Chapters 27-30 (After the Honeymoon)
The famous pierglass analogy sets the theme of how egotism leads us to interpret things as we want to see them. A polished steel pierglass is scratched in all directions, but the scratches seem to arrange themselves in concentric circles when you hold up a candle flame as a center of illumination. Such is the situation of Rosamond Vincy who believes Fred’s illness and all events are for her benefit. She uses the opportunity of Lydgate’s visits to her brother to flirt with the doctor. Lydgate gives in to this, believing it is just a flirtation, for he is not ready to marry. In Rosamond’s mind, they are as good as engaged. The narrator says she is not wicked, but she is an actress, and likes to excite jealousy with rivals. Lydgate appears to her a cut above the local beaux, and she goes after him.
We view the newly married couple, the Casaubons at home at Lowick after the honeymoon. It is January and dreary inside the dark old house. Dorothea is the only thing alive in the landscape. Her world closes in around her as she fully understands the distance between her and her husband. Celia visits with her announcement of her engagement to Sir James.
The narrator makes a point of announcing a switch to Casaubon’s point of view; why should only Dorothea’s view count? He is spiritually hungry too. He had picked a young wife, thinking she would be more submissive. He did not want to be lonely. She would be helpmeet and secretary. He never thought of making her happy, only that she should admire him. His soul is sensitive without enthusiasm. He is proud, self-centered, and not sympathetic. His Key to All Mythologies weighs on his mind constantly. The narrator feels sorry for his small shivering self. Marriage is just one more outward requirement.
Every day Dorothea copies or reads for her husband. Then a letter comes from Will Ladislaw proposing a visit to them with the finished portrait of Casaubon. A private letter to her is enclosed in the one to both of them. Casaubon is so upset that he forbids the visit and will not discuss it with Dorothea. She does not imagine his jealousy. He collapses in what appears to be a heart attack and Lydgate is sent for.
Lydgate prescribes moderate activity and some form of amusement to avoid strain. Dorothea’s uncle, Mr. Brooke, who is the comic relief, visits and proposes Mr. Casaubon take up fishing or backgammon or even the novels of Smollet read out loud by his wife, for now Dorothea is married, “she may read anything.”
Lydgate tells Dorothea her husband could live another fifteen years if careful. Dorothea cries to him from her heart to help her help Casaubon. Lydgate has never seen a woman like Dorothea or her devotion.
Dorothea asks her uncle to write to Will and tell him he may not visit because of Casaubon’s illness. Mr. Brooke bungles it and invites Will to come stay with him at Tipton Grange and become the editor of the local newspaper, The Middlemarch Pioneer.
It is important for Eliot’s purpose that we understand the psychology of all the characters, not just the hero and heroine, for every person is “spiritually ahungered.” In this way, there are no villains, just egotists. The admirable characters are those who learn from their experience, like Fred and Dorothea. Those who are blind, like Casaubon and Bullstrode, are less sympathetic to us, but still human to the narrator who wants to understand each one. Each is an instructive case study.
Casaubon’s Key to All Mythologies is a bit comic to the narrator, for it has the premise that all mythologies are a corruption of Christianity. Ladislaw’s remark, that Casaubon doesn’t know German criticism, is important to Eliot. She herself lost her religious belief reading the Higher Criticism coming out of Germany that investigated the historical origins of Christianity. Casaubon’s scholarship is therefore based on a narrow bias that the particular brand of Christianity he embraces is a universal truth. His arguments would look hopelessly inept from the historical and archaeological evidence that was being uncovered in Eliot’s day that cast doubt on the literal truth of the Bible.