Serial Reading Guide for Middlemarch: Book Seven (chs. 63 – 71)
Page numbers are indicated for the Norton Critical Edition (2000).
1. Note the narrator’s remarks on catalysts that can radically transform an existing state of affairs. In Book Six (regarding Fred’s change of spirit), we read that “the effective accident is but the touch of fire where there is oil and tow” (347, ch. 56). In Book Seven, it seems that even a state of affairs that seems completely blank (a row of zeroes) can, under the right circumstances, be transformed by dropping a numeral in the right spot: “the effect of a numeral before cyphers” (397, ch. 63). Eliot seems to be emphasizing the misleading, incomplete nature of viewing any situation (or person) in isolation from the forces that may affect it, given a chance.
2. Is fate good or bad? Can it be provoked, called, or influenced, as Bulstrode hopes? Is “providence” another word for luck, an excuse for inaction, or the justification of selfish human motivations? Perhaps more to the novel’s ambiguous point, how can we tell what providence is? Consider Bulstrode’s thoughts in chapter 61: “‘Do you call these bare events? The Lord pity you!’ The events were comparatively small, but the essential condition was there—namely, that they were in favor of his own ends” (382). And in Book Seven, consider how Bulstrode tangles with providence.
3. As with claims, which can be good or bad (or both), “obligation” rises to thematic prominence in Book Seven (399, ch. 63 etc.).
4. Middlemarchers still feeling the effects of interdependence: A fine act “produces a sort of regenerating shudder through the frame” (418, ch. 66).
5. Bulstrode’s conscience and Eliot’s remarkable narrative skill: (435, chapter 70), and the consequent effects on Lydgate (450-51, chapter 71).
6. Selected Middlemarch genealogy tree, part 2. No spoilers if you see this after reading Book Six: