Throughout the reading of Middlemarch, we are constantly being asked to assess each character and evaluate whether or not we can connect with them. Eliot, through the narrator, calls into question the forming of bonds between people, both within the framework of the story, as well as between reader and character. Lauren addresses the ethics of these networks in her last blog post, citing Mr. Featherstone’s expected obligation to support Fred after his [Mr. Featherstone’s] death, Casaubon’s obligation to provide for Will because of other family members’ mistakes, and Caleb Garth helping Fred “get his bread” (384). This section addresses similar ethical dilemmas of responsibility that comes with relationships, especially between Dorothea and the other characters in the novel.
Dorothea has been changing throughout Middlemarch so far, and the narrator has a way of describing situations partial to Dorothea. This has made Dorothea more relatable as a character, as well as conjures up sympathy from the reader. The tedious job that Casaubon gives Dorothea of reading his work aloud for hours and marking wherever he says to leads her to dread having to take up and complete his work after he dies. She is completely conflicted weather or not she is allowed to deny him this, thinking, “It would be refusing to do for him dead, what she was almost sure to do for him living” (430). We feel a connection with her and feel both pity and some sort of concern at her failing relationship with Casaubon as he approaches death. Dorothea’s increasing likeability lends even more aversion to Casaubon’s mistreatment of her, even after his death. Is Dorothea obligated to continue working on Casaubon’s fruitless labors after he dies, or can she alter the strength of their bonds?
Tim’s blog post about the last section we read raises the question of bonds that persist even after death; this is another important problem in this section, as Casaubon’s death sheds light on any possible future relationship between Will Ladislaw and Dorothea. As Tim wrote of Featherstone, Casaubon will also be able “to remain a node within Middlemarch’s social network” long after he is buried. Dorothea’s suggestion of Casaubon providing for Ladislaw in his will sparked even more distrust and paranoia in his mind, which led to Casaubon’s amending the will to take away the land from Dorothea if she marry Will. This rash act not only boosts our sympathy for Dorothea, who seems to only be acting out of goodwill, but it also distances the reader from Casaubon. The narrator helps to do this by spending one sentence on Casaubon’s actual death: “But the silence in her husband’s ear was never more to be broken” (453).