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The wives of the prosperous "Middlemarchers" are thrown into confusion. Most of them like Harriet Vincy, as they still call Mrs. Bulstrode. They feel for her, and yet little jealousies about her fine clothes and feathers in her hats resurface in their talk. Most sympathize with her, though Bulstrode is much disliked. Some people feel that she should leave him.
Harriet Bulstrode herself is extremely disturbed. She knows something serious has taken place, but her husband will not confide in her and is also ill. She visits a couple of friends who either avoid her, or express vague sympathy. At last, she goes to her brotherís office and he tells her the truth. He is disgusted with both Bulstrode and Lydgate and bemoans the marriages of his sister and daughter. But he promises his support to her.
When Mrs. Bulstrode returns home, she locks herself into her room. The trauma of knowing the whole truth about the husband she has always admired is very severe. Yet there is deep feeling between them. She takes off the fashionable clothes of her past life and dresses in simple clothing. Then she goes to her husband and silently offers her loyalty and sympathy. Bulstrode breaks down.
The situation Bulstrode most dreaded has come about, but Mrs. Bulstrode, shown as a simple, sometimes frivolous, but instinctively loving and warm-hearted woman, does not let him down. The symbolic change she accepts in her life, and her uncomplaining, silent offer of support is intended as a glaring contrast to Rosamond.