Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 35 (2004) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
In the final chapter of George Eliot's Middlemarch, after describing the death of Lydgate and Rosamond's subsequent second marriage to 'an elderly and wealthy physician', the narrator tells us that Lydgate
once called her his basil plant; and when she asked for an explanation, said that basil was a plant which had flourished wonderfully on a murdered man's brains. (Finale; 513)
Rosamond is, before marrying Lydgate, 'admitted to be the flower of Mrs. Lemon's school, the chief school in the county' (11; 62). Now her husband uses a different metaphor. In what sense can Lydgate consider himself 'murdered'?
Tertius Lydgate comes to Middlemarch as an ambitious young surgeon, intending to 'do good small work for Middlemarch, and great work for the world' (15; 96). Sometime after getting married to Rosamond, however, he finds himself in a situation that finally forces him to leave the town in disgrace. His downfall is caused by factors in both his personal and in his professional life: not only is he the husband of a proud, vain woman but also, as a doctor of a new hospital, he has administrative and clerical duties, which include voting to decide the chaplain of the hospital. Because Lydgate' s attitudes and perceptions of women are framed and determined by an earlier encounter, it is important to examine this previous relationship before discussing the domestic life of this scientist. While studying in Paris, Lydgate falls in love with a French actress. After a strange accident on stage and later revelation of the true meaning of the accident, Lydgate's conception of woman as an ideal vanishes instantly. He resolves to 'take a strictly scientific view of woman' (15; 99). This resolution seems to initiate his new perspective of the female species, but his rational pragmatism is undermined by his emotions and, beguiled by Rosamond's beauty, his scientific resolution collapses as he repeats his earlier mistake.
Once in Middlemarch, he begins to be drawn to the beautiful daughter of the mayor, believing that 'this play at being a little in love was agreeable, and did not interfere with grave pursuits' (27; 168). As Mason contends,
it is the lack of an empirical check on pre-conceptions that makes the personal side of Lydgate's life vulgarly unscientific .... The facts of the body are not adequate evidence for theories of the soul.