A week later Will leaves for “Europe” (with no more specific destination in mind). He is prone to trying extreme behaviors such as drinking to excess, fasting until he faints, and taking opium. None of these experiments have had the transformative effect he was hoping for. He finds Casaubon’s plodding commitment to his enormous work of scholarship ridiculous. The narrator observes that, like all people, “Casaubon, too, was the center of his own world” and believes that fate has certain things lined up for him. Yet as the wedding approaches, he does not feel happy.
Somewhat like Celia and Dorothea, Will and Casaubon are total opposites, and their personalities come into relief when compared to one another. Will may be somewhat impulsive, impatient, and passionate, but the force of his personality makes Casaubon seem dreadfully dull in comparison. Somewhat surprisingly, Will’s love of extremes makes him seem rather similar to Dorothea.
Dorothea, on the other hand, is filled with excitement and optimism about her marriage. The couple plans to travel to Rome on their honeymoon, where Casaubon will examine manuscripts held at the Vatican. Casaubon invites Celia to come as a companion to Dorothea, but both sisters are opposed to this idea. Casaubon says Dorothea will be lonely because he will have to spend a lot of time studying, and that he would feel freer if he knew Dorothea had a companion. Annoyed, Dorothea tells him not to worry about her or to bring up the subject again.
While Dorothea claims to be totally devoted to Casaubon, there are clearly problematic clashes in what they want out of marriage (and indeed life). Dorothea dreams of being a partner to Casaubon in the truest sense of the word, and of getting to live her dreams through him. Casaubon, meanwhile, seems to basically want to be left alone.
That night, a large dinner party is held at Tipton Grange before the wedding. Dorothea looks modest but serenely beautiful. Guests at the dinner include a banker (Bulstrode) who is a Methodist and thought to be a “hypocrite.” The men discuss Dorothea, debating which qualities make a woman attractive. They also discuss Rosamond Vincy, whom Mr. Brooke did not invite to the dinner because she is the daughter of a manufacturer.
This passage emphasizes the different factors involved in being seen as respectable in Middlemarch society. Having money without rank is looked down on, as shown by Rosamond not being invited because her father is a manufacturer. Meanwhile, the Anglican church is seen as the only respectable form of faith.
Mrs. Cadwallader and Lady Chettam discuss medicines, a favorite topic among those of high social rank. They concur that Casaubon has been looking very “dry” since the proposal, and that compared to Sir James he resembles “death’s head skinned over for the occasion.” Lady Chettam notes that James still refuses to say anything bad about Dorothea. The women then observe that Dorothea is having a lively conversation with Tertius Lydgate about cottages and hospitals.
Dorothea’s conversation with Tertius Lydgate indicates that she is more comfortable around men discussing serious issues such as medicine, architecture, and reform than she is gossiping about marriage with other women. Again, this marks her as an oddball within Middlemarch society.
Lydgate is a young doctor who has a charming, empathetic way of talking to people. He is enthusiastic about improving the field of medicine. Some of the men at the dinner party object to this enthusiasm for reform, but Bulstrode welcomes it, saying he hopes Lydgate will one day be in charge of the New Hospital in Middlemarch. One man expresses fear about being subject to experimental treatments. Lydgate himself, who cannot hear this conversation, is fascinated by Dorothea, whom he thinks is both a “fine girl” and “a little too earnest.” Shortly after the dinner party, she and Casaubon head to Rome.
This passage introduces another major theme of the novel: reform and the intense opposition to it that tends to exist in Middlemarch. The fears over being subject to medical experiments suggest that Middlemarchers have unfounded and irrational fears about science and medicine. These fears are liable to hold the town back in the midst of widespread reform and progress in the rest of the country.