Rosamond and Lydgate discuss the reforms needed in Middlemarch, both to improve the conditions of poor tenants and to advance healthcare. Lydgate stresses that the problems cannot be solved by one man alone. In addition, his work is made more difficult by opposition to reform. A further challenge is added by Bulstrode’s unpopularity, which means that many people oppose anything that is associated with him. Lydgate is shocked by the “ignorance” in Middlemarch. He is dismayed by the number of people who distrust him simply because he is young and new to the area.
This passage shows that Lydgate himself was also naïve. His grand ambitions about bringing reform and progress to Middlemarch blinded him to the reality that it is a conservative community highly resistant to change. Furthermore, the reasons for this resistance are often irrational—yet unfortunately, this makes them no less powerful.
Dorothea says she is glad Lydgate has told her about this, and promises to give £200 a year to the New Hospital, as she has too much money anyway. Later she asks Casaubon about giving £200 out of the £700 a year allowance she receives through her marriage. He suggests it’s too much for one cause, but doesn’t seem to really mind. Casaubon concludes that Dorothea must know the same truth he knows about his health. He doesn’t trust her kindness toward him, which makes him feel desperately lonely.
The prospect of charitable giving is the only way that Dorothea has been able to exercise true agency since she has gotten married. Her involvement with the hospital may therefore prove very positive. On the other hand, will philanthropy be enough to satisfy her ardent passion for social reform?