Rosamond and Dorothea teach us that there is more than one way in which patriarchalism oppresses our society. Each character represents two independent ways in which the patriarchal bonds are kept in place. Rosamond is a vain tart. She symbolises and cherishes all the predictable prejudices of a pampered provincial beauty. But, finding her shallow expectations disappointed in marriage, she finds in herself the strength to rebel: doing so stupidly and annoyingly and, George Eliot is keen to emphasize, for all the wrong reasons. Still, Rosamond overtly and sometimes publicly disobeys her husband in the provincial England of the early 19th century. What others would have called her revolutionary force is wasted because of her reactionary convictions and ambitions. Still, she does not bow to her master-husband. What we learn is that defiance is not enough: that a woman’s readiness to do as she pleases even in the face of her husband’s contrary ‘orders’ will not do if she has been brought up to be a wife. Rosamond is, in many ways, a strong woman; but she is not independent – neither in fortune, nor in thought.
Unsurprisingly, Dorothea is the very opposite: she can think herself out of the boundaries of marriage, past her husband’s intellect. But her religion and upbringing oblige her to submit. Here we have a noblewoman whose interest for the welfare of the little people never wavers, apart from when it clashes with that of her husband. Differently from Rosamond she is endowed with an independent intellect capable of dreaming up plans of emancipation: but she does not, till the end (and even then, only at the sacrifice of her fortune), have the strength of pursuing them.
Such is the force of patriarchalism: it will keep property away from women; and, just in case nature should conspire against such arrangements, it will bring a woman up to obey and bow, to submit and assent. And those characters, as Rosamond’s, which cannot be moulded, might just happen to be too preoccupied with the little things of the present.