Summary of Chapter 2: The Preaching
The stranger on horseback stops at the Donnithorne Arms to refresh himself. The tavern is run by Mr. Casson who used to be the butler for the old Squire Donnithorne. Mr. Casson tells the stranger about Hayslope and the principal characters in the town. People have started gathering on the Green to hear the Methodist preacher woman, and the stranger is interested. Casson explains the regular parson lives at Broxton and that there are not many Methodists in this lush country of farmers. There are workers at Burge’s and the stone pits, but the farmers are not usually Methodist. Methodists are mostly in Stonyshire where the young woman comes from. She is the niece of the Poysers at Hall Farm, just visiting. Casson mentions that Adam Bede is a favorite with young Arthur Donnithorne, the heir to the squire, though Adam has a serious temperament.
The stranger and several villagers assemble to hear Dinah but they stand off from the small crowd of professed Methodists. The crowd gossips about Dinah being a poor factory worker herself and how Seth would be a perfect husband for her. Dinah is beautiful but dressed like a Quaker and completely natural and unselfconscious as she stands before the crowd and speaks her simple eloquent message to an attentive audience. She exhibits the spirituality she represents with her loving eyes and calm manner. Her sermon is direct and genuine, and her voice musical. She is not a typical preacher, for she speaks entirely from the heart and when she addresses Chad’s Bess, the girl is terrified that God will see her vanity. She throws off her earrings.
Commentary on Chapter 2
The names Loamshire and Stonyshire indicate the kind of terrain and lifestyles of the people. The rich farmland is the idyllic birthplace of the old English peasant virtues, while Stonyshire, where the mills are, is not friendly to life. The people there are so unhappy that the Methodists have an easy time with conversions. The contrast implies that people are better off living close to the land.
The Methodist sermon given here is familiar in its content of the sinner repenting and finding the forgiveness of God. Dinah, however, is one of Eliot’s saintly women, like Dorothea Brook in Middlemarch. She is genuine in her religion, and it is a religion of love. She speaks of and spreads the peace of God wherever she goes. Eliot herself was a dissenter as a young woman and heard preaching like this and no doubt believed it. When she threw off her religion as a young intellectual she did not throw out her belief in the good that genuine religion can do. People like Dinah Morris and Mr. Irwine, the pastor, represent the best of Christianity in their love, tolerance, and acceptance of others. They are humble and serve the community. Eliot begins to sound her message in this chapter that divine love and the love of humans for all creatures is the same kind of love. Adam makes a point in the first chapter that a man who serves his family, who makes an oven for his wife, is serving God as much as if he prayed. This is a point that Eliot agrees with. True spirituality goes beyond doctrine.