Summary and Analysis
Book 7: The Final Rescue: Chapter 4
Dr. Kenn has been unable to find any position for Maggie, and he finally decides that the only hope is for him to employ her himself. Most of his parishioners are set against her, and the few who are not are too timid to make their views public. Dr. Kenn takes Maggie on as governess to his children.
Dr. Kenn, "exemplary as he had hitherto appeared," now appears to have his weaknesses. It begins to be said that he may soon marry Maggie.
The Miss Guests, Stephen's sisters, know that Stephen wishes to marry Maggie, and their alarm that Maggie will relent prompts them to plan to take Lucy to the coast to meet Stephen as soon as Lucy can leave home. Lucy does not yet go out, and Maggie has no contact with her, although she hungers to see her. Maggie is sitting alone in her room one evening when Lucy appears. She has stolen out to see Maggie. Maggie tells her that she did not mean to deceive her, and that Stephen struggled too, that he will come back to her. Lucy cannot stay; but she promises to come to Maggie again when she returns from the coast, when she is stronger and can do as she pleases. Her parting words are that Maggie is better than she.
The world's wife is dropped, but her place is taken by Society — the ladies' "favourite abstraction, called Society, which served to make their consciences perfectly easy in doing what satisfied their own egoism." The ladies, in the person of Society, are handled with the same irony as was the world's wife. Religion is seen to have no effect on their daily lives. Dr. Kenn has no more influence on Maggie's behalf than "if he had attempted to influence the shape of bonnets." The ladies have no problem maintaining views in opposition to his, for "they maintained them in opposition to a Higher Authority, which they had venerated longer." The author does not fail to relate their reaction to the reader's own in such cases: "they now thought her artful and proud; having quite as good grounds for that judgment as you and I probably have for many strong opinions of the same kind."
Lucy's innocence has always been emphasized, but she has always reacted in a human way. Now this places the author in a dilemma. It would be humanly natural for Lucy to wish to keep Stephen, but this would destroy her innocence, which Maggie cherishes. A more characteristic, and equally believable, reaction would be for her to give Stephen up, thus freeing Maggie; but this would destroy the story. Yet the author wishes to make the point that Maggie is a better person than Lucy. She covers over the problem by making their interview short and hurried, while still making the desired point.