Summary and Analysis
Book I: Chapter 10
The scene shifts to Adam's cottage. Lisbeth has laid out the corpse and done everything possible to make the bedchamber where it lies clean and respectable. Her grief for her husband is so intense that it approaches despair, and when Seth tries to comfort her as she sits in the kitchen rocking and moaning, she angrily repels him. She can draw no spiritual aid from religion, and she feels old, useless, and in the way:
"When one end o' th' bridge tumbles down, where's th' use o' the other stannin'?"
Lisbeth goes into the workshop looking for Adam and finds him asleep. He awakens and she complains of her grief to him too. The mother and sons then go upstairs to pray over the body; afterwards, Adam goes to bed and Seth and Lisbeth return to the kitchen.
As she sits in her rocker with her face covered, Lisbeth suddenly feels the touch of a gentle hand; Dinah has come. By acting towards her as a daughter and by offering to share her sorrow, Dinah gradually calms Lisbeth. Dinah cleans up the kitchen and makes Lisbeth more comfortable. Then, by assuring her that she will meet her husband again in the afterlife, she induces the old woman to pray and receive the solace of religious feeling.
Lisbeth's dialogue here provides a good insight into her character. An insecure old woman who feels alone in the world, she complains endlessly, thoroughly exasperating Adam.
But the real emphasis in the chapter falls on Dinah. We spoke earlier of her almost magical influence over others, and here we are provided with an excellent example of her ability to soothe and comfort. Eliot comments that throughout Dinah's life she has worked among the poor and ill, helping them both materially and spiritually. Even though the people she works with are often sunk in the very depths of poverty and ignorance, Dinah, through experience, has acquired the "subtlest perception" of the best way in which to soften them and bring them from despair to hope, from apathy to spiritual regeneration.
When Dinah arrives at the Bedes' cottage, Lisbeth is sitting in her rocking chair moaning in despair. She first gives the old woman the sense that she shares her grief. She then draws Lisbeth out of herself by talking about her own childhood, thus establishing a further bond of communication between them. Dinah cleans up the kitchen and encourages Lisbeth to make herself neat, which distracts the old woman and brings her back into contact with the physical world. And finally she tells Lisbeth she will see her husband in the next life, which gives Lisbeth hope and, at last, peace of mind. Throughout the entire process, Dinah reacts to Lisbeth with "acute and ready sympathy."
It is clear that Dinah's piety is not of the easy, lazy variety; she has acquired patience and love for her fellow man through long years of dedicated work and self-denial. Her actions in this chapter, so sensitive and tactful, indicate an exceptional knowledge of practical psychology; Dinah may be guided by the spirit, but she also knows, on a human level, exactly what she is about. Eliot emphasizes her effectiveness as well as her gentleness and sympathy.
Whenever Dinah is discussed, Eliot speaks in almost reverent terms. Dinah is Eliot's conception of the ideal woman, one who devotes herself to gentle service, even at the cost of considerable self-sacrifice. The reader, with considerable justification, may sometimes feel the character to be more than a little implausible, but it is important to realize that in the world of Adam Bede, Dinah is the standard of virtue, the paragon to whom everyone looks with admiration. To restate a point made earlier, she combines great spiritual depth with a commitment to humanity. Dinah is not only a good woman in the sense that she possesses abstract virtue; she also functions, in the real world and every day, as a good woman. She is both spiritual and practical, saintly and involved with others, focused on God and focused on man at the same time. Eliot considers this balance and harmony between the moral and physical realms of paramount importance in human life, and she projects her enthusiasm in the creation of Dinah, the woman (to borrow Eliot's concrete terms) with the face of an angel and the hands of a working woman.