Summary of Chapter 40: The Bitter Waters Spread
When Mr. Irwine returns from Stoniton, his mother tells him Squire Donnithorne is dead. She does not know about the tragedy and rejoices that now her godson Arthur will be the new squire. Mr. Irwine does not send a letter to Arthur about the events because he will be home soon for his grandfather’s funeral. He gets some sleep and then prepares to break the news to Hall Farm and to the Bedes. Adam has stayed in Stoniton to be near Hetty though he can’t bear to see her. He continues to believe Hetty innocent, though Mr. Irwine knows she is not. He decides to let Adam hope, for he is crushed enough. Irwine thinks at least there could be a pardon. Adam also continues to denounce Arthur as the sole perpetrator of any crime. Irwine finds it hard to hear so much against Arthur to whom he has been a father.
The Poysers take the news hard. The trial is to be held the next week, and Martin Poyser will probably be called to testify, but he is so upset by the disgrace to the family, he swears never to see Hetty again. Both old Poyser and Martin are hard against Hetty, but Mrs. Poyser is less severe on her. Martin believes they will have to leave the country now. Mrs. Poyser thinks they should send for Dinah. Lisbeth Bede also wants to send for Dinah in their trouble. Seth offers to go to Leeds to look for her, but Lisbeth won’t let him go. Instead, a letter is sent.
Mr. Irwine tells Jonathan Burge why Adam will be away from work for a while, and soon all Hayslope and Broxton know the news. A few neighbors go to the Poysers to comfort them, and one of them is Bartle Massey, the school teacher. Then Bartle Massey goes to Mr. Irwine and asks him how Adam is doing. Irwine tells him Adam is taking it hard and still believes in Hetty’s innocence. He himself saw Hetty at Stoniton and could not believe the change in her: “she shrank up like a frightened animal” (p. 419). Irwine is afraid Adam could lose control and seek revenge against Arthur. Massey offers to go to Stoniton and stay with Adam until the trial is over. He can keep an eye on him.
Commentary on Chapter 40
The impact of Hetty’s crime on the small town is like a bombshell. The Poysers feel betrayed and vow they will have to leave the area for they are ruined forever. Their children will be marked out as having a murderess for a cousin. Mrs. Poyser is surprisingly more understanding and forgiving of Hetty than her husband. Lisbeth and Seth feel sorrow for Adam. Bartle Massey feels his worst opinion of women has been confirmed, but he wants to stick by his friend Adam. Thus, the best and worst of small town life are revealed. Gossip travels fast, and censure as well, but there are friends to stand by each other. Bartle marvels that Mr. Irwine is “everybody’s friend in this business” (p. 421). Though he has personal feelings, he puts them aside to help everyone else. He is impartial and therefore, the best kind of help.
It is telling that the two people most wanted in the crisis are Dinah and Mr. Irwine, the ones with the largest understanding and skill in healing the hearts of others. Both have religious callings, but the important point for Eliot is their humane point of view. They are able to see a larger picture than the other characters. They are able to hold the community together and comfort those in trouble. These are the kind of human beings a society needs, implies Eliot. They are the exemplars of Eliot’s moral standard that goes beyond religious doctrine to the unselfish values of unity and sympathy. In this way, Eliot traces in her story the action that causes healing as well as the action that causes tragedy.