Summary of Chapter 12: In the Wood
On the same morning, Arthur holds a discussion with himself and decides it is prudent that he should go on a week-long fishing trip to stay out of the way of Hetty. He approves of himself for his noble behavior but when he goes to the stable, he finds his horse has been lamed, and he cannot go. He uses another horse to go to lunch with a friend, thinking he will get back too late to meet Hetty. Somehow, he is back early and realizes he wants to see her. They meet on the path in the fir-tree grove, and are shy with one another at first, for they have never been alone before. Arthur questions her about what time she goes to Mrs. Pomfret’s and says she probably has an escort to go home, Mr. Craig, the gardener, for instance. Hetty begins to cry at the mention of Mr. Craig and says she doesn’t like him. Arthur’s tenderness is aroused and he puts his hand on her arm. Suddenly she drops her sewing basket, and they have to pick up the contents, thus breaking the mood. When she leaves, he is angry with himself for his weakness but then realizes he is falling in love with Hetty. He goes into the Hermitage, a house in the wood, and waits for her to come back.
Commentary on Chapter 12
In this chapter the narrator stays closely with Arthur’s mental process as she did with Hetty’s before. She shows Arthur’s indecisiveness and excuses to himself. He makes noble resolutions to stay away from Hetty but has no discipline. It seems fate is against him when his horse is lamed, but he makes little effort to carry through his plan. He is easily distracted. Eliot makes it plain that virtue does not consist in fine thoughts alone, but in action.
Although she defends Arthur as a basically decent person who has never harmed another, she warns that in order to continue not harming others one needs “self-mastery,” which we see Arthur does not have (p. 124). He tells himself he will be back too late to run into Hetty, but then he is surprised to arrive early. This self-deception of saying one thing to oneself and doing another is a lack of co-ordination and honesty. Arthur had called himself lazy, and Eliot shows the consequences to a morally lazy person are just as harsh as if he set out to do harm. The result of wrong action is the same, despite good intentions. Even after meeting Hetty, he fools himself into thinking it will go no further. He wants to see her just one more time to leave her with the right impression. It has begun, and Arthur is not strong enough to avoid entanglement.