Middlemarch

Middlemarch

by

George Eliot

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Middlemarch can help.

Middlemarch: Book 3, Chapter 29 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
This chapter begins with another consideration of Dorothea’s perspective before switching to Casaubon’s. The narrator argues that Casaubon cannot be blamed for choosing to marry, and points out that he tries to provide everything for his young wife. He had been convinced that Dorothea was the perfect match for him. Overall, he has not led a happy life, and he is severely self-conscious about what other scholars and clergymen really think of his abilities. In fact, he is so insecure about his own work that it makes him question his religious faith. The narrator expresses pity for him.
This is the first time that we get a glimpse of Casaubon’s subjectivity, which has previously remained quite mysterious. The narrator suggests that this passage will increase the reader’s sympathy for Casaubon. Yet while it is clear that Casaubon means Dorothea no harm, it is also hard to sympathize with someone who refuses help in order to preserve an overinflated idea of himself.
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Ambition and Disappointment Theme Icon
Casaubon had planned to rely on Dorothea’s help with his work, but now this strikes him as not worth the effort. Nonetheless she insists on being given tasks to perform. One morning Casaubon hands Dorothea a letter addressed to her from Will which had been enclosed in a letter from Will to Casaubon. He tells her that he will not accept Will’s request to come and visit them at Lowick. Dorothea angrily asks why Casaubon assumes she will disagree on this matter. He wearily replies that he doesn’t want to argue about it. Just at that moment, Casaubon drops his book and grips the table, unable to breathe.
Dorothea is so desperate to appear submissive that she gets angry at Casaubon’s presumption that she will want Will at Lowick (even though it is clear that she and Will get along). This is the kind of manipulative and self-sabotaging behavior that can develop in unhappy marriages. It shows that Dorothea is still trying to suppress her true nature, which will surely only cause more problems.
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Ambition and Disappointment Theme Icon
Dorothea helps Casaubon to the couch. Sir James arrives and Dorothea explains that her husband has “had a fit.” Sir James is unsurprised that Casaubon should be on the brink of death so soon. He suggests that they call Lydgate, who has recently done an excellent job of treating Lady Chettam. When Sir James tell Celia what happened, they both remark on how awful Casaubon is and how strange it is that “noble” Dorothea is married to him. Sir James suggests that Celia go to her sister before Lydgate arrives. Although he is now perfectly happy with Celia, Sir James still thinks it’s a shame that more wasn’t done to prevent Dorothea from marrying Casaubon, for her own sake.
Casaubon is so intensely disliked that even his sister-in-law and her fiancee react to his apparent heart attack by discussing how terrible he is. While sometimes people are looked on more kindly after death than they are when they are alive, this does not seem likely in the case of Casaubon.
Themes
Ambition and Disappointment Theme Icon
Community and Class Theme Icon