Middlemarch

Middlemarch

by

George Eliot

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Middlemarch: Book 2, Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back in the moment when Dorothea is crying alone in the apartment, Casaubon’s servant Tantripp knocks on the door with the news that a relative of Casaubon is waiting in the lobby. Dorothea is relieved to be distracted from her own self-pity and goes to greet Will. Dorothea explains that Casaubon is very busy, but if Will leaves his address he will write to him. Will is horrified—if not completely surprised—that Casaubon is spending practically his entire honeymoon in the Vatican library. The thought of him and Dorothea being married fills Will with “comic disgust.”
Will originally disliked Dorothea on the basis that anyone who married Casaubon must be awful. However, he is now beginning to see that she is nothing like Casaubon, and this makes him think of her very differently. Indeed, Will’s disgust suggests that he actually thinks quite highly of Dorothea and may have feelings for her.
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Will smiles a charming smile, and Dorothea asks if something amuses him. He replies that he is thinking of when they met and Dorothea insulted his painting—which she immediately denies. She insists that she is just ignorant about art, which has been confirmed by her time in Rome. Will admits that one must learn to appreciate art. He says that many of his friends in Rome are German artists, but that he doesn’t like the idea of seeing the world from the perspective of a painter. Will says he doesn’t like things that don’t “come easily” to him, and Dorothea replies that Casaubon finds this impatience frustrating.
As has become clear by this point, Middlemarch features many pairings of characters who are opposite to each other (e.g. Dorothea and Celia, Sir James and Casaubon, and Rosamond and Mary). Here we see that Casaubon and Will are another of these pairs. Will is impulsive, impatient, and free-spirited; if Dorothea likes these qualities, this does not bode well for her happiness with Casaubon.
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Ambition and Disappointment Theme Icon
Community and Class Theme Icon
Will says that few people are as patient as Casaubon, and it is a shame that his scholarship is hindered by the fact that he can’t read German. Dorothea is distressed at the thought that Casaubon’s work might actually be pointless. Seeing that he has upset her, Will backtracks, but Dorothea only says that she wishes she had learned German while she was in Switzerland so that she could help Casaubon now.
This passage adds an important twist to our impression of Casaubon. Dorothea has always idealized him, believing that he was a great man akin to John Locke. However, there is actually little evidence for this, and Will’s words suggest it might be a mistaken impression.  
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Ambition and Disappointment Theme Icon
Progress and Reform Theme Icon
Casaubon arrives and invites Will to dinner the next day; Will agrees and leaves. Dorothea apologizes to her husband for her angry words that morning and begins to cry again. Casaubon wants to tell her that she shouldn’t have seen Will without him, but he doesn’t.
Casaubon’s desire for Dorothea not to see Will alone shows that he has conservative views about what married women should be allowed to do—which will likely prove problematic for Dorothea.
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
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