The end of Book IV is the midpoint of Middlemarch. We begin Book III, entitled “Waiting for Death,” pretending much waiting for death. Specifically, one death: that of the not-at-all-likely-to-be-missed Featherstone. The ones waiting for his death are, primarily, Fred Vincy (who hopes to profit) and, secondarily, Mary Garth (who works for him), and the rest of his family, who are equally hoping to inherit.
Middlemarch is not a novel of suspense, nor is it known for it’s great twists. However, the next three posts will all contain spoilers, so be warned.
Eliot’s Middlemarch deconstructs three pairings: Dorothea/Casaubon, Lydgate/Rosamunde, and Fred Vincy/Mary Garth. Of the three, the one that is projected to be the least successful, ends up the most successful. However, in Books III & IV, her deconstruction is just beginning.
Fred Vincy behaves remarkably badly in Book III, borrowing money from Caleb Garth in a desperate effort to recover some of his own financial losses. He, naturally, loses the money, causing great distress to the entire Garth family. This really relates to the whole issue of entitlement, which seems to be one of the subthemes of Book III. There are certain social conventions of this era that produce a sense of entitlement in some of the characters. It never occurred to Fred Vincy that borrowing money from a relatively poor man with many mouths to feed because it would have been INCONVENIENT and UNCOMFORTABLE to borrow it from his own father, (or more admirably to forgo it altogether) was wrong. In his mind, he “needs” the money (although purchasing horses hardly constitutes an actual need) and therefore getting it in whatever manner he can is perfectly reasonable.
I will say this for Fred, though. His sense of entitlement did seem to be shaken a bit when he realized that his inability to repay didn’t merely inconvenience the Garths. Rather, it was a devastating blow to them – and to their son, who has lost out on the ability to be apprenticed, which may well destroy his entire life. It’s like that old phrase: for want of a nail, a shoe was lost, for want of a shoe, a horse was lost, for want of a horse, a knight was lost, for want of a knight, a kingdom was lost. Loaning money to Fred Vincy = financial devastation for the Garth family.
However, he does show some actual character by being the one to go and tell the girl that he loves that he is, in fact, the loser whose spendthrift nature has potentially cost her brother his future. We’ll see if he continues on this way, or if he falls back into his same patterns.
Also in this section, Rosamund finally manages to manipulate Tertius Lydgate into offering for her. Somehow I suspect that this particular pairing will be no more successful than that of Dorothea/Casaubon.
If there is a gun on the mantle at the beginning of the book, then by the end of the following book, someone will have shot someone. And so, we have the long-awaited demise of Featherstone, which caused discredit to pretty much everyone EXCEPT Mary Garth. Fred ended up with nothing, of course, which may be the making of him in the end. Certainly becoming a gentleman of leisure wouldn’t have done anything for his character. We will see what Eliot has in store for her characters in the later books. Right now, she seems to be pretty much brutalizing everyone.