Celia comments that Sir James is eager to do everything Dorothea wants, and Dorothea replies: “He thinks of me as a future sister.” Celia blushes and tells Dorothea she is wrong, adding that rumors indicate that Sir James intends to marry Dorothea. Celia goes on to say that it is obvious that Sir James is in love with Dorothea and that everyone will expect her to accept his proposal. Dorothea feels disgusted and bursts out in anger that she has done nothing to make Sir James believe she likes him. Celia says she sympathizes with James and observes that Dorothea always sees the world differently from everyone else.
Celia’s reference to other people’s rumors and expectations shows that courtship and marriage do not simply happen between two people. Instead, the whole community gets involved, and the opinions of others take on a surprising degree of significance. Dorothea seems to resent this community involvement, as popular opinion conflicts with what she really wants.
Dorothea insists that she must abandon the cottages and be rude to Sir James from now on. She begins to cry; Celia tries to comfort her but ends up insulting her by saying that her interest in the cottages is a “fad.” Dorothea reacts furiously and feels resentful of Celia. At that moment Mr. Brooke returns from a trip to town. He mentions that he stopped at Lowick for lunch and has brought pamphlets about the early church for Dorothea. Happy again, Dorothea goes to read them in the library.
Mr. Brooke finds Dorothea entranced by her reading; he tells her that he’s noticed Casaubon wants a wife. When Dorothea replies that anyone should consider themselves honored to fill that role, Mr. Brooke replies that Casaubon thinks highly of Dorothea as well. He then explains that Casaubon has asked his permission to propose to Dorothea. She doesn’t reply at first, but then tells her uncle that if Casaubon proposes she will accept. Mr. Brooke replies that Casaubon is “a good match in some respects,” but that she should also consider Sir James, whose land borders Brooke’s own. Dorothea says she will never marry him.
As is customary during this time, Mr. Brooke acts as a go-between and authority when it comes to setting up a marriage for Dorothea. While he clearly believes that Dorothea should have some degree of choice in the matter of marriage, he is also hesitant about encouraging her preferences. He also suggests that Dorothea consider pragmatic issues of land and property, which do not appear to interest her as important considerations.
Mr. Brooke is confused, feeling that he doesn’t understand women. At 45, Casaubon is 27 years older than Dorothea, and Casaubon’s health is poor. Dorothea says she’d prefer a husband who is older so he can teach her, and Mr. Brooke is surprised again, saying he thought Dorothea liked having her own opinions more than most women. He reflects that he never loved anyone enough to submit to the “noose” of marriage. Eventually, he assures Dorothea that she will be able to choose whom she wants. He hands Dorothea a letter and leaves her to read it.
Mr. Brooke identifies the contradictory nature of Dorothea’s feelings and concludes that he doesn’t understand women. This is a surprisingly apt observation, as Dorothea’s self-contradictory thoughts arguably result from the pressure to live up to gender roles that conflict with her true feelings.