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)

2 thoughts on “Book VIII: Sunset and Sunrise

  1. Elspeth Flood says:

    This year, on about my 10th (or more) rereading of Middlemarch, I happened to notice this passage:

    But how little we know what would make paradise for our neighbors! We judge from our own desires, and our neighbors themselves are not always open enough even to throw out a hint of theirs. The cool and judicious Joshua Rigg had not allowed his parent to perceive that Stone Court was anything less than the chief good in his estimation, and he had certainly wished to call it his own. But as Warren Hastings looked at gold and thought of buying Daylesford, so Joshua Rigg looked at Stone Court and thought of buying gold. He had a very distinct and intense vision of his chief good, the vigorous greed which he had inherited having taken a special form by dint of circumstance: and his chief good was to be a moneychanger. From his earliest employment as an errand-boy in a seaport, he had looked through the windows of the moneychangers as other boys look through the windows of the pastry-cooks; the fascination had wrought itself gradually into a deep special passion; he meant, when he had property, to do many things, one of them being to marry a genteel young person; but these were all accidents and joys that imagination could dispense with. The one joy after which his soul thirsted was to have a money-changer’s shop on a much-frequented quay, to have locks all round him of which he held the keys, and to look sublimely cool as he handled the breeding coins of all nations, while helpless Cupidity looked at him enviously from the other side of an iron lattice. The strength of that passion had been a power enabling him to master all the knowledge necessary to gratify it. And when others were thinking that he had settled at Stone Court for life, Joshua himself was thinking that the moment now was not far off when he should settle on the North Quay with the best appointments in safes and locks.
    Enough. We are concerned with looking at Joshua Rigg’s sale of his land . . .

    Why? Why did she write all this about Joshua Rigg, a minor character who is about to disappear from the novel? Because she could!! Because her world was so complete she knew all the backstories and innermost secrets of even her most minor characters. It is, as I keep telling uninterested people, the greatest novel ever written in the English language. Reading it is a transformative experience. When I first picked it up in my early 20s (nearly 50 years ago), I read it five times in a row. Love this site.


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