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Dorothea Brooke is the would-be St. Theresa of the Prelude. Young and beautiful, she is also "ardent and theoretical" in nature. Born into a comfortably prosperous landed family at Tipton, She has been somewhat unconventionally educated by her bachelor uncle. She has strong opinions and a great desire to do something good - but too little experience of the world to know what that should be. She finds an outlet in setting up an infant school and designing improved cottages for farm workers. She struggles to conquer self-indulgence by her plain dress, absence of jewels and by turning away form activities like riding, which she enjoys.
Her inexperience and blindness towards reality propels her into a misguided marriage with the elderly "dried bookworm" Casaubon. She imagines his seriousness and lack of charm stands for profound knowledge and dedication. Inevitably, she is disillusioned. But even after this she is determined to be a loyal wife and slogs under his direction at research, devoting herself completely to him in his fatal illness. Her attraction to Ladislaw is curbed, except to the extent of being a good hostess and giving him his right to inheritance.
In the end, after plenty of misunderstandings she marries Will Ladislaw, giving up her husband’s property for him. After this, the reader is told, she devotes herself to helping him in his journalistic and political career, raises two children, and spent her energies "in channels, which had no great name on the earth." Yet the effect of her life on those around was invariably good.
As a wife, she is far from passive and in fact, puts Casaubon on the defensive with her enthusiasm for life. Her effect on Will is an elevation one, bringing out the best in him. Thus, our final impression of Dorothea is of a woman struggling to achieve great good "amidst the conditions of an imperfect social orders."
Quite a few Victorian readers protested at her not ending up married to Lydgate, for whom they felt she would be a soulmate! But her choices in marriage prove to be more convincing and true to life given her character. She stands also as a symbol of the aspiring woman, who wished to soar above the mundane life, but was ultimately forced, to compromise with a hostile environment.