At this point the “dry election” takes place (nicknamed as such because people are so absorbed in politics that sales of alcohol decline). Will has no idea about Casaubon’s will, but has noticed that Brooke has suddenly stopped inviting him to Tipton, which angers him. He thinks: “I might as well be at Rome; she [Dorothea] would be no farther from me.” Brooke remains hesitant about the Reform Bill, but Will insists that if they sit around waiting for a perfect bill, nothing will ever change. Brooke is always ultimately persuaded by Will’s arguments.
Here we learn that while Will has a reputation as a bold radical, in reality he is actually more of a reformist than a revolutionary. Mr. Brooke’s opposition to the Reform Bill may well be rooted in Brooke’s ignorance and indecisiveness rather than an objection that it is not radical enough. However, Will’s response shows that he is more moderate than we might expect.
Mr. Brooke has a conversation with Mr. Mawmsey who, as the local grocer, finds himself pulled in multiple directions as he has customers across the political spectrum. Business is good for him at the moment, and thus he is wary of any great societal change. Will has written many speeches for Brooke, but worries that the scattered nature of Brooke’s mind will mean that he fails to deliver them properly.
This passage introduces a more valid reason why people can be scared of change. If they are secure and prosperous, the prospect of change can be scary. However, this is also a way in which people act selfishly, caring only about their own prosperity instead of justice.
One morning in May, Brooke prepares to give a public speech in advance of the official nomination procedure the next day. He initially feels optimistic; however, after the first candidate gives a comprehensive and impressive speech, Brooke grows nervous. When it is his turn, he gives a confident introduction and declares that he has never been “so proud and happy in my life.” From this point, his speech becomes more and more boastful, incoherent, and filled with irrelevance. At this moment an effigy of Brooke is hoisted up in the crowd. People are laughing at him, and start pelting the effigy with eggs.
Brooke is a pompous and obnoxious character and thus fairly unsympathetic. However, in this moment it is difficult not to feel deep pity for him, even if it is also clear that he is unqualified to run for political office. The vicious nature of the audience’s reaction highlights the strong feelings that exist around the questions of reform and political change more generally surrounding this election.
Eggs now come flying at Brooke himself, and he flees to avoid being hit. He tries to assure Will that everything will be all right with the nomination the next day, even though this hardly seems likely. Will starts thinking about his future; he feels that there are many opportunities for success open to him, and he resolves to leave Middlemarch. However, he won’t go until he and Dorothea exchange “some kind of sign.” Facing pressure to abandon his run for election, Brooke decides to do so but blames it on ill health rather than his unsuitability. He tells Will that he is going to France for a while, and Will says he will stay in Middlemarch for the moment.
Both Brooke and Will are gripped by delusional thinking in this moment. Despite being pelted with eggs and jeered off the stage, Brooke is somehow still trying to convince himself that his nomination will be successful. Will, meanwhile, clings to his position in Middlemarch despite the disaster surrounding him, purely out of hope for a “sign” from Dorothea.