Chapters 46-47 (Reform)
Eliot brings in the growing excitement over reform, which will lead to the great Reform Bill of 1832. In this time of ferment, Brooke and Will are working together on articles for The Pioneer favoring reform and greater political participation for the working classes, and Brooke is getting ready to stand for Parliament. The local people view Will as an outsider, and his only friends are the Farebrothers and Lydgates. Nevertheless, he is happy, being near Dorothea and learning a new area of endeavor. He is aware his literary skills are too superior for Middlemarch. Will is a “gypsy” in terms of class, but he feels the romance of his wandering position.
Will and Lydgate argue one evening about the ethics of letting an undesirable person promote a beneficial cause. They are both uneasy because Lydgate is getting support from Bulstrode and Will, from Mr. Brooke. Lydgate is also upset by the domestic bills he can’t pay, but he is afraid to mention them to his wife, because she is pregnant.
Will goes to church to be near Dorothea but sees it is a stupid blunder, for it increases the tension between the Casaubons.
Eliot is skilled in depicting a cross-section of the social classes to show how they interact to make society. Traditional “silver fork” novels only portrayed the manners of the upper classes, as if their stories were the only ones that made a difference. Eliot’s novel is a social novel, and therefore, like Dickens, she includes all classes, though she focuses on the middle class.
Sometimes Eliot portrays dialogue dramatically at a gathering to give us a sample of opinion in Middlemarch; sometimes she moves quickly from gossip at Mrs. Dollop’s public house in Slaughter Lane to a conversation among doctors, as though cutting in a film. Other times she is the intrusive and omniscient narrator explaining things to us. The interesting thing is to see the characters at their everyday lives with the historical events, such as the Reform Bill, in the background, just as we are the foreground of our own lives, while the “great” moments are happening in the newspapers.
Yet, we also see the trickle-down effect of the great events on ordinary lives, such as the fate of the tenants on the land, and what the improvements in medicine mean to the local people. The younger characters, Will, Dorothea, and Lydgate, are alive to the drama of change and want to be part of it, while the older generation resists it. Mr. Brooke may be the exception, but he is made out to be an incompetent fool, doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Likewise, Bulstrode is a leader of change, but on his own terms. The younger generation is fast learning about “the retarding friction” of the world that takes the edge off idealism.
There are the idealists, the power mongers of self-interest, the unimaginative majority, and finally, the honest people of common sense, like Farebrother and the Garths, whom the narrator finds to be the social backbone, those who, without fanfare, keep society going in the right direction.