Middlemarch: Chapters 6-8

Chapters 6-8 (Dorothea’s Engagement)

Mrs. Cadwallader, the curate’s wife and local busybody, learns of Dorothea’s engagement from Celia. She is indignant, for she had already planned for Dorothea to marry Sir James. She goes to Sir James and tells him what has happened. He is disappointed. Being conventional, he cannot understand how a young, beautiful woman like Dorothea could prefer the old scholar, Casaubon. His pride is hurt. Mrs. Cadwallader suggests that he marry the younger sister, Celia, who is more his type. He convinces himself this is the best plan. During the period before Dorothea’s marriage, Casaubon spends a lot of time at the Grange. Dorothea decides to study Latin, Greek, and Hebrew in order to help Casaubon with The Key to All Mythologies. He accepts her offer for its usefulness rather than as a token of her love. Dorothea’s motives are mixed. She wants to help her husband, but she also wants to develop herself. Mr. Brooke says that such studies are unbecoming to a young lady, who should be learning how to run a household. Mr. Brooke consoles himself with Dorothea’s choice, thinking Casaubon may become a dean or bishop someday.
Mrs. Cadwallader is not only the busybody of the neighborhood, but the mediator and voice of consensus. It is important to stay on her right side. Although she is conventional, her common sense is uncanny: she creates balance by managing the union of Celia and Sir James. They will be a stable force for the community and for Dorothea.
Mrs. Cadwallader’s sayings and epithets have a way of sticking and creating public opinion. She calls Casaubon “the Lowick Cicero” and pronounces Dorothea’s marriage “as good as going to a nunnery” and wishes her “joy of her hair shirt.”
One of Eliot’s humanitarian goals in writing is to show the forces that create society, both for good and ill. Mrs. Cadwallader, though annoying, is actually a beneficent force. She helps to smooth over the little   accidents in life. The narrator comments, “We mortals . . . devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time.”
In conversations between Sir James and the Cadwalladers, we get an outside view of the main characters. Casaubon is pronounced a dried up scholar but good to his poor relations. Mr. Brooke is thinking of standing for Parliament on the Liberal side. The Rector comments, “Brooke is a very good fellow, but pulpy; he will run into any mould, but won’t keep shape.” This thread of Brooke’s running for Parliament will develop the political reflections of the novel.