Quote 3

“A man can never do anything at variance with his own nature.”

In chapter 16, Captain Donnithorne attempts to confess his feelings for Hetty to Mr. Irwine, and Mr. Irwine offers him this advice. Captain Donnithorne goes to Mr. Irwine to tell him about Hetty in an attempt to prevent himself from acting on his impulse to seduce Hetty. Instead, he ends up trying to justify his potential transgressions because he has attempted to resist them. He tries to convince Mr. Irwine that a man can be convinced to act against his nature because of a combination of circumstances. Mr. Irwine is not convinced, and he tells Captain Donnithorne that circumstances are not responsible when a man commits evil.

Mr. Irwine believes that human natures are all mixed, that even the wisest of people can be foolish and even the best of men can commit evil acts. This nonjudgmental approach makes him gentle with sinners and induces the villagers to love him. It makes his preaching practical, loving, and down-to-earth, and it is why he is remembered fondly when he is gone. This gentle approach, however, does not suit some religious zealots, who would have him be more stern with the peasants in an attempt to convert them and keep them on the right path. These people, whom Eliot apparently believed were her readers, advocate a position of moral righteousness rather than a tender touch. Although she feigns apology for Mr. Irwine, Eliot makes clear that she believes his approach is the right one and that he breeds love where the more zealous preacher sows only hatred and contempt. Mr. Irwine is the novel’s single example of a high-bred man who is good and kind, although even he has his faults. His over-indulgence of Captain Donnithorne prevents the latter from confessing to him on the occasion of this meeting, and because Captain Donnithorne does not confess, the affair continues with disastrous consequences.