Dear 100 Hour Board,
So how romantic, say, do yo suppose Dorothea Brooke's attractions really are (at their heights) to Casaubon or Will Ladislaw?
She is apparently infatuated with Casaubon, briefly, but apparently I (like the town) am conventional enough to doubt she could be actually enamored with him. (Comments?) Of course, it is because he is learned and churched enough to seem an authority to go to when one needs duty delineated. Then she continues to love him, this time with knowledge, but that does not concern this question because it doesn't seem to contain any kernel of attraction really.
Meanwhile Will also makes her feel duty, but in the end more compellingly he seems to make her feel utterly free, romantic as that is. So, does this freedom and affection amount to romance? (Whatever else could it amount to?)
(One easily observes that Dorothea's pulls to Ladislaw/Casaubon arise from rather opposite motivations, at least along one dimension, but that might be beside my point.)
Dear Mrs. Cadwallader, then,
Well, I suppose it depends on how you parse terms. How would you define "romantic attraction"? Obviously, when Dorothea falls in love with Casaubon, she's really falling for her ideal fantasy of a scholarly, monastic sort of man whose intellectual pursuits have made him wise and profound. She's dead wrong in her appraisal of him, of course, but does that mean her "romantic attraction" for Casaubon is less forceful or sincere than that she later feels toward Ladislaw? If anything, I think Dorothea's "romantic attraction" to Casaubon is perhaps more intense than her attraction to Will, precisely because of its romantic character. She sentimentalizes him, turning him into something he isn't by the very inventiveness of her imagination. There is no more straightforward embodiment of "romantic attraction" than Dorothea's love for Casaubon - a vague preference that she has nursed into infatuation by romanticizing its object.
I disagree with you that she marries Casaubon out of infatuation. I believe Dorothea's love is as sincere as it can be considering how completely she's misjudged her husband, and I'm inclined to blame him almost entirely for the failure of their marriage: they might have been very happy together, and her love for him may have been justified, if he had let her in on his intellectual life and been more willing to consider her an equal. (Although maybe she would have grown disillusioned with the worthlessness of his work, which she had assumed was enlightening and meaningful when really it was trivial and inane.)
By the time she falls in love with Will, Dorothea's marriage has given her two things she lacked in her initial encounters with Casaubon: it's made her a much keener judge of character and given her a more complete understanding of her own self. And understanding others and knowing oneself are the two crucial ingredients for the wise, enduring love that she cultivates with Will. Because (a) she actually knows him in a way she never knew Casaubon, (b) she now comprehends her own mind, (c) Will is so much better suited for her, and (d) he sincerely loves her back (which isn't really true of Casaubon), the quality of their love is deeper and unstrained. But I'm not sure I would call that "romantic attraction" because I think Dorothea has learned a lot from her first devastating experience with love and marriage; she's much less inclined to romanticize Will into something he's not.
Then again, I read Middlemarch very quickly during an illness when I was pretty much only half conscious. So take my answer for what you will.
I agree with Heidi on the whole. In my opinion, she had a romantic (in the sense of an idealized fantasy) attraction to Casaubon that was crushed by the reality of his old man grossness, his inability and lack of real attempts to connect with her as a person, and his pitiful scholarship (failing to live up to her fantasy). She also is romantically attracted to him simply because he's her first serious suitor and she's flattered to have one.
Her attraction to Will is much more traditional in that there's definitely an element of sexual/physical attraction that's much stronger and never dies. Sure, their love story isn't picture perfect, but that doesn't mean she's not attracted to him personality-wise as well as physically from pretty much the first moment she sees him.
I'm still not really sure what you mean by "how romantic" are Dorothea's attractions really, but I think the book focuses on the practicalities of muddling through life as a couple, which are part of any real, lasting romance.
I listened to this whole audiobook at my former job and when it finally ended I felt like my favorite coworkers had quit. :(