Summary of Chapter 25: The Games
The games and races begin on the lawn at four o’clock, and Mrs. Irwine is to give out the prizes, sitting on a raised seat like a queen. Mrs. Irwine tells Arthur he must take a charming bride or she will be disappointed. She insists this bride be pretty and not silly. She surveys the crowd along with her son, and the Donnithornes. When she sees Hetty, she wants to know who she is, then says it is a waste to give beauty to the lower classes when the upper class needs it most. Beauty, she says, is thrown away on the working class husband. Arthur is listening, and is more attracted to Hetty than ever while they speak of her. Mr. Irwine contradicts his mother: “The common people are not quite so stupid as you imagine” (p. 275). He tells them about Dinah Morris as an example. Just then, Bessy Cranage wins a game and comes to collect her prize. Miss Lydia had bought an ugly dress and piece of flannel for a young woman, not wanting to encourage vanity. Bessy, who likes finery as much as Hetty does, is so disappointed she cries and gives the material away to her cousin to make clothes with. Arthur vows secretly to give her some money so she can buy something for herself. Wiry Ben Cranage then dances a comic hornpipe while Joshua Rann plays the fiddle.
Commentary on Chapter 25
This chapter contrasts the point of view of the classes in English society. Because readers have already seen so much of the action and inner life of the lower class characters, they know the farmers and workers as real people. Mrs. Irwine is a proud and queenly gentlewoman who looks down on the lower classes. She voices her prejudice about them and is corrected by her son the rector, who knows them all quite well. He has just praised Adam as one of the more significant people in the area, and now he praises Dinah Morris as an example of beauty and intelligence and refinement. Miss Lydia buys coarse cloth for a female prize, not thinking the peasants have any business with finery, while she herself likes her bit of lace. These gentry do not see any common humanity with those beneath them.
The time of the action is 1799, the height of the Romantic Age when class difference was beginning to break down, after the French Revolution and the beginning rise of industrialism. Romantic literature is full of noble peasants and natives who are more honorable than the upper classes, under the notion that the person living closest to nature imbibes a natural morality and wisdom. Irwine does not sentimentalize about the poor being better, for he knows, as well as Mrs. Poyser, who among them is a fool and who is not. He, however, defends a democratic idea ahead of its time, that one class is not more stupid or less human than another, as his mother and the Donnithornes think.