How does one moment in Book One set up a conflict to be faced in a moment in Book Two? Which quotations connect?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Middlemarch is partly a book about illusion: the illusion of people who resist the movement of the world into the modern age and, as well, the individual illusions people cherish about each other. The fascination Dorothea has with Mr. Casaubon is an example.

In Book I, others don't see the virtue or attractiveness in Mr. Casaubon which the enraptured Dorothea sees. Though her feelings for him are surprising, it's a realistic phenomenon that people often create their own image of a potential lover or spouse and then are disappointed cruelly. Dorothea initially gushes to herself over Casaubon's stated ideals:

Dorothea said to herself that Mr. Casaubon was the most interesting man she had ever seen, not excepting even Monsieur Liret, the Vaudois clergyman who had given conferences on the history of the Waldenses. To reconstruct a past world, doubtless with a view to the highest purposes of truth—what a work to be in any way present at, to assist in, though only as a lamp-holder!

Everyone else seems to regard Mr. Casaubon as an old fuddy-duddy (which he is) and Dorothea's sister Celia regards him as especially unattractive, with the moles on his face with hair growing out of them. But Dorothea is smitten, in spite of his age and dour appearance and manner.

In Book II things are beginning to deteriorate between them. Married, and in Rome, Dorothea feels abandoned. She had intended to share in Casaubon's scholarly work, enraptured as she was with it. This is six weeks after the wedding, and she is already in "a fit of weeping." The observations George Eliot makes about this are partly ironic, implying that there is nothing "tragic" about it, and that her unhappiness is simply due to her being thrust into a strange environment in Rome after having been brought up a Protestant English girl. Dorothea notices that her reactions to Casaubon have begun subtly to change, and that the wide-eyed view of him in her initial impression isn't what it used to be. She debates with herself inwardly on this, and remembers how Casaubon's peculiar intellectual "prowess" impressed her so much before, but now:

. . . since they had been in Rome, with all the depths of her emotion roused to tumultuous activity, and with life made a new problem by new elements, she had been becoming more and more aware, with a certain terror, that her mind was continually sliding into inward fits of anger and repulsion, or else into forlorn weariness.

George Eliot is partly commenting on the nature of courtship in her time, in which people typically would get married without really knowing each other. It had been a mere six weeks from the time Dorothea met Casaubon until they were married. Dorothea was so taken by his supposed intelligence and scholarliness that she didn't really consider much else about him. George Eliot makes the Dorothea-Casaubon relationship into not merely a general commentary on the inadequacy of Victorian courtship, but on the way one can mistake one's own feelings for love when they are a form of hero-worship—and in this case, it's not even deserved hero-worship, because Mr. Casaubon's intellectual abilities are hardly what Dorothea imagined them to be. Nor is he even a nice person, as we see more and more as the story progresses. That moment in Book I in which Dorothea is so taken with Casaubon sets up the conflict that presents itself shortly into their marriage, shown so forcefully in chapter 20.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team