Chapters 52-55 (Thwarted Courtships)
Now that Farebrother is the new rector of Lowick, his sister suggests he could ask Mary Garth to marry him. He has secretly loved her for a long time. However, Fred, who has graduated from university, comes to Farebrother, asking him to approach Mary to find out her feelings for him. Thus Farebrother is put in an awkward position. His unselfishness and lack of egoism come out as he speaks to Mary on Fred’s behalf. Mary tells Farebrother that she loves Fred.
Bulstrode buys Stone Court from Featherstone’s heir, Joshua Riggs. As Bulstrode surveys his new property and triumphs over Featherstone, he runs into Raffles, the stepfather of Riggs. Raffles greets Bulstrode as an acquaintance from the past. It is obvious he knows some secret of Bulstrode’s and that Bulstrode wants to buy him off. Raffles wants money, but even more, he wants to torment Bulstrode about some misdeeds in the past and have power over him.
Raffles keeps hinting about some family Bulstrode has wronged, and finally remembers the name, “Ladislaw.” Bulstrode pays Raffles some money to disappear, but he is worried that he will come back.
After three months with Celia, Dorothea is ready to return to Lowick with “her native strength of will” to use her money to do good. She reviews her 18 months of married life, knowing now she could not submit her soul to Casaubon’s to finish his work. Mrs. Cadwallader is already trying to make a new match for her to keep her away from Will, but Dorothea begins to long to see him. She visits the Farebrothers hoping to run into him. Finally, Ladislaw comes to Lowick to say good by; he is leaving to make his fortune in the world. He is too proud to court a rich widow with nothing on his side.
The interview is awkward. Both hearts are longing for the other, but there is an invisible barrier between them, and they cannot speak their minds. He tells her he will become a barrister and enter political life. She praises his ambition. Just then, Sir James walks in, and knowing how awkward it looks, they part, as they think, for a long time without anything resolved.
Once more Eliot contrasts the unselfish people like Dorothea and Farebrother with the egoists like Bulstrode. As Bulstrode triumphed over Featherstone by taking his property out of the family, so Raffles triumphs over Bulstrode. In the power game, there is always a bigger fish. The Farebrothers and Dorotheas seek beyond their own good to the larger good of all, thus “widening the skirts of light.”
And what of Will and Dorothea, two good, unselfish people? Is it possible all the false distinctions of society can keep them apart? Eliot is most at home in scenes like the one between Dorothea and Will where she can enter the gap between the words and fathom the delicate turnings of each mind.
Contrasted to the grosser motives and set opinions of characters like the Vincys and Mrs. Cadwallader, Will and Dorothea are not only separated from one another by social constraints but their own refined feelings. Neither wants to appear ignoble to the other, for the high ground of their meetings has been precious to both. There is another soul to converse with on the same level.
Yet, Dorothea is embarrassed by her husband’s will and his injustice to Ladislaw, and she thinks he must know about Casaubon’s insult. Will does not know what everyone else does; he simply feels embarrassed by his lack of money, not wanting to approach Dorothea without something to offer her. They misunderstand each other’s words. When Dorothea offers Will his grandmother’s portrait as a kindness, he is vexed because he wants something else from her.
In Eliot’s fictional worlds, all complications are eventually unraveled. People don’t get what they expect, but they get what they deserve. The truth will out.