Summary of Chapter 18: Church
The Poyser family prepares for church on Sunday and walk as a family across the fields to Hayslope. The husband and wife gossip about the neighbors on the way, and Mr. Poyser itches to be working, since the day is fine. His wife lectures him about keeping the Sabbath. The children lag behind, playing in the fields, and Hetty is sent to fetch them. She is expecting to see Arthur in church.
At the church, people stand gossiping in groups while Mr. Irwine holds burial service for Thais Bede under the white thorn tree. Afterwards, the congregation moves inside for the service. Hetty is so disappointed that Arthur does not show up, she has to hide her tears. Mr. Craig the gardener is staring at her, and she suddenly hates Arthur for not coming. She is not thinking of the service at all, but Adam, who is also watching Hetty, manages to combine his love of her into the spirit of the service. He thinks of how hard he was on his father and regrets his pride that makes him impatient with the weakness of others. He wishes he could forgive more easily.
After the service the Poysers offer condolences to the Bedes, and Mr. Poyser invites Adam to the farm sometime to look at a spinning wheel. Mr. Craig explains to the group that Arthur has gone off on a fishing trip, so Hetty knows that Arthur could have come to church but chose not to. The Poysers invite Mr. Craig to come home with them, and the Bedes go their own way.
Commentary on Chapter 18
This chapter serves to give us the Dutch painting of Hayslope that Eliot spoke of in the last chapter. There is much dialogue on farm and church matters that have little to do with the main action, but a feeling of the community is important to the action to come. It is a close knit group of people, with their relatives having resided there for generations. In such a rural scene, every action of every character is calculated minutely, and the smallest action shakes the whole fabric of the valley. It is a slow moving place with rigid thinking, though the people are good-hearted and usually generous to one another.
In church, we see Hetty’s thinking contrasted to Adam’s. She is not aware of anything beyond her own drama of disappointment. Church to her is a trysting place with Arthur. When he doesn’t come, her feelings toward him turn to hatred and revenge. This is not a story of true love. Adam, on the other hand, likes to weave his love for Hetty into the religious service, and it makes him repentant towards his father. He is able to see his own faults and weaknesses and wants to improve. This is foreshadowing, for his inability to forgive the mistakes of weaker people will be his challenge.