Summary of Chapter 45: In the Prison
Dinah Morris speaks to an older gentleman outside the prison. He is Colonel Townley, the gentleman on horseback who heard Dinah speak on Hayslope Green. He is a magistrate and gets Dinah in to Hetty’s cell. She wants to stay with Hetty till the end. Colonel Townley thinks she is brave to stay in a jail cell all night without any light, but Dinah is calm. Townley tells her where Adam is staying.
Hetty at first is sullen and withdrawn but finally responds to Dinah’s love and is enfolded in her arms. She clings to Dinah, who gently leads her to a full confession of the crime. She tells Hetty that she cannot be forgiven by God until she lets go of her sin, so Hetty tells how she half buried the baby in the wood, hoping someone would find it. She didn’t kill it directly. She could only think that if the baby was gone, she could go home. She didn’t feel anything for the baby, though its crying went all through her, and that is why she couldn’t leave it. She could always hear it crying even after she went away. Then she went back, and it was gone. She sat and waited till they took her. She asks Dinah if now she has confessed, God will make the crying go away. Dinah tells her to kneel down and pray.
Commentary on Chapter 45
Dinah’s sure and skillful handling of Hetty, her compassion and lack of fear, gain the reader’s admiration. She does not talk down to Hetty, but she tries to put religious precepts into thoughts Hetty can understand. She makes God a friend who will be there at the moment Hetty has to meet death. Dinah makes Hetty understand she is suffering because of her hard heart that shuts out God and human sympathy. She emphasizes God’s love and forgiveness, rather than sin and punishment. Once Hetty tells the truth, there is a release and a softening. She accepts Dinah’s love, and through that love, she is able to conceive of a divine love.
In some ways it is hard to believe that Eliot had given up her Christian faith, because she can so convincingly portray a saint like Dinah. Eliot had immense love and compassion for others, but she herself had ceased to cloak these feelings in religion. What she loved was the humanity of religion, its higher values. She gives her best characters a spiritual and universal outlook. In earlier chapters Hetty and Dinah were contrasted, but here, sympathy has melted all differences. Dinah does not pretend to be superior to Hetty; she just stays with her and gives her comfort.