Dorothea Brooks, a pious young woman, lives with her younger sister and uncle at Tipton Grange. She thinks she is in love with a deeply intellectual older man, Casaubon. After marrying him, she discovers he is not what she wanted nor is the marriage, but it is what she has. Her husband's second cousin, Ladislaw, visits them on their honeymoon trip, innocently prompting jealousy in the older man. Casaubon adds a codicil to his will that requires his young widow to relinquish the substantial money and property he will leave her should she marry Ladislaw at anytime after his death. He dies soon after.
Rosamond Vincy is taken with the new young doctor, Lydgate, who thinks he does not yet have the right to marry because he hasn't made his fortune. He had been studying innovations in medicine in Paris, and has come to Middlemarch to head the new fever hospital (an unpaid position) and attempt to build the practice he has bought. She marries him, and manages to spend them into debt. Instead of being supportive when their debts come due, she keeps her thoughts to herself. She seeks separation-.-first from their problems and then from her husband.
It is the widowed Dorothea, after, accidentally finding Rosamond unchaperoned with Ladislaw, who explains to her that Rosamond and Lydgate must talk with each other and endure their problems together. Unbeknownst to Dorothea, Rosamond has fantasies concerning Ladislaw as her resource. Dorothea thinks that Ladislaw prefers Rosamond. Dorothea did not hear him say she is the only woman he loves when she came upon them together, alone, in Lydgate's home.
Fred Vincy has failed his exams rather than graduate and be forced to become a member of the clergy by his father. Mary explains that she would not marry him if he became a clergyman when he didn't want to. She also would not marry a man devoted to gambling and hunting. He'd already asked Caleb, Mary's father, to co-sign a loan to pay a gambling debt. He lost the money to repay the loan on a bad horse trade Mary could not have such irresponsibility in a husband, and she is very upset that her father must now repay Fred's gambling debt. After an illness, much angst, and a return to school for his degree, Fred realizes he would like to do what Mary's father does-manage estates-and he works with Caleb, learning the trade.
Ladislaw has come to Middlemarch to be near Dorothea. While respectful of her marriage to his second cousin (who had been supporting him as a familial duty), he was falling in love with her. Her husband had ordered her not to invite him to their home, but her uncle-Brooke-hired him to help at Tipton Grange and they did run into each other. Ladislaw hears of the codicil to Casaubon's will and vows to leave Dorothea in peace. It takes him over two months to actually leave. He later returns. After being found by Dorothea with his hands intimately on Rosamond's face, he vows to leave again rather than have Dorothea penniless. She doesn't want that, and tells him. They marry.
Bulstrode, head of the board of directors at the new fever hospital, had been married before to the daughter of a questionable family, which just happened to be Ladislaw's mother's family. Before being married, Bulstrode had hired Raffles to find Ladislaw's mother, who had run away to the stage. He'd done this at Ladislaw's grandmother's request, so that her daughter could inherit the business from her deceased father (Bulstrode's first wife's first husband) before she gave it to Bulstrode upon their marriage. Raffles did find the girl, but Bulstrode managed to suppress this information. Raffles shows up at Stone Court to attempt to gain an income from his estranged stepson, who has just inherited Featherstone's home, but Riggs refuses him. Raffles recognized Bulstrode and renewed his blackmailing of him. Later, Raffles becomes ill and asks to be taken to Bulstrode's home, where Lydgate comes to attend him.
Bulstrode does not follow Lydgate's medical instructions,...
(The entire section is 5,530 words.)