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The narrator takes the reader to the home of Mr. Aldophous
Irwine, the rector of Broxton, where Hayslope is located. Mr. Irwine
is playing chess with his mother, Mrs. Irwine, a socialite. Mr.
Irwine is a bachelor because he has chosen to take care of his mother
and two unmarried sisters, one of whom is chronically ill, rather
than have his own family. Joshua Rann, the cobbler and parish clerk
of Hayslope, comes to see Mr. Irwine to complain about the Methodists
and Dinah. In particular, Mr. Rann complains about the wheelwright, Will
Maskery, who is a Methodist and has made disparaging remarks about
Mr. Irwine and Rann. Mr. Irwine laughs off the insults and tells
Rann to leave Maskery to his own business. As Rann is leaving, Captain
Arthur Donnithorne arrives to ask Mr. Irwine to go riding with him.
Captain Donnithorne is the grandson and heir of the local landlord,
Squire Donnithorne. Known throughout the village as “the young squire,”
he is a dashing man who is staying at the Squire’s estate to recover
from an injury in the army. Rann tells both Mr. Irwine and Captain
Donnithorne about the death of Thias Bede, Adam’s father.
Dinah repairs linens at her aunt’s home, called Hall Farm.
Mrs. Poyser, Dinah’s aunt, scolds the maid for being lazy, even
though the maid has been very industrious all day. She laughs when
reminiscing about how much Dinah looks like the aunt who raised
her after her mother died. Mr. Irwine and Captain Donnithorne arrive,
and Captain Donnithorne asks Mrs. Poyser to show him her dairy.
Captain Donnithorne and Mrs. Poyser go to the dairy, where
Captain Donnithorne first lays eyes on Hetty. A beautiful young
girl, Hetty is the seventeen-year-old niece of Mr. Poyser. The Poysers took
her in after she was orphaned, and she lives with them at Hall Farm
and helps Mrs. Poyser with household chores. Captain Donnithorne
flirts with Hetty, even going so far as to ask Mrs. Poyser to go
get her small daughter, Totty, in order to have a few moments alone
with Hetty. Hetty responds coquettishly to his advances. Captain
Donnithorne asks Hetty when she will next be at the Chase, where
Captain Donnithorne lives, and Hetty reveals her plans to visit
a housekeeper at the estate the next day.
While the others are in the dairy, Mr. Irwine chats with
Dinah and asks her how she became a preacher. Dinah explains that
she was once going to a nearby village with a preacher when that
preacher fell ill. Because she felt moved by God, she stood in for
him and has been a preacher even since. She explains that she chooses
to live in the rougher country around Snowfield because she is called
to alleviate the suffering of those who live there. Dinah also reveals
that she works in the mill in Snowfield. Mr. Irwine does not chastise Dinah
for her beliefs but treats her gently. When Mr. Irwine tells Dinah
about the death of Thias Bede, she tells Mrs. Poyser and Hetty.
Hetty is unaffected by the news, but Dinah resolves to go visit Lisbeth
to try to comfort her.
Chapters 7 and 8 display
Hetty as Dinah’s foil by the way they each interact with men. The
conversation between Captain Donnithorne and Hetty in chapter 7 directly
contrasts with the conversation between Mr. Irwine and Dinah in
chapter 8. Where Captain Donnithorne and
Hetty speak of nothing in particular and yet intend another meaning
entirely, Mr. Irwine and Dinah speak of very personal things and
are straightforward and unflinching. From the very beginning, then,
Dinah and Hetty are set in opposition. Dinah focuses on others,
and she is serious and calm. Hetty focuses entirely on herself and
is flirtatious and capricious. Her lack of concern on learning of
Thias’s death, when she should care more than Dinah because she
is at least friends with Adam and knows he loves her, suggests in
Hetty a deep selfishness that contrasts with Dinah’s desire to help
others. Dinah and Hetty also share several similarities, which heighten
the contrast between the two of them. Both are intensely beautiful
women who were orphaned and raised by an aunt. They are of similar
ages and class, and both are single. Both will come to have a very
important role in the life of Adam Bede, although how they feel
toward him will be different. The differences in the characters
of Hetty and Dinah lead to their different ends and make Hetty the
closest thing the novel has to a villain, whereas Dinah is its heroine.
Mr. Irwine and Captain Donnithorne are also in contrast
with each other, despite superficial similarities. Both men are
single, but Mr. Irwine behaves chastely and with propriety toward
Dinah, a beautiful woman, whereas Captain Donnithorne flirts shamelessly with
Hetty. They are from the upper class, but both are poor because
the Squire does not give them more money. Mr. Irwine takes a genuine
interest in the villagers, however, whereas Captain Donnithorne
thinks of them more like amusing children. Both men seek to do good
for others, but there is a critical difference in their attempts
at charity. Where Captain Donnithorne desires to be thought
of as one who does good, Mr. Irwine actually just does good wherever
he can, regardless of the recognition involved. Mr. Irwine cares
for his ailing spinster sister when no one else does. Captain Donnithorne
largely ignores his spinster aunt. The presence of both Captain
Donnithorne and Mr. Irwine in the novel is important because without
Mr. Irwine, the novel might merely be a critique of the upper class.
With Mr. Irwine’s presence, however, Eliot makes it clear that good
and bad are found in the upper classes of society.
The characters in Adam Bede speak with
the peculiar dialect of the region at that time, but each of their
accents also reflects their class and their self-perception. Adam,
for example, speaks clear and strong English when he is in the presence
of Captain Donnithorne, Mr. Irwine, or most of the villagers. At
home, however, his speech lapses into “peasant speech,” which is
more heavily accented and less grammatically proper. This shift
reflects his desire to please his mother, as the narrator tells
the reader, but it also reflects the fundamental fact about Adam:
although he was raised a peasant, and the marks of poverty and a
simple country upbringing are always on him, he has largely outpaced
his more simple-minded family. He belongs both to the world of the
lower class, in terms of his morality and his beliefs, and to the
world of the upper class, in terms of his intellect and sophistication.
Mr. Massey, the schoolteacher, speaks relatively clear English,
but he says everything twice. This idiosyncrasy may stem from his
life as a teacher of poor students. In his professional career,
he must always repeat everything he says. Mrs. Poyser has the thickest
accent in the novel, and her wisdom matches her homespun knowledge.
Her idioms are usually original, and their insight is profound.
Her character, like her accent, represents the wisdom of the country
peasant in the novel. Eliot’s representation of the accent is phonetic,
so that any difficulties the readers many have with the accents
can be resolved by sounding out the words. The different accents
are important because they reflect the characters’ true natures.