Middlemarch

Middlemarch

by

George Eliot

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Middlemarch: Book 1, Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Sir James still enjoys coming to Tipton; he does not feel resentful of Casaubon, but rather worries that Dorothea is gripped by some kind of “melancholy illusion.” Although he tells himself that he accepts Dorothea’s decision, he ultimately decides to intervene and see if the marriage can still be stopped. Sir James goes to the Cadwalladers’, where he encounters the jolly rector Mr. Cadwallader. When Mr. Cadwallader suggests that Dorothea marrying Casaubon isn’t so bad, Sir James replies that Dorothea is “too young to know what she likes” and that Mr. Brooke should intervene.  
It is difficult to tell how much Sir James is really acting in Dorothea’s interests here. While on the one hand his fears for her seem genuine (particularly if we believe that he is no longer personally affronted by her not choosing him), at the same time he patronizingly believes that he knows what’s best for her better than she does herself.
Themes
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Sir James stresses that Casaubon is awful. Mr. Cadwallader protests that Sir James, who is handsome, is putting too much emphasis on Casaubon’s looks—yet James replies that his personality is the problem. Mr. Cadwallader points out that Casaubon is generous with his poor relatives, but Sir James is unconvinced. He thinks that Casaubon won’t make Dorothea happy and that the marriage should be postponed until she is “of age.” Mrs. Cadwallader enters and says that Sir James won’t have any luck convincing her husband, who only cares about fishing.    
Sir James’s suggestion that Dorothea’s marriage at least be postponed is certainly more reasonable than forbidding it altogether. At only 18, it is actually quite likely that Dorothea is naïve and confused about what she actually wants. Furthermore, the fact that Casaubon is so much older indicates that there could be a problematic power imbalance created by their difference in age and life experience.
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Sir James and Mrs. Cadwallader discuss how years of isolated study have spoiled Casaubon’s personality. Mr. Cadwallader says that while he can’t pretend to understand Dorothea’s choices they should still be respected, and that Casaubon is as good as any person. Sir James begins to feel that there is probably no chance of interfering in Dorothea’s engagement. Nonetheless, he persists in helping her with the cottages. Perversely, during these exchanges Dorothea is more pleasant than ever, as she no longer feels irritated with Sir James.
Mr. Cadwallader’s insistence that Dorothea’s decisions be respected suggests that he holds rather unusual opinions for a man in Middlemarch. Perhaps his respect for women’s choices is what attracted Mrs. Cadwallader to him in the first place.
Themes
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