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Love and Marriage
Though this is not the major theme, three of the four stories in the book are love stories. Yet marriage and love are not necessarily linked, nor is love seen as the inevitable happy ending. For the women, marriage is seen as a necessary step, not so for the men in the novel. Dorothea looks on marriage not as a comfortable meal ticket as she could have had with Chettam, but as a sort of devoted commitment to duty and an entry into a wider more purposeful life. For Rosamond, it is a necessary step up on the social ladder, an escape from the business class family into which she has been born. Both are based on aspirations and illusion and are bound to fail. In Dorothea’s case, since her sincerity and unselfishness are never in doubt, she is given a second chance. Rosamond too, has one after Lydgate’s death, but she is shown incapable of love.
Love is always paired with commitment and sacrifice in the novel. This is true of Dorothea, of Mary, even of Susan Garth and Mrs. Bulstrode. Lydgate is shown suffering and sacrificing his hopes for his love. Farebrother’s generosity is highlighted. But love is not a fulfillment in itself, here, as in so many books of the period.
In fact, George Eliot makes distinction between a love which brings out the best in a person, as in Fred or in Will Ladislaw, and that which is greedy and seeks only its own gratification as in Rosamond.
A contrast is also made between the failed marriages of Casaubon and Dorothea, if Lydgate and Rosamond, with the busy, domestic harmony of Caleb and Susan Garth. This is carried over into the frank, sometimes bitter, but always loving relationship of Mary Garth and Fred Vincy, who "achieved a solid mutual happiness."
Money represents the rising influence of the townspeople, while property is the bulwark of the landed gentry. Both Featherstone and Casaubon attempt to control the lives of others through their property. This is seen to highlight their loneliness as frustration in life and death. Ultimately, their efforts have a contrary effect.
In Fred’s case, he has lived on false expectations hoping to be Featherstone’s heir. When that imagined security is removed, he is compelled to face reality. Even Joshua Rigg, Featherstone’s heir and son, promptly sells off his property to Bulstrode and leaves. Dorothea and Will are kept apart by the scandal following Casaubon’s will, but that is overcome finally.
Bulstrode is another character who has given up his principles, lying to be sole heir to his first wife’s property. He has a flexible creed, which allows him to explain his business success by claiming Divine approval. But his past catches up with him in the shape of the blackmailing Raffles.
Money is, in a way, the downfall of Lydgate and Rosamond. "It had never occurred to him that he should live in any other than what he would have called an ordinary way, with green glasses for hock, and excellent waiting at table," says the author of Lydgate. Rosamond on the other hand, "never thought of money except as something necessary which other people would always provide." This very disregard of money is what entraps them in debt. Even Farebrother, the good Vicar, is shown having a weakness for money. Only Dorothea, who consciously separates her existence form the money she has, uses it always for the benefit for others.
In contrast to money, work is shown to be a salvation - for Will and Fred; a comfort and inspiration to Lydgate; and for Caleb Garth-the creed by which he lives. Honest work is the mainstay of existence in the novel.