Summary of Chapter 39: The Tidings
When Arthur arrives at the parsonage, he is kept waiting as Mr. Irwine talks to a strange man (who turns out to be a constable). When Adam is admitted, he tells Mr. Irwine that he has come to him for help because he looks up to him the most and must tell him some painful news. Mr. Irwine is looking at Adam strangely and has his hand on a letter. Adam tells him Hetty has run away and that he is going to look for her. Mr. Irwine asks if Adam knows why she ran away. Adam says there is someone else involved. Mr. Irwine looks relieved.
Adam then tells him the other person is Arthur, and Mr. Irwine is shocked and full of grief as Adam tells about the secret meetings and how he made Arthur write the letter to Hetty. Mr. Irwine then tells Adam to prepare himself for a heavy blow. He can at least thank God he is not the guilty one. He shows Adam the letter from a magistrate in Stoniton with news of Hetty. She has been arrested for killing her baby.
Adam is stricken, saying Hetty never had a child. The letter mentions that she denies having a baby, but there is evidence. Mr. Irwine says they can only hope she didn’t do it. The trial is coming soon. Adam says he forgives Hetty, but he will bring Arthur back to see Hetty’s misery; it is all his fault. Arthur, however, is on his way home already because his grandfather has sent for him. Mr. Irwine switches Adam’s attention to Hetty and advises him to go to Stoniton with him to identify Hetty. He tells Adam there are others to think of in this crisis.
Commentary on Chapter 39
Eliot shocks the characters and readers at the same time by skillfully postponing the outcome of Hetty’s tortured journey until we hear this official report reach her family and friends. Eliot further delays telling the details and final scenes of Hetty’s story until the trial. Adam’s blow is hard to witness, for he has tried so hard and was so close, he thought, to happiness: “O God, it’s too hard to lay upon me—it’s too to hard to think she is wicked” (p. 411).
Mr. Irwine comes into his own as the moral leader in this crisis. It is clear that he first thought Adam was the father of the baby. Relieved at first when Adam says it was someone else, he is doubly hurt to find the man is Arthur. He remembers Arthur trying to confess something to him. Though crushed himself for his protégé and surrogate son, Mr. Irwine thinks of others and how to soften the blow so that the right things can be done. Adam claims that Arthur is to blame and should suffer the consequences, not Hetty. He continues to load all the guilt on Arthur. Mr. Irwine counsels Adam wisely against revenge, and tells him that Arthur’s suffering will be worse, since he caused the tragedy. He must put his attention on giving help. Knowing everyone’s nature, Mr. Irwine begins skillfully to orchestrate the community response, fulfilling his office of spiritual counselor admirably. He gives Adam some action to do—come with him to Stoniton Prison.