Summary of Chapter 16: Links
Arthur Donnithorne rides out early to have breakfast with Mr. Irwine, thinking it will be easier to tell him about Hetty over breakfast. On the way there he sees Adam Bede and chats with him about his ambitions. Adam says he would like to manage timber and building, but he doesn’t want to be partners with Mr. Burge. Adam feels reverence for Arthur because he knew him as a boy and because he is the future squire. Arthur shakes hands with Adam and offers to invest money to help him start a business in the future. He brings up the point that Adam probably is so strong he would never do anything he thought wrong. Adam says that he could never enjoy something that would weigh down his conscience.
Arthur doesn’t want to let Irwine know why he has come and so he chats with him in a roundabout way, speaking of how he wants to be a model landlord. He enjoys being liked by his tenants. Arthur says he could never live in a place where he was not respected, and Irwine answers that he must then make the right choice of wife. Mrs. Irwine has predicted that she will be able to tell Arthur’s future by the woman he chooses. Irwine adds that he has bet on Arthur’s success and so he musn’t let his old tutor down. This immediately makes Arthur reluctant to tell his secret, for he relies on the opinions of others. The rector and young squire discuss what it takes for a man to make the right moral decision. Irwine suspects Arthur is trying to tell him something, but when he asks him directly, Arthur is scared off. He thinks he will handle his dilemma himself, and once more determines to leave on a trip.
Commentary on Chapter 16
This is an important chapter that concludes the first book, for it holds Arthur’s fate in the balance and shows him weighing his choices. He seeks advice indirectly from the two strongest men he knows—Adam Bede and Mr. Irwine—though he doesn’t confess what is on his mind. In this way, Eliot hints that Arthur’s unconscious mind has already sabotaged the man. He asks for advice but doesn’t really want it; he wants his anxiety to be soothed. He knows what both men would tell him if he confessed that he desired Hetty, so he merely hints about some decision he must make, in a general way. Both men advise him to avoid doing something he won’t be able to live with.
Arthur tries to convince Irwine that circumstances may be against making the right choice, but Irwine, who has just been reading Greek tragedy, announces a theory of character as fate: a character carries the seeds of his fate within his own nature. Arthur’s wishy-washy and lazy nature is made clear to the reader by this time. He does not have the iron will of Adam, and he does not really hear Irwine’s lecture on the fact that “consequences are unpitying” (p. 171). Arthur seems to think he is a good person merely because he is feeling uncomfortable about Hetty, that he will get credit if he struggles before giving in to his desire, but he is amply warned by both men that intentions alone do not constitute moral action. Arthur does not tell Irwine what is troubling him because he wants to be well thought of more than he wants to do the right thing. He has not yet learned that he has to earn the respect of others. When Arthur sympathizes with Adam that he has had a hard life, Adam replies that life is not a Treddleston Fair. This is a key point Arthur doesn’t get; he wants life to be pleasant and easy; he doesn’t want to look it in the face. Like Hetty, he thinks it will just somehow come out all right in his favor.
Book First has set up the characters with their conflicting desires, the temptation, and the momentum. There has been ample foreshadowing, especially in this chapter, that the worst will happen.