Middlemarch: Chapters 19-22

Chapters 19-22 (The Casaubons’ Wedding Trip to Rome)

Will Ladislaw and his German painter friend, Adolf Naumann, are in the Vatican looking at statues, contrasting the voluptuous figure of Cleopatra to Dorothea Casaubon in her severe Quakerish dress. They speak of her aesthetically as a young Madonna unfortunately married to a man who looks like her uncle. Naumann decides he wants to paint her as a sort of “Christian Antigone—sensuous force, controlled by spiritual passion.”
Dorothea goes to her hotel and cries, for she is disappointed in the trip to Rome and her six weeks of marriage. The statues and ruins are “broken revelations,” a “vast wreck of ambitious ideals.” There is nothing that a passionate girl wishing for evidence of a living faith can sympathize with.
In addition, her husband is absent all day doing research, and her hope of helping him is not realized. The narrator is the psychologist who in this chapter and the ones that follow, minutely analyzes the marriage from the point of view of both parties. This is the moment for Dorothea when the real replaces the imaginary. She is depressed. Casaubon is too old for her youthful enthusiasm: “a lifeless embalmment of knowledge.” She is affectionate, but she can establish no intimacy with Casaubon “who had not found marriage a rapturous state.” He sees Dorothea as a personification of the shallow world who cannot understand his work. Both are in shock.
Will comes to visit and Dorothea confesses some of her feelings about art. They speak in an animated way, each coming to life. She thinks Will is too Bohemian. He criticizes her husband’s scholarship as hopelessly out of date because he doesn’t know German critics in his field. Will is enchanted when she speaks and again thinks of an Aeolian harp. When Casaubon unexpectedly comes home, there is awkwardness, and it is obvious he feels jealousy, though Dorothea is oblivious of this, for she has done nothing wrong.
Will is pleasant at dinner with the Casaubons and invites them to the art studio of Naumann. Naumann flatters Casaubon by asking him to sit as a model for Thomas Aquinas, and he does. Naumann really wants to paint Dorothea. Will is furious with Naumann for taking advantage of Dorothea. Casaubon’s jealousy of Will grows as Will visits when he is not there.
Eliot’s masterful dissection of the Casaubon marriage and later, the Lydgate marriage, is very modern in viewing the inner expectations of both parties. She skillfully shows how both Dorothea and Casaubon are sensitive, and how their feelings get crushed. Dorothea’s ardent nature makes Casaubon contract into himself. Dorothea sees her world shrinking instead of expanding.