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Casaubon looks forward to the end of the courtship, as he is eager to return his energies to his great work, the Key to all Mythologies. Dorothea offers to learn Latin and Greek in order to help him with his project. Casaubon, pleased with her submissive affection, consents to teach her. Mr. Brooke tells him that such "deep studies" are "too taxing for a woman." He states that music is a more suitable activity. Dorothea responds that Casaubon is not fond of the piano.
Sir James believes that Brooke should not have allowed Dorothea to become engaged to such an old, dry man as Casaubon. He appeals to Mr. Cadwallader to speak to Brooke about putting a stop to the marriage. Cadwallader states that Casaubon is an honorable man because he financially supports his poor relations. Nevertheless, Sir James feels that the difference in age between bride and groom is enough justification for postponing the marriage. However, he finds that his relationship with Dorothea is easier because he no longer has any "passion to hide or confess."
The Brookes visit Lowick manor, Casaubon's residence. Dorothea notices the miniature portraits of Casaubon's mother and her older sister. Casaubon confirms her assertion that there is little resemblance between the sisters. He states that the elder sister made an unfortunate marriage. During the tour of the grounds, they notice a young man drawing sketches. Casaubon informs them that he is Will Ladislaw, his second cousin and grandson of his ill-fated aunt. Brooke and Celia admire his sketches, but Dorothea says that she is not educated enough to judge them. Will thinks she means to criticize or insult him. They bid good-bye to Will, and Casaubon tells them that he fears that Will has no ambition. He has agreed to pay the expenses of a trip abroad for Will, however, to give him time to settle on a profession.
Casaubon wonders why he does not grow happier as the day of the marriage approaches. He expresses regret that Celia will not accompany them on their wedding trip. He fears that Dorothea will be lonely when he has to work on his project. Dorothea replies haughtily that he should not mention it again, because she will take care of herself. She immediately regrets her short temper.
At the engagement party, Dorothea meets Lydgate, the new, young surgeon. Lydgate thinks she is a fine girl, but too earnest. She wants too many reasons for everything. He prefers the company of Rosamond Vincy, the daughter of the mayor. She is beautiful and looks at things from "the proper feminine angle." Rosamond becomes interested in Lydgate. She prefers to marry a man who is not from Middlemarch, and she believes Lydgate has important, aristocratic relatives.
Rosamond and her brother, Fred, decide to go visit their elderly uncle, Peter Featherstone. Featherstone's second wife, Mrs. Vincy's sister, died with no children. She hopes that her own children, especially Fred, will inherit Featherstone's wealth. Featherstone accuses Fred of borrowing money for gambling debts, using his possible inheritance of Featherstone's wealth as security. He names Mr. Bulstrode, Fred's uncle, as the man who could prove or disprove the rumor. Bulstrode, a wealthy banker, would know everything about the borrowing or lending of money. Featherstone demands that Fred secure a letter from Bulstrode confirming or denying the rumor.
Mary Garth, Featherstone's niece by his first marriage, is charged with the care of the sick old man. Fred is also madly in love with her. He asks Rosamond if Mary mentioned anything about him. He fears that Mary has heard the rumor about his gambling debts. Rosamond replies that Mary only said that he is unsteady and that she would refuse to marry Fred if he proposed.
Casaubon himself suffers from unrealistic notions regarding the ideal wife. Dorothea may not relate to him as an individual, but he does not relate to Dorothea as an individual either. He wants a completely submissive helpmate. He doesn't court Dorothea for what she is, but for what he thinks he can make her be.
Dorothea is a good deal less submissive than he believes her to be. Despite numerous clues, he fails to recognize her stubborn, independent streak. Dorothea scorns the social constraints on women. She doesn't want to limit herself to the "proper" education for women. Dorothea wants to pursue those studies considered "too taxing." Dorothea fails to realize that Casaubon doesn't want an equal partner. She even deludes herself into thinking she wants to submit to him. His ideal wife is not far from conventional ideals of womanhood. Wives are generally expected to live through their husbands, not independently of them. Dorothea's idealized notion of self-sacrificing virtue ignores the need to balance self-interest and the interests of others.
Dorothea subscribes to her own ideal notion of herself. She denies her own personal desires. She wants to learn Latin and Greek for her own sake, not merely to help Casaubon. She doesn't merely want a wise husband; she wants to be wise herself. The social constraints placed on women force her to take a circuitous route to wisdom. Although it is distinctly unfeminine to learn Greek and Latin, she can do so by submitting to another social convention; her unfeminine education is justified by notions of wifely duties. Her self-delusion arises partly out of a need to legitimize her pursuit of higher learning, but it also arises from her idealization of self-sacrifice.
People continually describe Dorothea and Casaubon with opposing metaphors. Casaubon is dry, old, and deathly; Dorothea is young and lively. Rather than complementing one another, they seem essentially opposed to one another. Dorothea's idealism also leads her to misinterpret the assistance Casaubon gives Will. He helps Will out of a strict notion of duty. Dorothea believes he does so out of a naturally generous nature.
Dorothea also wants passionate, tender affection from Casaubon. However, he considers her happiness in the same way he views Will's. He wants to do his duty as a husband. He studiously considers her comfort during the journey to Rome in the same dry, strict manner. He views his role as a husband in the same abstract terms of responsibilities. Dorothea continually feels rejected when she doesn't receive the emotional response she desires, and Casaubon continually feels inadequate as a husband when his responses upset her.
The Vincy family represents the successful middle-class family with upper-class pretensions. The changing social structure brought about by industrialization made upward social mobility possible. Walter Vincy is not a worldly, educated man, but he dreams of offering his children a step up the social ladder. He pays for Fred's expensive college education in order to socialize him into manners and customs of the landed gentry, as well as to prepare him for a career as a clergyman. In the past, social status was determined primarily by birth. The rise of industrialization, however, allowed middle-class men to achieve the status of gentlemen through education and a successful profession.
For the Vincy daughter, however, the process of upward social mobility is different. Rosamond represents one stereotypical view of women. She has been trained to be a socialite wife by going to an expensive finishing school. Her "education" has molded her into the perfect ornament for a wealthy husband. A woman's status is not self-made. Rather, her husband's status determines her status. Still, Rosamond views her future husband with an unrealistic idealism. To her, Lydgate is the mysterious newcomer in town with rumored family connections. She views him as though he stepped out of a conventional romantic novel.
Lydgate himself suffers from stereotypical ideals of femininity. He finds Dorothea "troublesome." Unlike most women, she insists on reasons and explanations. His ideal wife is an adornment to his life. He believes that he wants an ornament, not a partner. However, he will find that his "ideal" wife isn't necessarily the best wife for him.
The Vincys believe that money is the ticket to success and social freedom. But Peter Featherstone demonstrates the manner in which money is also a tool for manipulation. He uses the uncertain promise of a large inheritance to control and humiliate Fred. Eliot often uses a web as a metaphor for the complex, interconnected social relations in Middlemarch. Money functions as a representation of this web. Featherstone instructs Fred to ask his uncle, Mr. Bulstrode, to confirm or deny the accusation against him. Bulstrode, as a banker, has an intimate view into the private lives of Middlemarch citizens through their finances. Private problems and secret sins are often discovered by tracing financial transactions.
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