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Literature Study GuidesMiddlemarchBook 4 Chapters 37 39 Summary

Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Book 4, Chapters 37–39: Three Love Problems

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 4, Chapters 37–39: Three Love Problems from George Eliot's novel Middlemarch.

Middlemarch | Book 4, Chapters 37–39 : Three Love Problems | Summary



Chapter 37

Will is in the neighborhood and makes an excuse to visit Dorothea by taking his sketchbook to Lowick. When it begins to rain, Will must take shelter in the house, and he ends up having a private visit with Dorothea since Casaubon is not home. He tells her more about his Polish grandfather—Julia Casaubon's husband—who worked as a teacher. Julia's son married another renegade—a woman who ran away from her own family under mysterious circumstances. Will's family was poor, but shortly before his death Will's father reached out to Casaubon. From that point Casaubon took care of Will and his mother (who later died). Dorothea also learns that Will has agreed to become the editor of the Pioneer, the paper her uncle Brooke has purchased for the purpose of promoting the Reform agenda. He asks for her approval, which she happily gives, but later thinks her husband will have the opposite reaction.

When Casaubon returns Dorothea tells him about his cousin's plans. The minister wastes no time in writing to Will, saying, in effect, that he will disown him if he takes the job with Mr. Brooke. Meanwhile Dorothea begins brooding about how Aunt Julia was unfairly cut off from her inheritance. She believes Casaubon's wealth, which will be passed on to her in the event of his death, should be split with Will, a rightful heir. When she tells Casaubon her thoughts, he becomes very angry. "[T]his is not the first occasion, but it were well that it should be the last, on which you have assumed a judgment on subjects beyond your scope," he says. A shocked Dorothea says nothing in response, afraid of agitating him and endangering his health. The next day Will writes back to Casaubon, respectfully telling him that he will do as he likes, as long as it is a "lawful occupation."

Chapter 38

Sir James and the Cadwalladers discuss Mr. Brooke's intention to run for office as a Reform candidate. They all are strongly against the idea, first, because he would be violating the expectations of his class by supporting reform, and, second, because he will make a fool of himself. Brooke is a tight-fisted landlord who will not make necessary repairs to houses and farms and allows his tenants to live in squalor. Thus, the Trumpet, the rival newspaper to the Pioneer, calls him a hypocrite. When Mr. Brooke arrives at the Cadwalladers, they all attempt to dissuade him without success.

Chapter 39

Sir James enlists Dorothea's support to convince Mr. Brooke to become a better landlord. When she stops at Tipton Grange she speaks to her uncle as if it is a foregone conclusion that he has decided to hire back Caleb Garth to manage his estate. Her uncle is evasive in answering and then is called away to deal with a tenant problem. Will, still residing at the Grange, now has a chance to tell Dorothea he has been banned from Casaubon's home. She expresses her regret, along with a stoic resignation about her life at Lowick. After Dorothea leaves, Mr. Brooke visits his tenant Dagley about his son's poaching of a rabbit from the estate. Much to his surprise, the drunken tenant insults him, calling his support of reform hypocrisy. Brooke leaves quickly, surprised to be so disliked.


Casaubon has always disliked Will, but now that he is independent and shows so much interest in Dorothea, the minister's aversion has turned into hatred. Will balances his own feelings of aversion toward Casaubon with gratitude; he cannot forget that his cousin has helped him and his mother. His dislike of Casaubon has grown proportionately with his love for Dorothea. Will knows there is no chance of an illicit relationship with her; in fact, he loves her mostly because she is, for him, the archetype of purity and goodness. He has come back to Middlemarch because Dorothea is there, and he intends to stay in Middlemarch for the same reason. Moreover, inspired by his love for Dorothea, he now wants to make something of himself in the world, and working with Brooke provides an opportunity to exercise his literary talents.

After hearing more of Ladislaw's family history, Dorothea is moved to rid herself of material wealth, which she always feels as something of a burden. Now she has a good reason—to right the wrong that was done to Will's ancestor. Thus, she boldly broaches the subject of Casaubon's fortune, and he angrily tells her, "[i]t is not for you to interfere between me and Mr. Ladislaw, and still less to encourage communications from him to you which constitute a criticism on my procedure." He believes that Ladislaw means to "defy and annoy him" with his presence and "win Dorothea's confidence and sow her mind with disrespect and perhaps aversion." While he doesn't suspect his wife of deceit in her conduct with Ladislaw, he does think she regards Will favorably and is likely to be influenced by him.

And indeed, she does like Will and is always happy to see him, especially because she can be herself around him and display the full range of her emotion. She is not conscious of feeling any attraction toward him, and for this reason can enjoy an easy friendship with him. Perhaps she should be more aware of her husband's jealousy and Ladislaw's feelings, but she is too focused on fitting herself into a narrower and narrower mode of existence as the wife of Casaubon. Her interactions with Ladislaw are a much needed break in the midst of her wifely penance, and perhaps it is not in her power to deprive herself of those moments in which she can exhale and be herself more fully.

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