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Monday, April 16, 2012

No Incentive To Change

A Country Cottage by Frederick Watts (1800-1870)
One theme in Middlemarch is the resistance of provincial folks to change.   For this reason, Lydgate faces a lot of opposition in his pursuit to better the lives of his neighbors.  He battles the gossip that arises about his non-traditional methods in treating his patients, differing from his predecessor Mr Peacock as well as his contemporaries.  Having been educated in Paris Lydgate refuses to prescribe medicine for the sake of making money, particularly in cases where no medicinal solution is needed.  His patients, used to being placated by placebo, grow suspicious of his motives, despite the success of his methods.  Rumors fly that Lydgate wants dead bodies for dissection.  Even when patients recover as a  result of Lydgate's methods, people accuse him, by reviving the dead, of using powers reserved for the Divine.  Either way, Lydgate is demonized, by Middlemarchers and fellow practitioners alike, for his desire to make advancements in medicine. 

By being an outsider in a small country town, Lydgate is subject to being misunderstood, even as he misunderstands the environment in which he lives.  He has big dreams, having been educated in Paris and desiring to retire to a provincial setting to implement his new approaches.  He fails to realize the significance of the ballot he casts and how his decision causes him to aligned with the unpopular Bulstrode.  He is also blind to the skepticism the community has toward all things foreign and unfamiliar.  Lydgate's hometown is never disclosed and his familial origins are unclear.  As skeptics, Middlemarchers dissociate themselves from change, objecting to the introduction of the railroads to the detriment of their land.  Despite the setting in an "age of transition," Middlemarchers are hesitant to embrace transition.  Lydgate wrongly believes that success will make his methods more appealing.

Lydgate's chief flaw is pride, trusting in his superior education in dealing with his neighbors.  He acknowledges that "people never consider that a thing is good to be done unless it is done by their own set" (Ch. 44).  Change is only acceptable when it comes from within.  Nevertheless, Lydgate tries to bring change from the outside, never ameliorating his methods with input from other Middlemarch doctors.  He goes too far in overturning, though rightly, Dr. Minchin's diagnosis of a patient, saying "It's not tumour: it's cramp" (Ch. 45).  Dr. Minchin believes that it is "indecent in a general practitioner to contradict a physician's diagnosis" (Ch. 45), showing not only that Lydgate's action was ill-advised but also the lack of respect other have for him by referring to him as merely a "general practitioner."  The failure of Lydgate to assimilate into Middlemarch society causes him to be viewed as an outsider and makes his methods less likely to be accepted.

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