Middlemarch

Middlemarch

by

George Eliot

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Middlemarch: Book 1, Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning Dorothea and Casaubon have a long conversation, during which she gets to know his “labyrinthine” mind and similarly complex scholarly project. Casaubon explains that he has an enormous number of notes, and that he must now fashion these into a more concise series of volumes. Dorothea is fascinated by this endeavor and thrilled by the way Casaubon speaks to her, as if she is his intellectual equal. She happily concludes that “he thinks with me,” although then adds that his mind vastly outmatches hers. She finds herself trusting him quickly.
Again, Dorothea’s strong feelings manifest in a self-contradictory way. She is thrilled to feel that Casaubon is speaking with her as an equal, but then quickly reverts to the idea that he is vastly more intelligent than her. This suggests that deep down Dorothea wants to be treated as his equal, but checks herself and pretends she doesn’t in order to conform with societal beliefs about men’s intellectual superiority.
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Ambition and Disappointment Theme Icon
Afterward, Casaubon looks at Mr. Brooke’s documents in his office. Before going, he tells Dorothea he has been feeling lonely. He then leaves for his home, Lowick Manor, which is only five miles away. Nobody would be able to understand Dorothea’s unique, strange fantasies about marriage. She begins to dream that Casaubon will propose to her. For so long she has been confused about the direction her life should take and worried that she wouldn’t find a husband who was pious enough to suit her. Moreover, her intense religiosity is only one aspect of her personality. She is also passionate, obsessed with knowledge, and desperate to follow the “grandest path” in life.
Dorothea evidently feels that Casaubon is the perfect match for her intense, unusual, and self-contradictory character and ideals. While this may be true, she has based her conviction on very little evidence. Indeed, part of Dorothea’s idealism means that she sometimes has trouble seeing things as they really are, but rather gets caught up in fantasies of how she wants them to be. 
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Ambition and Disappointment Theme Icon
Dorothea imagines that if she marries Casaubon she will “learn everything.” She dreams about helping him with his research and designing cottages for the tenants in Lowick, before feeling ashamed that she is getting ahead of herself. In the middle of her daydream, she sees Sir James riding toward her. He greets her, and Dorothea feels annoyed at how friendly he is to her, considering he would be a much better suitor for Celia. Sir James tells Dorothea he has brought her something and hands over a little Maltese puppy. Dorothea coldly replies that she doesn’t think animals should be bred only to be pets, because she believes animals have souls of their own.
The moment when Sir James comes riding toward Dorothea, interrupting her daydream, encapsulates the way that Dorothea’s fantasies sometimes exist in conflict with reality. Her irritation with James despite how kindly he is behaving toward her indicates that Dorothea struggles with the feeling that she is being misunderstood.
Themes
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Ambition and Disappointment Theme Icon
Money and Greed Theme Icon
Dorothea adds that she thinks Celia would like the puppy, but Sir James only responds by admiring Dorothea’s strong opinions. He goes on to say that he has heard about her designs for tenants’ cottages and thinks they are “wonderful.” He offers to pay for the cottages to be built on his own estate. Dorothea briefly forgets her irritation with him and enthusiastically replies that she would be happy to show him her plans. Sir James never ends up offering the puppy to Celia, which makes Dorothea feel guilty. Meanwhile, Celia is horrified to see Sir James being led on by Dorothea.
It is not that Sir James does not understand Dorothea and who she really is. He actually seems to have a unique appreciation for her personality—especially the sides of her that deviate from the gender norms of the time. What he doesn’t understand is that her personality means that she would never be drawn to a person like him. Sir James may be a perfect “match” in the eyes of many (including Celia), but not Dorothea.
Themes
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Ambition and Disappointment Theme Icon
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Shortly after, Casaubon comes to Tipton again. It is increasingly clear that he is deliberately coming to see Dorothea, who is thrilled to spend time with him. During their conversations, the only thing that disappoints her is his lack of interest in the cottages. Dorothea feels ashamed at her own feelings of disappointment. Mr. Brooke then goes to visit Casaubon at Lowick, while Sir James visits Tipton with greater and greater frequency. Dorothea feels irritated with him but nonetheless joins him in planning the cottages. Meanwhile, she spends her time in the library, hoping to become more knowledgeable for her conversations with Casaubon.
Casaubon’s lack of interest in Dorothea’s cottages is the first real evidence that Dorothea’s attachment to him may be misplaced. Casaubon represents an ideal to Dorothea, and while he likes her, his disinterest in her architectural plans suggests that he, unlike Sir James, does not appreciate her for who she truly is.
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Ambition and Disappointment Theme Icon
Progress and Reform Theme Icon