The Rev. Mr. Adolphus Irwine is not so perfect as Dinah is, but he is a good man. He has faults; he is indolent, he lives in comfort in the midst of the poor, he does not zealously try to improve the physical and spiritual lot of others. When Arthur comes to him to confess, he is so casually sophisticated and polite that Arthur decides that his involvement with Hetty would only amuse Mr. Irwine, and he turns away from his resolution. A more seriously moral clergyman might have elicited the confession and prevented Arthur and Hetty's tragedy.
But Mr. Irwine is still presented as one of the standards of good conduct in the novel. He is the author's vehicle for the explanation of her ethical theory; he understands that theory and conducts himself according to it. What Dinah knows by instinct and experience, he knows through reason. But more important, he treats people well; his sympathy is universal and his object is always to alleviate pain (within limitations imposed by his laziness), to improve unpleasant situations, and to instruct his parishioners in how to lead a good life. Though a lover of luxury, he is spiritually unselfish; he absorbs the personal blow which Arthur's misconduct gives him and strives to help the others who are suffering because of the love affair. Mr. Irwine is everybody's friend, a tolerant, benevolent philosopher who is looked up to and admired by all the characters in the novel as a Christian gentleman. Dinah represents the ideal goal of Eliot's system; Mr. Irwine represents the realistic one.