Insult of the Week: your desultory vivacity makes your presence a fatigue

Dorothea and Edward Casaubon, from an 1887 edition of Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life

In chapter 29 of Middlemarch, a letter from Mr. Casaubon’s cousin Will Ladislaw sparks off an argument between the elderly clergyman and his much younger wife, Dorothea:

“You can, if you please, read the letter,” said Mr. Casaubon, severely pointing to it with his pen, and not looking at her. “But I may as well say beforehand, that I must decline the proposal it contains to pay a visit here. I trust I may be excused for desiring an interval of complete freedom from such distractions as have been hitherto inevitable, and especially from guests whose desultory vivacity makes their presence a fatigue.”

Given the various possible interpretations of “desultory” in this context, I confess to not being entirely sure what Casaubon’s gripe is with his young cousin’s vivacity here – is there too much of it, or is it just inconsistent?

Perhaps it’s not Will’s vivacity (or lack thereof), so much as his youth, good looks, and Dorothea’s innocent enjoyment of his company that are really the problem, however.

I can’t find an illustration of Will Ladislaw in my usual archives, but this gentleman from La Famille Jouffroy (1860) looks sufficiently vivacious to me

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