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by George Eliot
Middlemarch Book 5, Chapter 48 Summary
Dorothea wasn't really annoyed with Will for coming – she was sad that Mr. Casaubon ignored him, and that's why she looked uncomfortable. Dorothea usually spends Sunday afternoons reading, but she can't get into any of her usual favorites. She feels like her life is empty, and that she'll never see Will – or any other person in the outside world – again. After dinner, he asks her to read his huge volume of notes out loud to him, and mark the places where he stops her. This is part of the "sifting" process – he wants to go through the notes and research he's made over the years, to finally get going on the book itself. Dorothea suspects that he's finally decided to start putting the book together because Lydgate warned him that his health might not last. He even wakes her up during the night to continue working on it by candlelight, and Dorothea doesn't complain. Before they go back to sleep, Casaubon asks her to make a solemn promise: if he dies, she has to swear up and down not to do anything of which he would disapprove. Dorothea is shocked that he'd ask her to make a promise like this – doesn't he trust her? She hedges for a while, and finally asks that he let her wait until the next day to make the promise. She wants to sleep on it. She imagines that he wants her to promise to finish sifting through his research, and publish his book, after he dies. It's not work that she enjoys, and she can't imagine wasting years on a project that she didn't even begin. But then again, he's spent years and years on this already, and to tell him that she's going to throw away his work as soon as he's dead seems cruel. At breakfast, she tells Casaubon that she'll meet him out in the garden to give him her answer: she's decided to say yes, and is pretty miserable about it. When she gets to the garden, she finds him sitting with his head down on a table. He's dead. And Dorothea faints. She comes to with Lydgate at her bedside. She's delirious, and can't stop talking about the promise.
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