Summary of Chapter 41: The Eve of the Trial
In a rented room in Stoniton, Bartle Massey and Adam await the arrival of Mr. Irwine. Bartle pretends to read, but he is watching Adam who sits haggard and listless. Mr. Irwine comes from the prison where he and the chaplain were talking to Hetty. Adam has requested to see her before the trial, but she is not seeing anyone. She won’t even see her family. Mr. Irwine mentions how changed she is and that such a meeting now would be suffering for Adam.
Adam asks if Arthur is back. He becomes angry, saying he wants justice done to him. Mr. Irwine says he has left a letter for Arthur as soon as he arrives. He assures Adam that Arthur will suffer and defends him as a weak but not a cruel person. He repeats that vengeance will not help Hetty. Mr. Irwine tries to explain that passion is not justice and Arthur cannot bear all the blame. People are interconnected and evil spreads like a disease. In fact, Adam himself is in danger of committing a wrong.
Mr. Poyser is in town for the trial, but Irwine won’t let him meet with Adam in his present state because Martin is upset enough. Both Adam and Mr. Irwine express the wish that Dinah were present.
Commentary on Chapter 41
Irwine presents one of Eliot’s favorite ideas of the interconnectedness of everyone. Adam wants to pinpoint blame, but evil is like a disease that spreads. Who can say where it starts and stops? Adam himself is taking infection in his desire to do something violent to Arthur. Irwine tries to break the idea to Adam that Hetty could be guilty of a crime that came from what she and Arthur did together. Adam voices another of Eliot’s favorite ideas, that evil cannot be undone. The law of cause and effect is scientifically observable and therefore, the moral law requiring unselfish behavior is also practical if one wants to avoid suffering for oneself and others. Irwine assures Adam that Arthur will carry this burden his whole life; therefore, there is no need to punish him. He is punished by a force larger than Adam.
Irwine also mentions the fact of Hetty’s hardness of heart to Adam. This will be an important point in the trial. Her aunt had called her hard-hearted many times, but this has escalated to bring her to total isolation. Irwine says, “a fatal influence seems to have shut up her heart against her fellow-creatures” (p. 423). This is the worst sort of suffering, for no healing or transformation can take place. Hetty believes there is no help for her, and in her pride, she will not confess or reach out.