All the time that Casaubon spends at Tipton during his and Dorothea’s engagement forces him to neglect his scholarly project, The Key to All Mythologies. Dorothea suggests that she should learn to read Latin or Greek to help him with his work, but Casaubon replies that learning those languages is known to make women rebellious. Dorothea denies that this would be the case for her, and after some encouragement from Casaubon resolves to start learning herself. Her relative lack of education has always made her uncertain of her opinions, and she looks forward to this changing.
Casaubon’s belief that knowledge of Latin and Greek makes women rebellious is important. Throughout history, withholding education has been a way to oppress groups of people on the basis of class, race, and gender. Dorothea must therefore present her desire to learn as a desire to affirm her inferiority through assisting Casaubon. Yet it is difficult to believe that this is what she truly wants.
Mr. Brooke tells Casaubon that certain subjects are too difficult for women, but Casaubon replies that Dorothea is only learning the Greek alphabet. Brooke says that women do better at dabbling in the fine arts, such as art and music. Dorothea finds these pursuits silly. Casaubon says he doesn’t like music of any kind, and Mr. Brooke concludes that maybe he and Dorothea are well matched after all. He hopefully imagines that Casaubon will eventually be made a bishop, or at least a dean, in the Anglican church. In the future, Mr. Brooke will give a political speech about the excessive income of deans, but he does not know that now.
This passage provides more information about the way woman are viewed in Middlemarch society. They are expected to serve a basically ornamental role, to be both beautiful themselves and to engage in aesthetic pursuits. This highlights how little women are actually valued. They are treated as decorations rather than as full human beings.