Literature Study GuidesMiddlemarchBook 1 Chapters 4 6 Summary

Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Middlemarch | Book 1, Chapters 4–6 : Miss Brooke | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 4

Dorothea and Celia are coming back from Sir James's estate in Freshitt, where they have been inspecting the new cottages being built according to Dorothea's plan. Celia is feeling courageous and tells her sister point-blank that Sir James is in love with her and everyone is talking about it. Dorothea is thunderstruck and becomes angry and upset. At home her uncle, just back from seeing Mr. Casaubon at Lowick, reveals that the minister has asked permission to propose marriage. She is delighted by the news, and her mood changes. Mr. Brooke brings up the fact that Sir James also wishes to marry her, but she immediately responds in the negative. Brooke is not opposed to Mr. Casaubon on the grounds of wealth or class, but he has reservations, reminding Dorothea that she has strong opinions. Dorothea responds: "I should wish to have good reasons for them, and a wise man could help me to see which opinions had the best foundation." In the end Mr. Brooke says he will not stand in her way and gives her the minister's letter.

Chapter 5

Dorothea reads Mr. Casaubon's proposal of marriage, which is focused almost entirely on himself and his needs, as he tells Dorothea how she was no doubt sent by Providence to help him complete his "life's plan." In return he can "at least offer ... an affection hitherto unwasted," since he has never offered it to anyone else. Dorothea receives this lackluster proposal with great emotion and gratitude and immediately answers yes. She should perhaps have been "teaching Mr. Casaubon to ask if he were good enough for her" rather than vice-versa, the narrator states. Although Celia has begun to surmise that her sister feels more than scholarly interest in Rev. Casaubon, she is still shocked and appalled by the news but tells her sister she hopes she will be happy.

Chapter 6

Mrs. Cadwallader, a woman of upper-class birth who married a clergyman, pays a visit to Tipton Grange. Although she is an outspoken busybody, she is well-liked. She scolds Mr. Brooke about his liberal political leanings, warning him that he will make a fool of himself if he attempts to run for office. She also reminds him that it is his duty to stand up for his class interest. Mr. Brooke tells her that Dorothea will not be marrying Sir James—something that she has been trying to engineer since Mr. Brooke's nieces arrived. He disappears before she can closely question him, but Celia comes in and tells her that Dorothea is engaged to Mr. Casaubon. Mrs. Cadwallader, vexed and shocked, leaves quickly so that she can break the news to Sir James. When she does, she also says that Celia is very fond of him and that he should begin courting her. Sir James is upset by the news but resolves to make the best of it.

Analysis

In these chapters Dorothea, both too humble and too proud, makes a disastrous choice to turn her back on the sensible and charming baronet Sir James, to pursue an idealistic marriage with an old, lifeless clergyman. She thinks Sir James is too stupid and shallow to marry and underestimates her sister's intelligence, describing her as "hardly more in need of salvation than a squirrel." This assessment reveals how little Dorothea has reflected on the extent to which other people possess a conscious mind quite as fully developed as her own.

Dorothea hardly sees Edward Casaubon. She overestimates him because she wants to assist a brilliant man who is writing an important book. As a result, her extreme gratitude for his narcissistic marriage proposal is misplaced and inappropriate. Dorothea's odd decisions are the result of youth and inexperience, but also of a refusal to be honest about her motivations. Dorothea thinks enough of herself to aspire to greatness, but she cannot admit her aspirations are not just in the service of God or religion, but also are for the satisfaction of her ego. Although she is unaware of it, she is in bad faith, so she is bound to make a bad choice.

Dorothea's uncle, Mr. Brooke, doesn't stop the marriage because he is a shallow and silly individual with no core of morality or belief. He is a liberal, a stance which will be developed in subsequent chapters. He is too stingy to improve the conditions of the cottagers on his own land, which is why Dorothea is making improvements on Sir James's estate. He could easily ask Mr. Casaubon to wait until Dorothea is of age to give her own consent, but he has no stomach for opposition, despite his own reservations. Rather, he consoles himself with the idea that Mr. Casaubon has property and will likely become a bishop.

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