Summary of Chapter 8: A Vocation
Both Dinah Morris and Mr. Irwine have a favorable opinion of one another at first glance, for they are both sincere and generous people. Irwine questions her about her life in the cotton-mill at Snowfield and her preaching She explains that there are women preachers among the Methodists, though it isn’t common, and then tells how it was that she began to speak when another preacher was taken ill. The words seem to come divinely out of her with no will of her own. Mr. Irwine sees she is genuine and has no desire to dispute her right to preach, but he does wonder if men do not try to court or hassle her. She says they do not, and she has no time for personal feelings. They then discuss the death of Thais Bede, and Dinah puts away her work, inspired to go to Seth’s mother to comfort her.
Aunt Poyser admits that even if she is a Methodist, Dinah has a comforting way and people like to have her around in a crisis. When she tells Hetty about Mr. Bede drowning, however, Hetty seems barely interested, lost in her own thoughts about Arthur. Aunt Poyser criticizes her as being “feather-headed” (p. 96).
Commentary on Chapter 8
With various Protestant movements, such as Methodism, there was a great emphasis on divine and personal inspiration, as opposed to merely getting religious guidance from the church. This “enthusiasm” was thought dangerous, for as Irwine explains to Dinah, an individual could mistake a personal idea for a divine thought. If it is allowed that someone could be divinely inspired to speak without being ordained, there is still the issue of being a woman. Traditional Christianity still had a suspicion of women as more sinful than men, or less spiritually inclined. Newer Protestant sects (dissenters) gave more equality to lower classes, women, and people formerly thought to be outcasts. This made Methodists suspicious in the eyes of the upper classes, for it was a religion that gathered converts from the lowest social groups, especially the mill workers. Even Dinah admits that the well-fed farm people are not very attentive to her kind of preaching, for they are comfortable.
Many Church of England clergymen, in Mr. Irwine’s place, would have seized the opportunity to reject and drive out what to them was heresy--an ignorant, unqualified person roaming the countryside, stirring up people against the established church. Joshua Rann, the parish clerk, had asked Irwine to do something about this rebellion. Irwine takes the responsibility of checking Dinah out, and yet, he addresses her with the same respect he would give a fellow clergyman. He is able to see her honesty and respect it, though it is not his way. Irwine is a force for harmony throughout the parish because of his tolerance and understanding. He does not interfere, yet he takes care of his people.