Summary of Chapter 5: The Rector
The scene switches to Broxton Parsonage where Mr. Adolphus Irwine, the Church of England vicar of Broxton, Hayslope, and Blythe, is playing chess with his mother. The furnishings are not the best, and with a mother and two maiden sisters to support it seems Mr. Irwine just makes ends meet. Joshua Rann, the shoemaker and parish clerk in Hayslope, interrupts to tell Mr. Irwine about the trouble with the Methodists and Dinah Morris preaching on the Green. He expects Mr. Irwine to put a stop to it, but Irwine says they must live and let live.
Arthur Donnithorne, the young squire, looks in to see his old tutor, Irwine. The two are fond of each other. Joshua Rann mentions the death of Thais Bede to them both, and Irwine says he and Arthur will visit Hall Farm and then the Bedes together. Arthur remembers his childhood friendship with Adam Bede. Adam is a favorite of both Arthur and Irwine, and he taught Arthur carpentry. Arthur says when he is of age, he wants Adam to manage the wood. Irwine’s mother speaks to Arthur about his big celebration for his coming of age in July.
Commentary on Chapter 5
Eliot presents Irwine as an enlightened clergyman, tolerant and wise, a fatherly figure in his parish. He, like Adam, has family difficulties that he bears with good will, having to support his mother and two maiden sisters that are of no account socially but dear to him. Anne is an invalid and Kate is middle-aged and plain. Because of them, he will never be able to marry.
Mrs. Irwine, his mother, has a very royal bearing and is proud of her handsome godson, Arthur. Her philosophy, however, that one can tell character by external appearance will be contradicted by the action. Arthur looks the part of a gentleman, and seems keen on playing the role of the beloved English squire but admits that he is lazy and bored at home in the summer with no amusement. This is all foreshadowing for his growing but dishonorable interest in Hetty Sorrel. At the moment, Arthur has a clear conscience and is proud of his connection to the most admirable people on his land--Irwine and Adam, and the Poysers at Hall Farm. He hopes to repair the unpopular reputation of his grandfather when he becomes squire. As will be made plain in the chapters to come, the whole valley is looking forward to Arthur’s majority and rule. He is like a young prince. Irwine, like Adam Bede, is a moral touchstone for the other characters, and so, for the moment, Arthur enjoys the innocent and well earned love of his godmother, tutor, and old playfellow, Adam.
Through the character of Irwine, the narrator presents her philosophy of the Religion of Humanity; that is, the religious emotions should chiefly hallow the relationship with our fellow human beings, leading to sympathy and tolerance.