Chapters 75-83 (Dorothea’s Heroism)
The Lydgates are able to keep their house with the money from Bulstrode, but no one calls there but Will Ladislaw. Rosamond thinks his flirtation hides a deeper feeling, and daydreams about Will keep her going at this time. When she finds out about her husband’s scandal, she is in deep shock and sends for Will.
Dorothea sends for Lydgate and offers her support at the hospital: he must stay in Middlemarch and prove his innocence. She believes in him. This is the first support he has had, for even Rosamond has lost faith in him. The presence of Dorothea’s noble nature makes him believe he can weather the storm. She offers to talk to his wife.
When Dorothea calls on Mrs. Lydgate, Rosamond is in a compromising position with Will holding her hands. Dorothea runs out, and Will shouts at Rosamond for ruining his reputation with Dorothea. He shatters Rosamond’s egoism by saying: “no other woman exists by the side of her.” Rosamond falls ill with this shock and goes to bed. Lydgate is tender with her.
Dorothea and Will had been connected by a tender love and understanding though separated. Now it has been destroyed, and Dorothea stays up all night weeping. But in the morning she has an epiphany while looking at a laboring family out the window. She yearns for the perfect right and sees the largeness of the world and her part in it. She resolves to go again to Mrs. Lydgate to see what she can do to get her to love her husband.
Dorothea puts her personal feelings aside and defends Lydgate to his wife. Thinking Rosamond is contemplating running away with Will, she urges her to stand by her husband. For once, Rosamond is unselfish and confesses to Dorothea that Will loves her and no one else. This clears the road for Will.
While watching a storm from Lowick’s windows together, Dorothea and Will decide it is unbearable to part, no matter what the circumstances, and they declare their love for one another.
While Dorothea is talking to Rosamond, it takes a great effort not to fall apart, but she keeps her inner discipline by reminding herself that the fate of three people depends on her resolve (Will, Lydgate, and his wife). Dorothea finds meaning in life, as she tells Will, beyond her own needs or happiness. She can only thrive by seeing her part in the larger world. Because of this, things turn out better for herself and those around her.
Even Rosamond must rise in Dorothea’s presence, and Dorothea saves Lydgate’s reputation through her strength of goodness that goes against public opinion. Thus, Dorothea’s heroism, though hidden to the world, is the heroism of a loving and idealistic heart that would “widen the skirts of light” through any action at hand.