Middlemarch in Spring


Thursday, March 23 and Friday, March 24, 2017

Act I.

Scene 1:   The Brookes

The country home of wealthy Mr. Brooke and his nieces

The sisters Dorothea and Celia Brooke divide their mother’s jewelry while expressing differing attitudes about life’s purpose. Their uncle Brooke scoffs at Dorothea’s ideas about great art and her hopes to promote social justice (“There is a lightness about the feminine mind"). Celia observes that Dorothea cannot see what's in front of her eyes. Dorothea is presented with two prospective husbands: Sir James and Edward Casaubon.

Scene 2:  Honeymoon

Some months later: a Rome apartment; an artist studio

Dorothea has married the much older Casaubon, hoping to help him in the writing of a great book. But Casaubon neglects her on their honeymoon ("My Time is not my own") and rejects her offer to help with his research.  Meanwhile, his young ward Will is smitten with Dorothea and paints Casaubon's portrait as a pretext to get to know her. He tells her about the poverty of his boyhood ("Let me speak from the heart...") and upsets her by remarking that Casaubon’s scholarship has little merit. A bond develops between the two, and Will decides to follow the Casaubons back to England.

Scene 3:   The Key to All Mythologies

After the return of Dorothea and Casaubon from Rome: the Casaubon estate

Celia has become engaged to Sir James, while Dorothea worries about her own failing marriage.  Will, who now works for Brooke's political campaign, comes to call. Not yet aware of their mutual attraction, Dorothea shares with Will the failure of her hopes to better the world (“It remains a wish”) and urges him to pursue his own dream. Casaubon, overhearing, forbids future visits by Will. A quarrel ensues as the ailing, bitterly jealous Casaubon tries to force Dorothea to promise she will devote her life to the scholarly project she now knows to be worthless ("In the event of my death..."). Dorothea pleads for time to make up her mind. The night brings terrifying visions to the agitated Casaubon. In the morning she finds him dead from a heart attack.

Act II

Scene 1:  Codicil

A few months later: the garden of the Casaubon estate

Sir James fumes that Casaubon has compromised the family’s reputation ("Damn that Casaubon!") with a codicil that would disinherit Dorothea if she married Will. Shocked and angered, Dorothea decides to devote her wealth to the public good by creating a utopian community ("It is good to find things out"). She inspires Celia, Brooke and James with her passionate vision and draws them into an ecstatic dance. Left alone, she admits her now hopeless love for Will, which has suddenly dawned on her, vowing proudly to keep it secret ("Oh, Will, Will, I did love you").

Scene 2:   Political

Many months later: the Middlemarch public square, a spring day

Brooke stands for office, using Will as his campaign manager. Before a large, unruly crowd, Brooke makes a fool of himself, is laughed off the podium, then petulantly fires Will and encourages him to leave town. Hurt by Brooke’s fickleness and enraged when he finds out about Casaubon’s offensive codicil, Will decides to see Dorothea one last time (“As if there were any hope before!”) and depart for London. Meanwhile, Sir James’ wealthy neighbors object to Dorothea’s planned commune. An approaching storm and a tide of public unrest accompany James and Will as each approaches Dorothea’s house. Scene 3 follows without pause.

Scene 3:  What Everything Costs

Dorothea’s garden

Sir James tells Dorothea it is not feasible to create the pottery, exhorting her to be content with her lot (“How much better the world...”). In a moment of truth she realizes that all her plans have come to nothing, that her hopes for self-actualization have been naive. Amid the storm Will arrives to say good-bye. Unable to bear being parted from him, Dorothea decides to relinquish Casaubon’s money and her social position, marry Will and devote herself to his political future. The family tries to dissuade her. At last all are reconciled, proclaiming philosophically: "The world will have its way with us."