As Robert Hardy recently passed away on August 3 at the age of 91, Admin and I thought it would be a good time to remember him by discussing some of his performance in “Middlemarch” (1994). He played Arthur Brooke, uncle and guardian to Celia (Caroline Harker) and Dorothea Brooke (Juliet Aubrey), the latter of whom eventually becomes the Rev. Edward Casaubon’s (Mr. Malahide) bride. But we should start with their first meeting.
In this scene, Uncle Brooke has invited Mr. Casaubon and Sir James Chettam (Julian Wadham), a well-to-do and handsome young neighbour, to dine at Tipton Grange. Casaubon already has the reputation of being “the most learned man in the county”, as Dorothea admiringly tells Celia. She doesn’t mention anything about Chettam, though.
Uncle Brooke: Sir Humphry Davy, now… I dined with him years ago at Cartwright’s. Wordsworth was there, you know, Wordsworth the poet? Davy was a poet too, did you know that? Or as you might say, Wordsworth was Poet One and Davy was Poet Two, do you follow?
[Casaubon waves away a servant attempting to replenish his drink.]
Uncle Brooke: Wordsworth was Poet One and Davy was Poet Two.
[Everyone laughs except for Casaubon, who is eating his soup with deadly seriousness.]
RF: You can already tell Uncle Brooke is delighted by all the company and has been dominating the conversation, in a very broad, friendly sort of way. You can also tell that he keenly appreciates his own wit. 😉 I had to google Sir Humphry Davy, but Uncle Brooke is right; he was indeed a poet, although he later became known as an inventor and scientist. It would be interesting to know what he and Wordsworth talked about, but Uncle Brooke doesn’t bother with those details. Of course, while all this joviality is going on, Casaubon seems to be in his own little universe, concentrating on his soup with great intensity. Celia will later complain to Dorothea that he was noisy about it, but I think she’s just being a bit unfair. Chettam laughs dutifully (he’s trying to impress Dorothea), but Casaubon doesn’t seem to care much for Uncle Brooke’s sense of humour. Or maybe he just hasn’t noticed Uncle Brooke made a joke.
Admin: Well, Casaubon made one definite slurp sound at the beginning there, but I bet Uncle Brooke was slurping just as much when he wasn’t yelling about random poets. Poor Casaubon doesn’t seem to eat much beyond soup, probably of the thin brothy nature no less, so I can’t really blame him for working on it intently. He’s got to get some calories in for that big brain of his. I really like Casaubon’s intense “I’m trying to eat soup” expression. It is ever so fetching in its raven-like severity.
RF: Yes, he’s concentrating so hard on that one bowl of soup, he keeps waving the servants away as though they’re distracting him. 😀
Admin: His elegant hand-waves are strangely mesmerizing. 🙂
Uncle Brooke: Do you know Davy, Casaubon?
Casaubon [quietly]: No, sir, I regret that I do not.
Uncle Brooke: Chettam here has studied Davy and his agricultural chemistry, but it won’t do.
Chettam [to Dorothea]: I am reading the agricultural chemistry, Miss Brooke, because I want to take one of my farms into my own hands and see if I can set a good pattern of farming amongst my tenants. Do you approve of that?
Dorothea: Why, yes. Very much indeed, Sir James. I wish you could persuade my uncle to do the same.
RF: Score one for Chettam! If he had deliberately tried to come up with something calculated to impress Dorothea, he couldn’t have done better. Earlier in the episode, we saw Dorothea poring over plans to improve Uncle Brooke’s tenants’ cottages – which she already knows Uncle Brooke won’t bother with, because he considers it a waste of money. So we know Dorothea is idealistic and socially conscious. Casaubon is very much staying out of the conversation, but Dorothea does glance at him with some interest when he speaks. However, Chettam is much better at being approachable, friendly, and good at dinner chit-chat. I suspect Casaubon doesn’t get invited to as many dinners as Chettam.
Admin: Poor Casaubon. He looks so uncomfortably awkward after admitting he does not know of this Davy character. He’s not one for chit-chat. You’re right, Dorothea seems very intrigued by him. His shy, soft voice mixed with his scholarly and quietly contemplative looks have clearly roused her attention. She’s used to hale and hearties like Chettam, so Casaubon is a nice change of dining room scenery. Yes, Chettam at least genuinely impressed Dorothea there. He looks so gosh darn pleased with himself, but that wild card Casaubon couldn’t care less.
Uncle Brooke: No, no. It won’t do. Fancy farming, I call it. Most expensive sort of whistle you can buy. May as well keep a pack of hounds.
Dorothea: Surely it’s not a sin, Uncle, to spend money in finding out how to make the most of the land that supports us all.
[Casaubon glances at Dorothea.]
RF: I think this is the first time Casaubon has ever heard a woman express a view like that. He looks quite surprised, for him. 😉 He’s also starting to pay attention to the dinner-table conversation.
Admin: I will say Dorothea, being rather direct and opinionated, makes for much better dinner conversation than the considerably more boorish (albeit jolly and sweet) Uncle Brooke. Casaubon is clearly intrigued by a naturally beautiful young woman whose mind is filled with thoughts other than fashion and society.
Uncle Brooke: The ladies don’t understand political economy, you know. No, a little light literature is more to their taste.
Dorothea [chidingly]: Uncle!
Uncle Brooke: Novels, you know. Poetry, Scott, Shelley. Southey, now. Do you know Southey at all, Casaubon?
Casaubon: I have, at present, little leisure for… modern literature. I live too much with the dead, perhaps.
[Dorothea glances at Caaubon while Uncle Brooke chuckles.]
RF: Well, if anything, Dorothea probably has a much better grasp of “political economy” than Uncle Brooke does, and much less interest in “light literature”. Robert Southey also got involved in politics, so it’s interesting that Uncle Brooke uses him as an example of “light literature”. Casaubon dismisses all such works as something he has “little leisure” for; he’s evidently a very serious-minded type who would consider those authors’ works frivolous. Despite that, he smiles to himself just a bit when he says he “live[s] too much with the dead” – a statement Dorothea seems to find especially intriguing. Score one for Casaubon!
Admin: For someone who isn’t much into Shelley, I feel like Casaubon is hitting Dorothea’s inner-goth girl nerve nonetheless 😉 Yeah, there is almost a slight bit of distaste as Casaubon says the words “‘modern’ literature” as though it is on par with “Keeping Up With the Karadashians”.
RF: And for someone who’s teasing the ladies about “light literature”, Uncle Brooke is the one who’s most familiar with the poets’ names. 😉 I have to laugh at Casaubon pronouncing “modern literature” (that would be anything not chiselled on stone, inscribed in wet clay, or written on papyrus, I suppose) being on par with “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”. But you’re right that Dorothea does seem to have a secret goth girl streak; you can almost see her go “Oooo!” in delight when Casaubon mentions he “live[s] too much with the dead”.
Uncle Brooke: Casaubon’s engaged upon a great work, you know. Isn’t that so, Casaubon?
Casaubon: I believe I am, yes. Perhaps too great a work for the mind of one man to compass.
Dorothea: May I know what it is, Mr. Casaubon?
Casaubon: I’m compiling a key to all mythologies, Miss Brooke. [Waves servant away again.] I’m seeking to elucidate those elements which underpin every system of belief known to man. It’s not perhaps a subject of great interest to young ladies.
Dorothea: On the contrary. To me that seems like a wonderful endeavour.
Casaubon: Well, you’re very kind, Miss Brooke. I’m much encouraged.
[Dorothea smiles at Casaubon, intrigued.]
RF: Like most inveterate researchers, Casaubon visibly brightens up and finally joins the conversation when his pet subject comes up. He’s probably right that it wouldn’t interest most young ladies (Celia looks bored stiff), but Dorothea isn’t most young ladies, especially given her interest in “great works” and contributing to the world in some large, altruistic way. Her admiration for Casaubon is beginning to grow, and he’s beginning to take more notice of her; he actually smiles at her (shock!) when he says he’s “much encouraged”. Score two for Casaubon! He does seem just a titch annoyed that Uncle Brooke keeps interrupting his soup, though.
Admin: Oooh, he certainly does brighten up, and it is nice to see a bit of his enthusiasm. And you’re right, “elements which underpin every system of belief” would be sure to intrigue the young and idealistic Dorothea who has a very great regard for humanity. Better yet, unlike Chettam, Casaubon scores his points without looking annoyingly smug. Casaubon is genuinely touched and impressed by her intellectual interest. It is really quite lovely.
RF: However, I do believe Casaubon is tooting his own horn a bit when he says it’s “[p]erhaps too great a work for the mind of one man to compass”, with a bit of a humble-bragging smirk. I thought the implication was that while it might be “too great” for some men, he’s pretty sure he’s the one to do it. He even throws in a satisfied sniff at the end.
Admin: True, there is a slight air of “so it must all rest on my shoulders” there which is also rather unintentionally attractive.
Uncle Brooke [to Casaubon]: How do you arrange your documents?
Casaubon [looking baffled]: Pigeon-holes, partly.
Uncle Brooke: Aahh, pigeon-holes will not do. I never know whether a paper’s in “A” or “Zed”.
Dorothea: I wish you would let me sort your papers for you, Uncle. I would letter them all. And then make a list of subjects under each letter.
Casaubon [admiringly, to Uncle Brooke]: But you have an excellent secretary at hand, you perceive!
RF: I love Casaubon’s look of complete bafflement when Uncle Brooke asks him how he organizes his documents. 😀 Also note that Uncle Brooke blames the pigeon-holes and not his own disorganization when he’s unable to find things. You can just imagine what his study looks like. Casaubon also evidently admires Dorothea’s ability to come up with a plan for ordering Uncle Brooke’s documents, complimenting her intellect rather than her beauty. Score three for Casaubon! They’re already finding common areas of interest and understanding while Chettam is falling behind.
Admin: Casaubon’s very obvious and logical answer to such a random question is cute. Indeed, if one can’t figure out if something is in A or Zed, the problem isn’t with the pigeon-holes. Of course, we know that deep down Brooke probably doesn’t care where his documents are; he’s just itching to dominate the conversation again.
Chettam [deciding to get back into the conversation]: I hear you’re determined to give up riding, Miss Brooke. Surely that isn’t true.
Dorothea: It is true, Sir James.
Chettam: Oh, but why? You’re such an accomplished horsewoman. [To Casaubon] And it is such healthy exercise.
[Casaubon smiles noncommittally, keeps eating his soup.]
Chettam: And every lady should be a good horsewoman, you know… that she may accompany her husband. Surely it isn’t possible you should think riding is wrong?
RF: Chettam tries his best to get back in the game by complimenting Dorothea on her horsewomanship, with an added little flirty smirk (he nearly waggles his eyebrows) about “accompany[ing] her husband”. This would probably work like gangbusters with most women [*cough*Celia*cough*], but not Dorothea. It’s also hilarious that he tries to bring Casaubon (who has finally gotten the chance to get back to his soup) in on it with the remark about “healthy exercise”. Casaubon just doesn’t look like he’s the “healthy exercise” type. Then he throws in a little neg about Dorothea thinking riding is wrong, which also backfires. No score for Chettam! However, Uncle Brooke does smile approvingly while Chettam is talking; he and Chettam appear to be on the same wavelength, at least. He seems to consider Chettam to be ideal husband material, even if Dorothea doesn’t.
Admin: Poor Casaubon, I’m pretty sure he knows Chettam is getting a sly dig in there. But, he totally lets it slide which also works in his favor because Dorothea already figures he’s above all that sort of stuff.
RF: Goth guys who dress in black and spend lots of time in libraries reading dead languages by dead authors about obscure deities and religious systems aren’t into healthy exercise. 😉
Dorothea: It is quite possible that I should think it wrong for me.
Chettam: Oh? Why?
Dorothea: I simply feel that there ought to be a better way to live.
Chettam: But surely–
Casaubon [interrupting]: Perhaps we should not inquire too closely as to motives. I believe I understand your response, Miss Brooke.
Dorothea: Thank you.
[Dorothea smiles at Casaubon, who goes back to his soup. Chettam can’t quite figure out what just happened.]
RF: Dorothea is vehement about her views on social class, but at the same time, she doesn’t want to have to defend herself and get into a great, big debate at the dinner table, which is understandable. Chettam seems bewildered, since he probably thought complimenting Dorothea’s horsewomanship was a sure thing. Casaubon rides into the discussion as an unlikely white knight, gently defending Dorothea having her own motives and views and putting a stop to Chettam’s questioning; in turn, Dorothea obviously appreciates his support. They’ve effectively ganged up on Chettam, who can’t understand what just happened. Did he just lose out on a lovely young woman to some old, dusty scholar?? Score four for Casaubon! Unfortunately, we don’t see Uncle Brooke’s or Celia’s reactions to all this, though the latter would probably believe Dorothea is out of her mind.
Admin: Casaubon is so perfect there. He basically tells Chettam to stop nagging Dorothea, rightly portraying her as someone who knows her own mind and shouldn’t have to defend herself for wanting to contribute to greater things. And I love the way Casaubon and Dorothea look at each other, as though they are kindred spirits. It couldn’t be more clear that Chettam has just guaranteed his position as odd-man out with them. Chettam and Casaubon have effectively swapped their typical positions, and it is a joy to watch. It is “Revenge of the Nerds” Regency style.
RF: I love the idea of this dinner as “Revenge of the Nerds”, Regency style. 😀
RF: This is a great scene for setting up Dorothea’s and Casaubon’s characters and establishing their attraction to one another, as unlikely as it may seem. We get a sense of Dorothea’s social consciousness and idealism, and her need to attach herself to something “great” that will make a difference in the world; as such, she looks up to Casaubon as a “learned man” who’s out to accomplish something equally great. And Casaubon, who seems to have led a rather lonely existence up until now, is both surprised and flattered by her attention, while at the same time realizing there might be one woman in the world who can appreciate his intellectual pursuits. Mr. Malahide does a wonderful job of portraying his awakening interest in Dorothea. His response to her is kind, gentle, and gratified. But I also like how we get a sense of Robert Hardy’s Uncle Brooke, too. He’s a bit bumbling and perhaps overly jolly and hearty, but he really does care about Dorothea and Celia and wants the best for them. He probably thinks he invited the most eligible bachelor in the county to dinner in Chettam, little realizing that Dorothea would fall for Casaubon instead.
Admin: Yes, it is a lovely scene. Casaubon’s and Dorothea’s unspoken looks of mutual understanding are really very sweet. They have a warm chemistry that is very noticeable, but unfortunately proved to be less than expected. But, at that moment they were adorable. Uncle Brooke is good fun and provides a comic element that while somewhat over-bearing doesn’t stumble into farce. He’s a very believable and warm character who wants the best for his nieces and his friends.