One day Dorothea comes to see Mr. Brooke and Will while they are at work together on the issue of capital punishment. Her presence in the room has an electrifying impact on Will. However, she more or less ignores him, and he feels despondent. Dorothea says that Sir James has told her that Mr. Brooke plans to improve the farm and cottages, which thrills her. However, Brooke says he is only considering it. Dorothea insists that Brooke shouldn’t run on a progressive platform unless he treats his own tenants fairly.
This passage suggests that Dorothea’s architectural plans for the tenant cottages emerged because Brooke’s tenants were always living in bad conditions. Again, this does not set him up well for a political campaign rooted in fighting for social progress.
Mr. Brooke admits that Dorothea may have a point, although not without mentioning the limits of women’s intelligence. He is called outside, leaving Will and Dorothea alone. Will asks if she knows that Casaubon banned him from coming to Lowick; Dorothea, shocked, says: “I am very, very sorry.” Will says that he plans to stay in Middlemarch, but laments that he will never get to see Dorothea. He calls her situation at Lowick “imprisonment.” The two of them discuss faith; that is, the beliefs that motivate them and give life meaning. Dorothea says she must leave, as Mr. Brooke and Celia will be expecting her.
Casaubon’s ban on Will’s coming to Lowick of course has the unintended effect of increasing the intensity of feeling between Will and Dorothea. Anytime a union between two people is forbidden, this union takes on a much more suspenseful, romantic aspect.
Outside, Mr. Brooke approaches one of his tenants, Mr. Dagley, telling him that his son has killed a leveret and is locked up in the stable as punishment. Brooke says the boy will be returned soon, and speaks to Mrs. Dagley about discipline. Mrs. Dagley complains about her husband’s drinking, while Mr. Dagley protests that Brooke’s decision to push Reform in Middlemarch is ironic considering his poor behavior as a landlord. Shocked, Brooke hurries away. He had always assumed that his tenants liked him.
This episode reveals that Brooke’s reputation as a landlord is even worse than we might have assumed. He is so hated that his tenants risk punishment by rudely defying him. This suggests that he has indeed been treating them terribly, as they feel they have nothing to lose. Brooke is clearly a hypocrite who has not internalized the principles of social progress.