Chapters 42-45 (The Casaubon and Lydgate Marriages)
We see Casaubon’s worried state of mind. He feels his work is not respected and that Dorothea judges him, even in her devotion. Though he knows her to be virtuous, he feels she has betrayed him by being influenced by Will Ladislaw. He thinks she needs to be protected from herself, and worries Ladislaw may go after her if he dies. The narrator says, the self is like a speck on the lens: it can blot out the glory of the world.
Casaubon asks Lydgate to tell him the truth of his condition and finds he has fatty degeneration of the heart, which could lead to sudden death. The narrator points out the only reason Dorothea criticizes Casaubon is that he rejects her. “Her soul [was] in prison that she might be petty enough to please him.”
Dorothea goes to the Lydgates’ home in order to find out about her husband’s condition. Lydgate is at the hospital, so she meets Mrs. Lydgate who is singing with a guest in the background. The narrator contrasts the two women: Dorothea is full of divine simplicity, and Rosamond is a fashion plate with “controlled self-consciousness of manner.”
Just then Will comes forward, and Dorothea is surprised to see him there. The image she had of Will is spoiled, and she leaves suddenly. Will is annoyed and leaves too. He had made friends of the Lydgates in his loneliness. Rosamond asked Will what other men think of in Mrs. Casaubon’s company. Will replies, “Herself—one is conscious of her presence.” Rosamond sees he is devoted to Dorothea, and she thinks to herself that a married woman might safely make infinite conquests.
Lydgate asks Dorothea’s help with the hospital, and she pledges two hundred a year to help him. Lydgate is disliked by the whole medical community for his new ways, and now the town is rumoring about his dangerous methods of dissection and his belief in not dispensing drugs. In addition, he is supported by Bulstrode, who is disliked for his bullying control of the town. All the doctors boycott the hospital, so Lydgate must work harder. Mr. Farebrother tells him he can weather the storm if he distances himself from Bulstrode and does not get hampered by money troubles.
Lydgate tells Rosamond the story of Vesalius, the father of dissection, who was persecuted for his investigations. Clearly he feels in similar shoes, but Rosamond has no sympathy, saying she wishes he were not a doctor; it is a low profession.
The two wives and husbands are contrasted. Dorothea’s unquestioning support of her husband, and her support of Lydgate are contrasted with Rosamond’s selfish view of Lydgate’s work. She is interested only in appearances. The name “Dorothea” means “gift of God,” and “Rosamond” means “Rose of the world.” The names give the characters of each.
Casaubon’s futile quest for the key to all mythologies is not the same as Lydgate’s competent quest for medical knowledge, for which he is prepared to be persecuted, as his predecessors were. It is clear, however, that genius for research does not lead to domestic happiness or knowledge of public relations. Lydgate is working himself into a corner, and Farebrother wisely gives advice about how to stay clear, but it is already too late.
Will’s and Dorothea’s relationship is at a low point because of his visits to Rosamond when her husband is not there.