Dorothea Brooke, one of the main characters in Middlemarch, cares about social progress and is also fixated on the idea of making an impact on the world. As a hobby, she makes architectural drawings for cottages for the tenant farmers who live and work on her uncle Mr. Brooke’s estate. Dorothea’s obsession with planning the cottages marks as different from the other women in Middlemarch. Women of her class are encouraged to engage in light aesthetic pursuits such as fine art and music—although even these are not supposed to be taken very seriously. Dorothea, however, throws herself into her designs for the tenants’ cottages, disregarding the social norms that prohibit women from engaging in a field like architecture and ignoring the fact that she does not have the formal education to support this work. The cottages thus symbolize Dorothea’s utopian vision along with the theme of social progress; Dorothea hopes that they will improve tenants’ wellbeing and she puts a great deal of care into her designs. However, the cottages also highlight the limits of ambition, alongside Dorothea’s naivety and the restrictions on what a woman can achieve in Middlemarch society. Although some characters such as Sir James Chettam support Dorothea’s plans, this is largely to appease her, rather than because they actually believe in the cottages’ viability. Ultimately the plans for the cottages never transpire, and as such they represent the failure of unrealized dreams.
Cottages Quotes in Middlemarch
“It is very hard: it is your favourite fad to draw plans.”
“Fad to draw plans! Do you think I only care about my fellow creatures’ houses in that childish way? I may well make mistakes. How can one ever do anything nobly Christian, living among people with such petty thoughts?”