HomeLiterature Study GuidesMiddlemarchBook 2 Chapters 19 22 Summary

Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Middlemarch | Book 2, Chapters 19–22 : Old and Young | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 19

Will Ladislaw and his German artist friend Naumann, with whom he is studying painting, see Dorothea in the Vatican museum. Will is surprised to see her, since he didn't know the Casaubons had come to Rome for their honeymoon. Naumann wants to paint Dorothea, "a sort of Christian Antigone—sensuous force controlled by spiritual passion," and encourages his friend to contrive an introduction.

Chapter 20

When Dorothea comes home from the museum, she cries bitterly in her desolation. She finds no enjoyment in the Eternal City. Dorothea does not have the education to understand the art and history that assault her from every direction. At the same time her attempts at physical affection are repulsed by Casaubon. She tries "showering kisses on the hard pate of her bald doll," but Casaubon responds by "indicating ... by politely reaching a chair for her that he regarded these manifestations as rather crude and startling."

To make matters worse, the couple has had their first argument when Dorothea, in a desperate bid to connect, insistently asks Casaubon when he will begin to extract information from his many volumes, so that she may help him to write his book. The minister haughtily answers, "you may rely upon me for knowing the time and the seasons, adapted to the different stages of a work which is not to be measured by the facile conjectures of ignorant onlookers."

Chapter 21

Ladislaw finds the Casaubon's address and calls to pay his respects. Will perceives that Dorothea has been crying and immediately feels loathing for his cousin. Will jokes about how, when they first met, he thought she was trying to insult him. The conversation gradually shifts to Casaubon's work, and Will informs her that he is "groping around in the woods with a pocket-compass" where German historians "have made good roads." This news clearly pains her deeply, and Will now perceives that Dorothea is neither "coldly clever" nor "indirectly satirical," but rather "adorably simple and full of feeling ... an angel beguiled." When Casaubon returns he invites Will for dinner the next evening. After he leaves, Dorothea apologizes for upsetting Casaubon in the morning, and he accepts her apology. He is secretly annoyed that she has seen Ladislaw alone but refrains from saying something in the light of their reconciliation.

Chapter 22

Will comes to dinner and goes out of his way to be pleasant and agreeable to his cousin. As a result, Casaubon curtails his work to spend his last few days in Rome sightseeing. Will introduces the idea of their going to the studios of working painters and is thus able to bring them to Naumann. Will and Naumann begin explaining the iconography of their paintings, and Dorothea feels a little less in the dark. Naumann first asks to sketch Casaubon's head for a study of St. Thomas Aquinas, and Casaubon agrees. He then asks to sketch Dorothea as Santa Clara. Will begins to be sorry he has brought the couple to the studio, torn between "the inclination to fall at the Saint's feet and kiss her robe, and the temptation to knock Naumann down while he was adjusting her arm."

The young dilettante comes to see Dorothea the next day when he knows Casaubon will not be home. She asks more about her husband's work, and Will tells her that Casaubon is wasting his time "crawling a little way after men of the last century ... and correcting their mistakes." Dorothea becomes indignant that Will can speak so lightly of his cousin's failure and he backtracks, criticizing himself for idling on Casaubon's money and vowing to go back to England and make his own way. Will expresses that he would like to be of service to Dorothea but fears he will never have the opportunity. She thanks him for his kind words and asks him to not speak again to anyone on the subject of her husband's failed enterprise, and he quickly agrees. When Casaubon returns Dorothea tells him that Will plans to make it on his own from now on, since she thinks Casaubon will be pleased to hear it. He responds that, since his duty seems to be at an end, he never wishes to speak about Ladislaw again.

Analysis

When Ladislaw first met Dorothea in Middlemarch he did not really see her, but in Rome he sees both her external and internal beauty. During their visit in Rome, he comes to realize she has conceived for herself "some original romance" about her marriage. Will already dislikes his cousin and feels resentment against this condescending benefactor, and now he is doubly angry that Casaubon has somehow convinced "this adorable young creature to marry him," which is more than he can tolerate now that he has fallen in love with her.

The more time Ladislaw spends with Dorothea, the more he wants to separate himself from Casaubon so that he does not have to depend on the man that has become his enemy, a metaphorical dragon holding his lady love captive. This is why he decides to stop exploring various vocational paths and actually get down to some practical pursuit, now that he wants Dorothea to "take more emphatic notice of him ... to be something more special in her remembrance that he could yet believe himself likely to be."

Both Dorothea and Casaubon have a rude awakening in Rome: Dorothea learns that her husband is not capable of sharing his life with her. Further, he has an aversion to physical contact. Casaubon remains an irreproachable husband until he feels under attack by Dorothea who, "instead of observing his abundant pen scratches and amplitude of paper with the uncritical awe of a canary-bird, seemed to present herself as a spy watching everything with the malign power of inference." When Dorothea shows some impatience for him to begin extracting passages from his many volumes of copious notes, he sees his own self-doubt and criticism made manifest. Suddenly he is terrified that Dorothea's worship will be replaced with criticism.

Dorothea begins to realize that her husband is an empty shell who is unlikely to complete a great work. Her response to this realization is great sympathy and compassion, and for the first time she begins to see him as he really is. Her first instinct is to protect him from the world, which is why she asks Will not to mention his own assessment of Casaubon's work to anyone else. She remains unaware, however, that Will has anything more than family feeling for her or that Casaubon feels jealous of his young cousin. This ignorance about other people's natures and motives will create additional problems for her as she negotiates a difficult marriage to a man who has little room in his heart for a living, breathing spouse.

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