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Dorothea is an exceptional woman: she is smart, pious,
and beautiful, and the governing principle of her character is her
desire to help the needy, seen in her interest in redesigning the
local farmers’ cottages. By giving money to Lydgate’s hospital,
she is able to help the less fortunate, and by giving money directly
Lydgate, she frees him from his debt to Bulstrode. Her philanthropic
impulse indicates her essential goodness.
Dorothea is also stubborn and strong-willed, going against
common advice to wed Casaubon, a much older man. Her marriage to him
is driven by her desire to be taught by him, and she devotes herself
to him entirely—and is appropriately devastated when he dies. Unfortunately,
Casaubon doesn’t trust her unmitigated devotion, either to his work
or in loving him. When Dorothea learns of a clause in his will that
forbids her to marry his cousin Will Ladislaw, Dorothea’s devotion
to her deceased husband shifts. She feels betrayed by his insinuation
that she was unfaithful. In response, Dorothea refuses to finish
Casaubon’s work, an indication that she is returning to her independent,
pre-marriage self. When Dorothea does marry Ladislaw, she reveals
her growth as a person. This marriage is a mutual understanding
and partnership, and both members are equals. This marriage required
Dorothea to flout convention and forgo her inherited wealth, and
her willingness to do so show that she has regained her earlier
rebellious energy but with a newfound maturity.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Middlemarch!