Book VIII: Sunset and Sunrise

1. What ongoing themes of the novel are exemplified by the crisis over Raffles’s death?

2. Just as people’s reactions to Mr. Casaubon revealed more about them than about him, so too people’s responses to Lydgate and Bulstrode through this crisis illuminate their characters. Does anyone’s response surprise you? Who, if anyone, best lives up to the novel’s ideal of sympathy?

3. The Raffles crisis leads to another catastrophic moment of misunderstanding, when Dorothea walks in on Will and Rosamond in a compromising position in Chapter 77. What further sequences of interpretation and reinterpretation follow? What is at stake in them? How are they resolved — if they are?

4. “Was she alone in that scene? Was it her event only?” How do the events and emotions of Chapters 80-81 illuminate the novel’s ideas about egoism, sympathy, point of view, and morality? What other moments in the novel have prepared us to appreciate these scenes? Is there anything new or significant about the climactic encounter between Dorothea and Rosamond in Chapter 81?

5. Critical opinion about Will Ladislaw has been very divided over the years. To give you just a taste, Henry James called him “the only eminent failure in the book”; Lord David Cecil said he was “a school-girl’s dream, and a vulgar dream at that”; and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar argued that “Will is Eliot’s radically anti-patriarchal attempt to create an image of masculinity attractive to women.” By the end of the novel, what do you think of him? Is he a satisfactory partner for Dorothea? What does he offer that her first husband does not? What, if anything, do you think he lacks?

6. It’s interesting to compare the reactions of Dorothea’s family and friends to her second engagement to their reactions to her first. Has anyone changed? Has anyone — including Dorothea, or us — learned anything from her first mistake?

Middlemarch Discussion Questions Book VIII (PDF)


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