Book III: Waiting for Death

1. In this book we get to know the Garths much better — not just Mary, but also her mother and father. What are they like? What values does their family represent? What kind of contrast do they provide to other families we know, such as the Vincys?

2. Virginia Woolf famously called Middlemarch a novel for “grown-up people,” but a lot of its main characters are very young and prone to youthful mistakes. What lesson does (or at least could) Fred learn from his bad experience of horse trading, and from the harm his mistakes cause the Garths?

3. The opening paragraph of Chapter 27 is probably the most famous single passage in Middlemarch. What do you think the parable of the pier glass helps us understand about the novel’s structure? In what other ways does it illuminate the novel’s ideas?

4. The narrator’s interruption (“but why always Dorothea?”) in the first sentence of Chapter 29 not only interrupts our concentration on the plot but also raises an important question about priorities and sympathies — both hers and ours. It’s followed by an extended section on Mr. Casaubon. Why do you think she makes such a big deal of this shift in perspective? What are the stakes?

5. Why does Dorothea’s blue-green boudoir look so different to her when she returns there after her honeymoon? (We see her boudoir again at several points in the novel — it’s interesting to track her relationship to the room.)

6. Chapters 27-29 make up another unit that is interesting to analyze for its manipulation of chronology.  Again, it’s worth considering why (both structurally and thematically) Eliot doesn’t just give us the events in linear order. What’s different, for instance, about the encounter between Lydgate and Sir James’s servant at the end of Chapter 27 when we return to it in Chapter 29 — how has our perspective on that event changed?

Middlemarch Discussion Questions: Book III (PDF)

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