Summary and Analysis
Book V: Chapter 44
Arthur sets out for home from Liverpool. He is in fine spirits; he has just come into his property, and the future looks sunny. He had heard that Adam was to marry Hetty and had been pleased; that affair apparently has ended well. He feels that his life is just beginning.
When he arrives at the Chase, he pauses to comfort his Aunt Lydia, who is sorely grieved at the death of her father, the old Squire. Then he goes to his room and finds a letter from Mr. Irwine explaining Hetty's plight. All his joy shattered, he jumps on his horse and gallops for Stoniton.
The author shifts both time and place here in order to bring Arthur back into the story. Meanwhile, of course, Hetty's trial is left for a time, so this switch in viewpoint accomplishes another purpose as well; it builds up suspense by delaying an anticipated climax.
The techniques which Eliot uses in this part of the book to shock the reader and rivet his attention occasionally become melodramatic, as the events recounted in Chapter 44 show. Eliot has the old Squire die at just this moment to set up a sharp contrast between appearance and reality and to make Arthur's punishment as crushing as possible. She carries Arthur to the very brink of success and fulfillment and then snatches the prize away. With the death of his grandfather, Arthur comes into the estate and his cherished ambition is at last within his grasp; he can become the benevolent landlord who is universally loved and respected. From this day on, it appears, his life will be just as he has always wanted it to be. But then at a stroke all his dreams are shattered. All his tenants know of his misconduct, and it is very clear that he will never attain the position he desires. Instead of the dashing, beloved young hero, he will be known on his estate as a sneaking corrupter of young girls, worthy only of scorn and contempt.
Arthur is obviously being held up as an object lesson to the reader, which is why Eliot ignores the laws of probability to set up so extreme a contrast. When Arthur opens the letter from Mr. Irwine, he encounters reality, not the reality of his dreams and anticipations, but the reality of his actions and their inevitable consequences. Once again Eliot makes her central point: If one wants happiness, he must act so as to obtain it. Arthur has not acted like an honorable man so he will have no honor. The presentation of this message is perhaps inartistically blunt, but at least it is clear: Arthur has ruined his life through irresponsible behavior, and, in this chapter, Eliot gives him what, in her ethical system, are his necessary and just desserts.