Summary and Analysis
Book I: Chapters 12-13
On the same morning as described in the previous chapter, Arthur decides to go on a week-long fishing trip. He discovers, however, that his horse is lame and then resolves just to visit a neighbor, taking his servant's horse. He knows that Hetty will be at the Chase taking needlework lessons from the lady's maid at about five o'clock, and he plans to remove himself from the temptation to see her by staying away all afternoon.
But Arthur, almost against his will, returns early. He walks to the grove and deliberately places himself so that he will encounter Hetty as she walks on her way. She appears and he walks some distance with the girl, gently flattering her. He makes her cry by a chance remark and then puts his arm around her to comfort her. For a moment they are very close, but Hetty breaks the spell by dropping her sewing basket, and Arthur comes to his senses and hurries away. Once alone, he berates himself for being so affected by a mere dairymaid and vows not to see her again. But then he changes his mind; he must see her again and let her know that he has no romantic interest in her.
While Hetty is with Mrs. Pomfret (the lady's maid who is teaching her to do needlework), she can think of nothing but the possibility that she will meet Arthur again on the way home. It is finally time to go, and she starts back through the grove. Just as she has decided that Arthur will not show up and is beginning to cry, he appears. All his plans for treating her coldly melt when he sees her tears, and he instinctively attempts to soothe the girl. In a moment they are in each other's arms, sharing a first kiss.
They walk together to the end of the grove and then Arthur says goodbye and turns back alone. Already his conscience is beginning to bother him; he knows he can't marry Hetty because of the social distance between them, he doesn't really want to deceive her, and he's afraid of losing face in a scandal if his interest in the girl should become known. He decides to tell Mr. Irwine his problem, relying on the parson to turn him from his foolish passion.
These chapters are obviously important in that they forward the relationship between Arthur and Hetty, a relationship which brings about the novel's crisis, and the reader should be careful to follow the emotional situation between these two as it develops. Adam Bede is to a great extent a novel about human motivations, and we should be very much concerned with the question of why the characters do the things they do.
The author focuses our attention on Arthur's talent for vacillation and self-deception. When Chapter 12 opens, he has decided to avoid seeing Hetty, whom he realizes he finds too attractive for his own good. Yet he comes back early from visiting Gawaine and deliberately puts himself in Hetty's way. Later, he decides that he must not see her again but almost immediately changes his mind once more.
Arthur not only vacillates, he deceives himself as to the motive for his vacillation. He does not know himself very well and is falsely confident of his ability to resist temptation: He feels that he is much too honorable a man to do Hetty any harm. This vain complacency allows him to believe that he wants to see Hetty again only to convince her that his flirting has not been serious. Arthur is a pleasant young man, but he is also used to having his own way. In this instance, he does what he wants to do — see Hetty — but invents noble motives for his action in order to soothe his conscience.
At this point, Hetty's romantic imagination is working at full speed. Eliot emphasizes her state of mind by referring to an image she has used once before; Arthur was described in Chapter 9 as being like an "Olympian god" to Hetty, and now "it was as if she had been wooed by a river-god." Hetty is completely dazzled by Arthur and interprets his interest in her as an opportunity to escape from her present drab life into a higher, more exciting sphere. To her overheated imagination, Arthur presents himself as a sort of personal deus ex machina. It is debatable whether she really cares about Arthur himself; she seems rather to be completely intent on the wealth and social standing he represents.
Arthur's reaction to Hetty seems to be more personal than hers to him. His liking for the girl is obviously sincere; he can't bear the thought of hurting her. But at the same time he fights his own inclinations because he knows that the social distance between Hetty and himself makes a serious relationship impossible. No gentleman could marry a farm girl, he says: "It was too foolish." He also realizes that in getting involved with Hetty, he runs the risk of becoming implicated in a scandal and wants to avoid losing the respect of the tenants on the estate.
So Arthur has gotten himself into quite an uncomfortable situation. He both wants and doesn't want Hetty, and circumstances keep conspiring against his good intentions. Trace the steps by which Hetty and Arthur come together in these chapters. While it is true that Arthur meets the girl deliberately, it is also true that he would not have met her if his horse had not been accidentally lamed the day before. In the same way, Hetty's tears at the evening meeting prevent him from breaking off the relationship as he had planned; if she had not cried, things might have turned out differently. Arthur is irresolute by nature, and the intervention of adverse circumstances only reinforce his weakness. Instead of directing events, he is directed by them; he lacks the courage to stick to his decisions in the face of obstacles.
These events point to one of the themes in the novel — the effect of blind circumstance on human life. By setting up Arthur's plight in this way, the author is attempting to show that men are to a certain extent controlled by outside influences. We make our decisions freely, but we make them in the context of certain circumstances.