Summary of Chapter 35: The Hidden Dread
Adam doesn’t see much of Hetty during the winter between November and February because he is working two jobs and getting ready for the wedding in March. Two rooms are prepared for Hetty and Adam in the Bede home, so that Seth and Lisbeth can stay in the house. Adam does not know why Hetty seems depressed sometimes and thinks it’s because of his mother living with them. Mrs. Poyser is surprised at Hetty’s ability to take on extra housework at Hall Farm and assumes she is learning how to be a housewife. In February Hetty goes to Treddleston to get some things for her wedding. She wears her red cloak and bonnet and wanders about in a daze, feeling lost. When she looks at a pond and wonders if she could drown herself in it, it is understood that she is pregnant.
The narrator finally answers the reader’s questions about Hetty’s condition, but indirectly, since she cannot discuss it openly with a Victorian audience. She calls the pregnancy “the hidden dread” and says Hetty only found out after her engagement to Adam. The narrator gives pride as a reason Hetty does not tell anyone. She thinks Arthur cannot do anything for her because her one dread is discovery, and he cannot save her from that. Now, she thinks she must run away. The only thought is that she has to hide, so that no one will ever know what happened to her. Telling her aunt she is going to see Dinah Morris for a while, she leaves by coach, silently crying tears at parting from Adam, who had given her love and protection. They will not miss her for at least two weeks. She plans to go to Arthur at Windsor, for surely he will take care of her. She knows she will never see home again.
Commentary on Chapter 35
This is the last chapter of the fourth book, the book where the consequences of the love affair between Hetty and Arthur come out. It opened with the crisis of Adam seeing them kiss, and it ends with Hetty running away, approximately eight months pregnant, trying to escape discovery. The next book will reveal the full tragedy.
The narrator tries to explain Hetty’s puzzling behavior. She doesn’t really understand she is pregnant for a long time, apparently, a detail hard for a modern reader to swallow. Her character has been explained, however, as not wanting to face unpleasant facts. And, most women at this time were ignorant of anatomy and sex, having to learn things from other women.
Hetty, like Arthur, depends on the opinions others have of her. She seems to have little moral integrity of her own. For instance, she never seems to give one thought to the baby or what she could do for it. She waits so long to admit the problem and to do anything, because like Arthur, she thinks something will happen to save her from this fate, a miscarriage perhaps. Equally hard to understand is how she could hide it, but with aprons and cloaks, it might be possible. One also wonders why she waits to contact Arthur as he told her to do if there was any trouble. The narrator explains that Hetty does not think that Arthur could cover up for her. He can take care of her and give her money, but he cannot save her reputation. This reminds us again of the small town atmosphere. If she goes to anyone she knows for help—Arthur and Dinah are the two who might do something—they would have to let her family and friends know. In her pride, she believes herself alone in her suffering, and the best solution for her is to disappear, so at least her reputation will be saved.
Hetty’s reasoning is not that of an adult, and by shifting to Hetty’s childish and fearful point of view in this chapter and in the fifth book, Eliot does something surprising no doubt for a Victorian audience. She does not try to excuse Hetty as a fallen woman, but she makes her plight sympathetic and understandable. We must have human pity for her. Her grief and fear make her close to insane in her thinking and actions. Arthur had thought to himself that even in the worst case, he could help Hetty, make it up to her, and make her glad that she had been with him. The evil consequences are more than he could have imagined and cannot be fixed with money. Anyone would be sorely tested by this trial, but Hetty does not have the inner resources or faith, like Dinah would, to survive such an experience and to make courageous choices.