Dorothea has been at Freshitt three months and is growing bored by spending all her time with Celia and the baby, Arthur. She loves Arthur and would do anything for him if necessary, but finds it tedious to just stare at him all day. Celia is unaware of this, and thinks it is good Casaubon died before Dorothea got pregnant because their baby would not have been as lovely as Arthur, and now Dorothea can fulfill any maternal desires through Arthur. She doesn’t want Dorothea to go back to Lowick, and others such as Sir James’s mother and Mrs. Cadwallader disapprove of Dorothea living alone there.
Somewhat perversely, once Celia has her baby she becomes more childlike than ever. She wants Dorothea to retreat to her pleasant, carefree world of domestic bliss with Arthur and forget about all the serious problems in her life. However, Dorothea cannot shut off her mind as easily. The baby is not enough to distract her from the enormous problems facing her back in the outside world.
Mrs. Cadwallader protests to her husband that Mr. Brooke is being irresponsible by neglecting to bring suitors to see Dorothea. Dorothea, meanwhile, has been hoping to see Will, but apart from that brief moment in church there has been no sign of him. Eventually, however, Will comes to Lowick, telling the butler that he is there to say goodbye. The butler notes that Casaubon’s jealousies were obviously baseless, and that he heard from Mrs. Cadwallader that Dorothea is going to marry a lord.
The butler’s comment shows how dangerous gossip can be. Mrs. Cadwallader may want Dorothea to marry a lord, but there is no evidence that this is likely to happen. However, once this becomes a rumor it has the capacity to have disastrous consequences.
When Dorothea enters, Will tells her he is leaving Middlemarch. He plans to carry on his political work in the city. In the midst of their cordial, restrained conversation, Will suddenly bursts out: “Good God!” Dorothea doesn’t respond, but instead offers Will the portrait of Julia that hangs in Lowick. He says he prefers that she keep it. Dorothea comments that Will seems remarkably happy having “nothing,” but he replies that for the first time in his life he is aware of the disadvantage of being poor. He desperately wants a sign from her that she loves him, but he also fears the impossible position in which this would put them.
Recall that Lydgate has essentially told Dorothea that repressing her feelings made her physically ill. By this point, we should know that such self-censure will only end badly for both Dorothea and Will. However, they cannot bring themselves to admit their true feelings to one another. As a result, they both remain unsure over whether these feelings are reciprocated.
Sir James enters; Will says goodbye to Dorothea and leaves. Dorothea acts casual, while Sir James remains horrified about the idea of Will and Dorothea together.
James’s horror reminds us that the problem isn’t only Will and Dorothea’s self-censure; the whole community will be scandalized if they become a couple.