Ladislaw predicts that, with all the hype surrounding the Reform Bill, there will soon be another election. Brooke says he doesn’t want to take a position on the question of electoral reform, instead focusing on the abolition of slavery and criminal reform. However, Ladislaw insists that the English population is desperate for electoral reform. Ladislaw is happy about Brooke’s appreciation of his rhetorical skill. At the same time, if it weren’t for Dorothea he would certainly still be in Italy, engaged in creative pursuits.
Throughout the novel it is unclear whether Ladislaw is truly committed to reform—or indeed whether he is truly committed to anything beyond Dorothea. He seems passionate about reform, but the detail that if it weren’t for Dorothea he would be in Italy doing something creative throws off this impression.
It is true that Ladislaw enjoys “belonging to no class.” This is taken as grounds for people in Middlemarch to distrust him, although opinion is divided on whether Ladislaw deserves to have been cut off by Casaubon. He likes “to ramble about among the poor people,” and especially loves playing with children. The people in Middlemarch who like him tend to be those in favor of Reform, such as Farebrother and his female relatives. Yet Ladislaw spends most of his time at the Lydgates’, where he and Lydgate get into debates about political versus medical reform.
Ladislaw’s fondness for talking to poor people suggests that he is a genuine social radical, even if he is also a bit of a dilettante who can sometimes get distracted by the thought of other pursuits. Although he and Lydgate are passionate about different kinds of social progress, their bond shows that medical reform and political reform are actually closely connected, perhaps even parts of the same overall project.
Lydgate refuses to believe that “society can be cured by a political hocus-pocus.” The debate turns bitter, and Ladislaw gets upset, which Lydgate insists was not his intention. Rosamond declares that they are both “unpleasant,” particularly for having mentioned money. To ease the tension, Ladislaw and Rosamond sing together. Once Ladislaw leaves, Rosamond asks why Lydgate was so irritable that evening; he doesn’t tell her it was because a bill for furniture has been stressing him. Rosamond is pregnant and Lydgate doesn’t want to upset her.
It is ironic that Lydgate should be so opposed to political reform considering he is confronting the consequences of such opposition to his kind of reform every day. While his words could just be ascribed to his bad mood, they also indicate that getting people to accept change is always difficult, even among people who consider themselves progressive.