Student Question

How are Dorothea's hopes and expectations shattered in chapters 20-22, and what are her responses to her losses?

Expert Answers

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

Eliot opens chapter 20 by immediately describing Dorothea’s emotional state:

I am sorry to add that she was sobbing bitterly, with such abandonment to this relief of an oppressed heart as a woman habitually controlled by pride on her own account and thoughtfulness for others will sometimes allow herself when she feels securely alone. And Mr. Casaubon was certain to remain away for some time at the Vatican.

In chapter 20, Dorothea is visiting Rome with her husband. They are on a wedding journey, and both of them are experiencing new things; Mr. Casaubon is trying to make the vacation as pleasant as possible for both of them, as this is his first time visiting a place with a marital partner by his side; and Dorothea marvels at the beauty that Italy has to offer, as this is her first time visiting a foreign country, especially a country with such culture and history.

However, Dorothea feels sad, melancholic, and perhaps even a bit angry. At first, she doesn’t really know why these depressing thoughts and emotions are occupying her mind and her heart, but soon she concludes that her mild depression most likely results from the loneliness and desolation that she feels whenever her husband distances himself away from her, both physically and mentally.

Yet Dorothea had no distinctly shapen grievance that she could state even to herself; and in the midst of her confused thought and passion, the mental act that was struggling forth into clearness was a self-accusing cry that her feeling of desolation was the fault of her own spiritual poverty.

She made the choice to marry the much older Mr. Casaubon because she hoped that, as an intelligent and academically inclined scholar, he would teach her many new things about many different subjects; Dorothea convinced herself that marrying Casaubon would bring her one step closer to realizing her greatest aspiration: to have a more meaningful life and accomplish many great things, both as an ambitious and curious person, and as a woman thirsty for knowledge, who is living in an oppressive and limiting society.

Moreover, she feels that her husband, having visited the country before, is simply tagging along with her just to please her and not because he himself is interested in the Italian art and architecture. He explains every detail in such a measured and informative tone that Dorothea even begins to pity him, as according to her, there is nothing more depressing than an ardent scholar who has lost his passion and enthusiasm to learn and be fascinated by new knowledge. Thus, she begins to wonder whether the dullness and apathy she feels are because of her over-eagerness to please and learn as much as possible or because of her husband’s lack of enthusiasm. As a result, they have a small disagreement where they both indirectly express their feelings.

When he said, "Does this interest you, Dorothea? Shall we stay a little longer? I am ready to stay if you wish it,"—it seemed to her as if going or staying were alike dreary. Or, "Should you like to go to the Farnesina, Dorothea? It contains celebrated frescos designed or painted by Raphael, which most persons think it worth while to visit."

"But do you care about them?" was always Dorothea's question.

It is in Rome that Dorothea realizes that she might have condemned herself to a miserable and unhappy marriage. Thus it safe to assume that, with Casaubon, Dorothea loses her innocence, her youth, and perhaps even some of her hopes and dreams, as she realizes that it might not be possible to make them a reality any time soon.

In chapter XXI, Dorothea might feel as if she’s lost her chance for a happy and equal relationship: one filled with passion, enthusiasm, and understanding. After her “confrontation” with her husband, she meets with Will and is fascinated by his personality and his view on life. I think that she feels that Will is one of the few people in her life who might be able to understand her emotional and mental state. When her husband comes, she apologizes to him for speaking so hastily, exaggerating her ‘guilt’ and hoping to get some kind of reaction from him. Instead, she realizes that her husband is not and will not be someone who will ‘respond to her feelings’ in any way.

Today she had begun to see that she had been under a wild illusion in expecting a response to her feeling from Mr. Casaubon, and she had felt the waking of a presentiment that there might be a sad consciousness in his life which made as great a need on his side as on her own.

We are all of us born in moral stupidity, taking the world as an udder to feed our supreme selves: Dorothea had early begun to emerge from that stupidity, but yet it had been easier to her to imagine how she would devote herself to Mr. Casaubon, and become wise and strong in his strength and wisdom, than to conceive with that distinctness which is no longer reflection but feeling—an idea wrought back to the directness of sense, like the solidity of objects—that he had an equivalent centre of self, whence the lights and shadows must always fall with a certain difference.

Chapter 22 is written in a light and perhaps even a playful tone, as Eliot describes how Naumann wishes to use Casaubon as a model to paint Saint Thomas Aquinas’s head and to paint Dorothea simply because of her beauty. The second part of the chapter is a pleasant interaction between Dorothea and Will, in which they get to know each other a little better. In the end, however, Will decides that it is wise to not speak with Dorothea again, as he is deeply infatuated with her, and he’s afraid that he might do something that all three of them will regret. He decides to go back to England and to distance himself from his cousin and his wife. So, I believe that Dorothea doesn’t necessarily lose anything in this chapter, except maybe her chance to converse and meet with Will more often, as she has come to like him very much.

"I met him outside, and we made our final adieux, I believe." (Dorothea about Will)

"The young man, I confess, is not otherwise an object of interest to me, nor need we, I think, discuss his future course, which it is not ours to determine beyond the limits which I have sufficiently indicated." (Casaubon about Will) Dorothea does not mention Will again.

It is noteworthy to mention that at one point her husband feels a bit mocked and ridiculed, even though this is not entirely the case, and he mentions that he believes that this is entirely Will’s “fault” and not Dorothea’s. I do think, however, that perhaps in this moment Casaubon begins to doubt his wife’s devoutness to him, or feels that, if given a choice between him and his cousin, she wouldn’t choose him. So, perhaps Dorothea begins to slowly lose her husband’s faith in her.

Mr. Casaubon blinked furtively at Will. He had a suspicion that he was being laughed at. But it was not possible to include Dorothea in the suspicion.

Dorothea responds to all of these feelings by simply accepting her fate and her duties as a wife. Unfortunately, she will never be able to fully realize her greatest dreams and ambitions, but at least she will finally feel some happiness and love when she'll marry Will later on in the story and become a mother.

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