Summary of Chapter 48: Another Meeting in the Wood
This is an important chapter winding up the consequences of the love triangle of Arthur, Adam, and Hetty. It is the day after Hetty escapes hanging. Adam has just been to see the Poysers to tell them all that they don’t know about the case. He agrees to leave Hayslope with the Poysers and to live near them.
Arthur and Adam both walk that evening in the Grove, each thinking of the events that took place there. They meet and see each other’s suffering. Arthur asks to speak with Adam, and they go to the Hermitage. Arthur says he is doing what is most painful to him—leaving his home and cherished plans and going to the army. He is leaving the estate in Mr. Irwine’s hands, and he begs that Adam will persuade the Poysers to stay. He will not be there, so their honor will not be stained, for he won’t be their landlord. Adam says there is pride to consider, but Arthur says he wants to lessen the evil by helping them to stay on the land they have been on for generations. Adam agrees to stay and continue managing the woods. Arthur tells Adam it is worse for him because he caused the tragedy. If he had known Adam loved Hetty, he would have stayed away. He explains that he loved Hetty too, and he will always remember the pain of speaking with her yesterday in prison, and how he wishes he could have gotten her off completely. As it is she will be transported as a criminal and may die an early death. He mentions that he had told Hetty in the letter he would help her, and he would give his life to undo the misery.
Adam says he has no right to be hard on someone who is repentant, and he offers to shake Arthur’s hand. They feel affection for one another as they had when boys. Arthur says the only consolation he has is that Dinah Morris stayed with Hetty, and for that, he wants to give her his watch and chain as a token of thanks. Adam will give it to her.
Commentary on Chapter 48
This is another moving chapter as the men who loved Hetty make up and shake hands. They will both bear the mark of the tragedy all their lives, but both have been changed and softened into better men. Adam says he will stay “to do my work well and make the world a bit better place” (p. 472). In the end, Adam realizes this is a better ending than revenge: “sorrow was more bearable now hatred was gone” (p. 472).
Hetty’s fate, however, is not so pretty. Transportation to Australia or some other English colony for hard labor was a sentence to a short and miserable life. Hetty, as we know, is not used to hardship, but on the other hand, she has longer to live, to make use of the time for repentance, if she can continue to seek forgiveness.
Eliot demonstrates two principles in this reconciliation. First, the theme is repeated that things cannot be undone. Even Arthur’s pardon was only partial, and Hetty’s life is shattered. On the other hand, Bartle had announced the idea that good can come out of evil. He is shown to be right in the sense that if all the parties, as in this case, come together to make the best emerge out of the wreck, then some growth and progress are possible. Eliot believed in the hallowing of the human heart through sorrow. Bearing some suffering could make one understand the common kinship of all people and bring humility and unselfishness. Even Lisbeth Bede loses her peevishness and surrenders to the greatness of the trouble and to Adam’s wishes. The Bedes, the Poysers, the Irwines, Bartle, Dinah, and even Arthur have all done what they could to ensure the smoothest continuance of life for all. This chapter ends the fifth book and the tragic story of Hetty, but the next book brings news of what happened afterwards.