Stage 3 (Journeyman): Middlemarch, chapter 1

Written by George Eliot

Retold by Mai Hoang

Chapter 1: Dorothea’s choice

Dorothea Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to improve by poor dress. Her garments were always simple and plain, yet her radiant(1) complexion(2) certainly was not. The same was true for Celia Brooke, although if one examined the two sisters closely, one would notice a shade of coquetry(3) in Celia’s dress that was entirely absent in Dorothea’s. Everyone agreed that Dorothea was very clever, although Celia possessed more common sense.14754305476_155c60187a_b.jpg

The two sisters resided with their uncle, Mr.Brooke, a man of sixty who had travelled much. He was unpredictable but generally tolerant, a trait that Dorothea disapproved of. For Dorothea was a strict Puritan(4), and always observed all the Puritan rules. Not only did she dress very plainly, but tried her best to avoid corrupt and senseless society, and once in a while would starve herself or sit up all night to read theological(5) books.  That was why, though Dorothea was young, handsome and quite rich, she was still single. It was not true that she did not have suitors(6), Sir James Chettam, for once, was always eager to impress her, and secretly thought that she would make a fantastic wife. However, Dorothea, with characteristic self-denial(7), sincerely believed that Sir James Chettam was in love with her pretty little sister Celia. That he should be regarded as a suitor to herself seemed to her a ridiculous irrelevance(8). Dorothea, with all her eagerness to know the truths of life, retained(9) very childlike ideas indeed about marriage. She was content to live alone, always busy with sketching out one plan or another for the improvement of the peasants on her uncle’s land, or things of that sort.

That evening, however, Dorothea was more open than usual, for her uncle was welcoming several guests to dinner. There was a new addition to his usual circle – a very intellectual man called Mr.Casaubon. Dorothea observed him very closely.  His manners, she thought, were very dignified; the set of his iron-gray hair and his deep eye-sockets made him resemble(10) the portrait of Locke. He had the pale complexion of a scholar; as different as possible from the blooming Englishman of the red-whiskered type represented by Sir James Chettam.

After dinner was served, the conversation presently turned to Agricultural Economy. Dorothea was not afraid to voice her ideas:

“Surely,’ said she, ‘it is better to spend money in finding out how men can make the most of the land which supports them all, than in keeping dogs and horses only to gallop over it. It is not a sin to make yourself poor in performing experiments for the good of all.’

Dorothea spoke with more energy than is expected of so young a lady. Mr. Casaubon turned his eyes very markedly on Dorothea while she was speaking, and seemed to observe her newly.

‘Young ladies don’t understand political economy, you know,’ said Mr. Brooke, smiling towards Mr. Casaubon. The gentleman, however, seemed impressed. When it was his turn to speak, he spoke in favor of Dorothea’s idea. His manner of speech was very concise(11), his logic unquestionable. Dorothea said to herself that Mr.Casaubon was the most interesting man she had ever seen. All evening, she listened to him attentively, and was convinced that he was going to achieve much in his career. He was working on a book about theology. She admired all his ideas and saw that, like her, he had no time for trivialities(12). On the other hand, she quite ignored Sir James Chettam, who, though eager to please, was too narrow-minded for her taste.

If it had occurred to Mr. Casaubon to think of Miss Brooke as a suitable wife for him, the reasons that might make her accept him were already planted in her mind, and by the evening of the next day the reasons had budded and bloomed.

‘He thinks with me,’ said Dorothea to herself, ‘or rather, he thinks a whole world of which my thought is but a poor mirror. And his feelings too, his whole experience—what a lake compared with my little pool!’

For some unknown reasons, Mr.Casaubon prolonged his visit at Mr.Brooke’s. Celia, who, as mentioned before, was known for having more common sense, deduced(13) that he was greatly interested in Dorothea. This thought made Celia want to laugh – to her, Mr.Casaubon was very old, ugly and boring. She could not imagine any sane person denying such a handsome, agreeable man like Sir James Chettam for Mr.Casaubon.

Unknown to her sister, Dorothea had already cherished in her heart dreams of reading to Mr.Casaubon, of writing letters for him, of aiding him in his studies.

balbusso_middlemarch.jpg ‘I should learn everything then,’.she said to herself ‘It would be my duty to study that I might help him the better in his great works. There would be nothing trivial about our lives. Every-day things with us would mean the greatest things. It would be like marrying Pascal.’

It was not many days before Mr. Casaubon paid a morning visit, on which he was invited again for the following week to dine and stay the night. Thus Dorothea had three more conversations with him, and was convinced that her first impressions had been just. He was all she had at first imagined him to be, and even more. His mind was first-rate, and finally, Dorothea felt that here was a kindred spirit who would not laugh at her Puritan ideals and thirst for knowledge and salvation.

One evening not long after, Mr.Brooke summoned Dorothea into his study. Judging by his looks, she could tell that he was about to disclose something of importance.

‘So, you like Casaubon, heh?’ he finally began ‘Well, now, I’ve known Casaubon ten years, ever since he came to Lowick. He is a tiptop man and may be a bishop—that kind of thing, you know. And he has a very high opinion of you.’ Here, Mr.Brooke paused to search for the right words.

‘In fact, he had asked me for the permission(14) to propose to you. He would like to ask for your hand in marriage. But I told him that he had very little chance. Think about it, Dorothea! He is a good man, but such a tedious scholar! And so much older than you.’

‘Thank you, uncle, for your advice,’ said Dorothea, in a clear tone. ‘I am very grateful to Mr. Casaubon. If he makes me an offer, I shall accept him. I admire and honor him more than any man I ever saw.’

‘Ah? … Well! He is a good match in some respects. But now,Chettam is a good match.And our land lies together. I shall never interfere against your wishes, my dear. However, I wish you to marry well; and I have good reason to believe that Chettam wishes to marry you.

‘It is impossible that I should ever marry Sir James Chettam,’ said Dorothea. ‘If he thinks of marrying me, he has made a great mistake.’

Mr.Brooke raised his eyebrows:

‘If that is the case, dear, then I have nothing else to say.’

With that, he left the room.

A day later, Dorothea received a letter from Mr.Casaubon expressing his fond regard for her and his desire that they should become one. Dorothea trembled while she read this letter; then she fell on her knees, buried her face, and sobbed. Quite some time later, when she had calmed herself, she sat down and wrote a short, succinct(15) reply.

MY DEAR MR. CASAUBON,—I am very grateful to you for loving me, and thinking me worthy to be your wife. I can look forward to no better happiness than that which would be one with yours. If I said more, it would only be the same thing written out at greater length, for I cannot now dwell on any other thought than that I may be through life

Yours devotedly,



  1. radiant(adj.):  bright, beaming
  2. complexion(n): texture and color of the skin of the face
  3. coquetry(n): flirtatious act or attitude
  4. Puritan(n): Protestant sect in England hoping to purify the Anglican church of Roman Catholic traces in practice and organization
  5. theological(adj): relating to the study of religious faith, practice, and experience
  6. suitor(n): a man who courts or woos a woman
  7. self-denial(n): a giving up of one’s own desires or interests
  8. irrelevance(n): the lack of a relation of something to the matter at hand
  9. retain(v): to hold or keep
  10. resemble(v):to be like or similar to
  11. concise(adj.): expressing much in a few words
  12. trivialities(n): worthlessness; things of little importance
  13. deduce(v): to conclude from the evidence; to infer
  14. permission(n): the right or ability to do something that is given by someone who has the power to decide if it will be allowed
  15. succinct(Adj): concise

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