Summary and Analysis
Book 3: The Downfall: Chapter 3
The next day the aunts and uncles gather for consultation. Mrs. Tulliver, "with a confused impression that it was a great occasion, like a funeral," makes the house look its best. Mrs. Deane arrives first. Her husband, who is rising in the world, is away on business. She offers to send jelly for Mr. Tulliver if the doctor orders it. This reminds Mrs. Tulliver of her cut jelly glasses which must be sold. The Gleggs and Pullets come soon after. Mrs. Pullet is much interested in Tulliver's illness, but sister Glegg recalls her to the subject of the meeting — "for one to hear what the other 'ull do to save a sister and her children . . . ." There is no sympathy for Mrs. Tulliver's desire to keep her "best things." It is felt that she should be content with the bare necessities. As none of the family personally covets Mrs. Tulliver's things, there is no need to try to keep them in the family. As for Mrs. Tulliver's plea that she has never asked them to do anything for her, Mrs. Glegg replies that she should have, for "how are you to be provided for, if your own family don't help you?" Mr. Pullet ventures that Mr. and Mrs. Moss should help, and notes that they are absent. This reminds Mrs. Glegg that Tom and Maggie are not there, and that someone should tell them "what they're come down to."
Mr. Glegg observes to Tom that now some good will have to come of his schooling. He repeats his ditty:
When land is gone and money spent,
Then learning is most excellent.
Mrs. Glegg tells Tom that he must work hard and be "humble and grateful to his aunts and uncles," and she includes Maggie in the remark.
Tom says that since it is a disgrace to the family for them to be sold up, it should be prevented. He proposes that any legacies to be left to him and Maggie be given now. Mr. Glegg admires the proposal, but Mrs. Glegg objects that she would have to alter her will and leave less behind when she dies. Then Mr. Glegg agrees that it is useless to save the furniture when the law debts remain. At last Maggie angrily demands why they interfere if they don't mean to help. Her mother is frightened by the outburst, and Tom is "vexed; it was no use to talk so."
Mrs. Moss comes in and goes at once to the children. She discloses that she has three hundred pounds of theirs and is incapable of repaying it without being "sold up" herself. This was unknown to the family, and they inquire for details. Mr. Glegg warns that if there is a note, the creditors will force payment. Tom objects that it would not be right for them to pay, for his father didn't wish it. He says his father has told him that the loan was not to be paid back. Uncle Glegg then says that the note must be made away with. Mrs. Tulliver would like to sell the note and save her things, but Tom asks his uncle to help him destroy it. They go into Mr. Tulliver's room to search for the note. Mrs. Moss vows that the debt will be paid as soon as it is possible.
Mrs. Tulliver does not know how to prepare for the family meeting. Since her code has no standard of propriety for bankruptcies, she does not know how to act. She is helpless outside her traditions.
The actions of the relatives are best understood if we recall Mr. Glegg's conception of charity (Book I, Chapter 12). It is mirrored perfectly in Mrs. Deane's offer, "if the doctor orders jelly for Mr. Tulliver . . . I'll send it willingly." Similarly, they are willing to buy a few of Mrs. Tulliver's "best things," but "it isn't to be looked for as your own family should pay more for things nor they'll fetch." Yet they talk about how much they are doing at the same time that any real aid is refused. Mrs. Glegg insists that Maggie must "respect and love her aunts as have done so much for her, and saved their money to leave to their nephews and nieces." But she will not give any of that money now, when it is needed, for to do so would be to "leave two or three hundred less behind me when I die." This is outside the Dodson code, and is therefore not to be thought of. In light of this, it is ironic that she should proclaim: "If we aren't come together for one to hear what the other 'ull do to save a sister and her children from the parish, I shall go back." It is ironic, but it is not hypocrisy, for she really believes she is right. It is only right that failure should be punished. "It's right as somebody should talk to 'em, and let 'em know their condition . . . and make 'em feel as they've got to suffer for their father's faults."
Because they are so self-righteous, the aunts and uncles are not affronted, but only amazed, by Maggie's outburst, even though she speaks the truth in saying that her father is better than any of them because he would have helped them. This is truth, but not to a Dodson. To them it is a "mad outbreak." Mrs. Tulliver "did not see how life could go on after it."
Tom, as we would expect, is not shocked, but only vexed because "it was no use to talk so." He is already clear-sighted and business-like.
Mrs. Moss's reaction, by contrast, is one of pure pity. She will help all she can, but that is precious little. Pity is unable to pay its debts.
There is a good side to the rigid correctness of the Dodsons; it is because of it that Tom insists on honoring his father's commitment to clear up Moss's debt. But the code will not work by itself. It requires compassion to set it in motion, and this compassion has already been provided by Mr. Tulliver. If not for him, the code would surely have required — as Mrs. Tulliver wishes — that the note be paid away to save her things.
Some of this compassion is still to be seer in Mr. Glegg, and it is this which makes him an admirable person here.