructions he is not to have any liquor because of the heavy dosage of opium.
Meanwhile Lydgate weeps when his wife says she will go to her parents until he can provide her a proper home. Bulstrode sees Lydgate’s trouble and offers him a thousand pounds, the loan that he had refused the day before. Lydgate takes it gratefully without a thought why he is giving it.
Bulstrode leaves Raffles in the care of the housekeeper but purposely does not tell her about the prohibition of liquor. When Raffles asks for liquor, she gives it to him, and he dies. Lydgate is surprised, having thought Raffles would recover.
At the Green Dragon, the gossip begins to go around putting all the pieces together, since Raffles had told all the details about Bulstrode to Mr. Bambridge a few days before his death. Farebrother figures out Bulstrode was bribing Lydgate to keep him quiet, so Lydgate is now implicated in his crime.
At a public meeting, Bulstrode is denounced by his fellow citizens, and he is helped home by Lydgate, who decides he will not retreat, since he did nothing wrong. When Dorothea hears of the scandal, she decides to help clear Lydgate’s name. No one will tell Harriet Bulstrode what has happened until her brother, Mr. Vincy, tells her. She goes home, takes off her jewels, puts on black, embracing her new humility, resolving to be loyal to her husband, and they cry together over the shame.
We come full circle with Bulstrode’s and Lydgate’s stories. Eliot shows the inevitable chain of cause and effect in her novels. Both have made fatal mistakes, although our sympathy is more with Lydgate, who has tried to do right.
Bulstrode’s attempts at control and telling himself it is “Providence” are ironically foiled at every turn. The truth leaks faster than he can stop the holes. He is indirectly responsible for murder, though he tries to keep it vague in his mind.
When Dorothea decides she will rescue Lydgate, Farebrother says, “Character is not cut in marble . . . it may become diseased,” implying that Lydgate is going down. Dorothea replies, “Then it may be rescued and healed.”
Eliot clearly believes that humans have free will, enough to make moral decisions. Lydgate falls because he is not paying attention; Bulstrode deliberately does wrong. Dorothea believes Lydgate is good and can retrieve his life. Eliot shows the strong characters learning from their mistakes and accepting responsibility. They can change their lives.