Summary and Analysis
Book 6: The Great Temptation: Chapter 2
Lucy tells Maggie how clever Stephen is and hopes she will like him. She says he is too good for her, and Maggie replies playfully that if she disapproves of him then Lucy can give him up. Lucy hopes Maggie will not be disappointed. She expects Stephen to be surprised, and she remarks on how beautiful Maggie is, even in shabby clothes.
Maggie has been poor and hard-worked, and Lucy promises to get her into the habit of being happy. The old scenes are pleasant to Maggie, and Lucy has prepared "a riotous feast" of music. She tactfully brings up the fact that Philip Wakem is to sing with them. Maggie assures her that she does not dislike Philip as Tom does; but before she can explain further, she is interrupted by Stephen's entry.
Stephen is quite astonished by this dark-haired, intelligent woman. He covers his confusion in a florid compliment. Maggie sees that he has been satirical about her, and she answers somewhat defiantly that he has said what was necessary to say. This "alarming amount of devil" attracts Stephen. Lucy is afraid that they are going to dislike each other, for they continue to speak rather sharply. To forestall embarrassment, Stephen begins to speak to Lucy about the bazaar which is to be held the next month. The talk changes to Dr. Kenn, the clergyman who "gives away two-thirds of his income" and who Stephen thinks is "one of the finest fellows in the world"; and then to Stephen's hopes of standing for election to parliament; and then on to books. Stephen waxes clever, hoping to impress Maggie. At last he suggests that they go rowing. While Maggie goes for her bonnet, Lucy tells Stephen to bring Philip the next day. She asks whether Stephen doesn't find Maggie "a dear, noble-looking creature." Stephen replies that she is not his type. Lucy believes him, but is determined that Maggie will not know it.
Stephen calculates the chances of getting Maggie to take his hand in entering the boat. He believes that he finds Maggie interesting, but that he could never love her. However, he is disappointed when Maggie fails to look at him in the boat. When they step out of the boat, Maggie slips and Stephen steadies her. Maggie has never before felt what it is "to be taken care of . . . by someone taller and stronger than one's self."
When they reach home, Mr. and Mrs. Pullet are there. Stephen hurries away. Aunt Pullett is shocked at Maggie's shabby clothes and promises to give her some of her own. There is a general discussion of the shape of Maggie's arms and their darkness. Lucy defends her color, saying a painter would find her complexion beautiful. Maggie thinks that so much talk on that subject will drive her crazy, like uncle Pullet's song about the "Nut-brown Maid."
"'Oh, then, if I disapprove of him, you can give him up, since you are not engaged,' said Maggie, with playful gravity." This is ironic in view of later events; but it also contains the key to what Maggie might have done but fails to think of Somehow she never considers later that she might ask Stephen to settle matters with Lucy.
The author makes it clear that Stephen is instantly impressed with Maggie, perhaps even more than he realizes himself. Although he cannot keep his eyes off her, he dismisses her to himself with the thought that "one is not obliged to marry such women." His thought that he had certainly not fallen in love with her is far more certain than his actions indicate.
Maggie for her part finds it "very charming" to be taken care of by a strong man. The contrast with Philip, both in physical impression and in Maggie's reaction, is obvious.
Dr. Kenn is introduced through a conversation about him. In this way his goodness is left in no doubt. He is "a man who has eight hundred a-year, and is contented with deal furniture and boiled beef because he gives away two-thirds of his income." The introduction of Dr. Kenn here is purely plot preparation. It makes him a familiar character later when he is needed as a refuge for Maggie.