That evening Lydgate speaks with Rosamond, expressing surprise and confusion about Dorothea’s marriage. Lydgate and Rosamond’s flirtation cannot be kept secret in Middlemarch, which is rife with gossip (especially about Rosamond). Mrs. Plymdale and Mrs. Bulstrode discuss Rosamond; Mrs. Plymdale says she knows the Bulstrodes have helped encourage the courtship between Lydgate and Rosamond, but that she is actually grateful that Ned is not going to marry her. She believes that Rosamond thinks too highly of herself, convinced that “no young man in Middlemarch is good enough for her.”
Mrs. Plymdale’s words may sound like a defensive attempt to save face, but her assessment of Rosamond is correct. Meanwhile, the gossip about Rosamond and Lydgate’s relationship only adds fuel to the fire of Rosamond’s fantasy. Can she be blamed for getting caught up in the dream of marrying Lydgate if it is all that anyone is talking about?
Mrs. Bulstrode expresses shock at the idea of there being anything between Lydgate and Rosamond, adding that she isn’t prone to gossip. Later, Mrs. Bulstrode tells Rosamond that she has heard that she is engaged. Rosamond denies it, but Mrs. Bulstrode immediately begins warning her niece about marrying Lydgate, because he is poor and Rosamond is unlikely to inherit anything from Mr. Vincy. Rosamond denies that Lydgate is poor, mentioning his “high connections.” Mrs. Bulstrode asks if Lydgate has proposed and, embarrassed to say no, Rosamond requests that they stop talking about it.
This passage reveals that Rosamond is too naïve (or too obsessed with rank) to know the difference between “high connections” and money. While she certainly appears to care more about social status than money, her desire for superiority surely necessitates a certain amount of wealth. We know that Mrs. Bulstrode’s warnings are wise because both the narrator and Lydgate himself have said that Lydgate is poor.
Following this exchange, Mrs. Bulstrode decides to speak with Lydgate herself. She scolds Lydgate for leading Rosamond on and interfering with her other marriage prospects, which infuriates him. The next day when Farebrother invites Lydgate to dinner at the Vincys’, Lydgate refuses, saying he has too much work to do. He decides that he won’t go to the Vincys’ again except in a professional capacity. This leaves Rosamond devastated, though she comforts herself by imaging that Mrs. Bulstrode might have stopped Lydgate from coming.
At this stage it is unclear whether Lydgate decides to stop going to the Vincys’ out of pride or because he is genuinely worried about misleading Rosamond, considering that he doesn’t plan to marry yet. Either way, the situation shows how difficult it is to go about one’s life in Middlemarch without multiple people interfering.
However, after ten days Lydgate stops at the Vincys’ with a message for Mr. Vincy and finds Rosamond alone. He is moved by how obviously overwhelmed she is to see him; this moment “shook flirtation into love.” Lydgate asks what’s wrong, and Rosamond begins to cry. Lydgate embraces her and kisses her tears. Within half an hour, they are engaged. That night, Lydgate finds Mr. Vincy returning from Stone Court with the news that Featherstone will probably soon die—news that has put Mr. Vincy in a decidedly happy mood. He cheerfully gives his approval of Lydgate and Rosamond’s engagement.
For all his single-mindedness, Lydgate is quite easily seduced by Rosamond. Seeing her passion for him causes him to instantly change course and propose immediately. This could be interpreted as romantic, but it is also potentially dangerous. Lydgate is not acting in a practical, considered manner, and neither is Rosamond. Instead, they are both caught up in a dream.