Just after the House of Lords defeats the Reform Bill, Mr. Cadwallader and Mrs. Cadwallader, Sir James, Celia, and Lady Chettam are all sitting outside together discussing politics. Mr. Brooke approaches and mentions that he has “sad news,” which he will tell everyone if they go inside. He announces that Dorothea and Will are engaged. James dramatically declares that he should have shot Will years ago, and Celia and Mr. Cadwallader reprimand him. Yet James insists that it is “scandalous” and that if Will was honorable he wouldn’t do this.
The mention of the Reform Bill connects the political turmoil of the country with the turmoil of Will and Dorothea’s relationship. Political change is in the air, and within Middlemarch society there could perhaps be no greater change than the sudden news that Dorothea and Will are going to get married after all.
Mr. Brooke says he tried to reason with Dorothea, but there was no use as she doesn’t want her fortune anyway. Sir James insists that Dorothea is committing a wrong, while Mr. Cadwallader says she is just doing something James doesn’t agree with. Mrs. Cadwallader blames the others for not arranging alternative suitors for Dorothea. Mr. Brooke says that he is not going to disown Dorothea over it. Sir James realizes that he is so angry in part because he had been hoping Arthur would inherit the entirety of Lowick and Freshitt after Dorothea’s death. He feels embarrassed.
For all of Mr. Brooke’s foolishness and sexism, he can at least be credited for respecting Dorothea’s agency—both when it came to marrying Casaubon and now again with Will. Sir James still has the illusion that he can (and should) interfere with Dorothea’s life, but after reflecting about how his own personal investment in her marriage may be swaying his opinion, he appears to realize he is acting unfairly.
Mr. Brooke says the wedding is in three weeks. Mr. Cadwallader comments that if Dorothea wants to be poor then her choice must be respected. Mrs. Cadwallader mentions Will’s low rank and “frightful” ancestry, but Mr. Cadwallader calls this “nonsense” and says they should leave. Mr. Brooke invites everyone to dinner the next day, and Celia asks Sir James if they can go to Lowick. James replies that he cannot bear to see Dorothea.
Mr. Cadwallader’s comment about Dorothea’s wanting to be poor sounds almost sarcastic, based on the assumption that Dorothea would obviously never want to be poor but must accept it as a negative consequence of marrying Will. As we have seen, however, Dorothea resents her wealth and actually doesn’t want it.
Celia sees Dorothea alone in her boudoir. She tells Dorothea that she has deeply disappointed everyone, especially James. She laments that Dorothea will be poor and surrounded by “queer people,” and that she will never get to see her. Celia begins to cry. Dorothea explains that she and Will are moving to London. Celia remains upset until Dorothea says with complete decisiveness that the wedding will take place. Celia asks if Ladislaw is “very fond” of Dorothea, and Dorothea replies: “I hope so. I am very fond of him.”
Celia has never been able to understand her sister, as their personalities and desires are so different. However, she still loves Dorothea and thus despite how little she understands Dorothea’s perspective, she does want her sister to be happy.