Summary and Analysis
Part 2: Chapter 20
At home, Godfrey and Nancy agree that they cannot now alter their daughter's upbringing. Godfrey sees that there are debts that cannot be put off and paid later. He decides that there is no reason now to let it be known that Eppie is his daughter. Nancy, thinking of Priscilla and her father, agrees. Godfrey thinks, however, that he will put it in his will. He guesses that it is Aaron she means to marry, and he decides to help her in any way he can. He realizes that Eppie has taken a dislike to him, but he considers that part of his punishment. But in spite of his disappointments, some good has come of the matter: he knows now how lucky he is to have Nancy as his wife.
The attempt to reclaim his daughter is Godfrey's last test, the one that brings him a realization of the nature of human contacts — "there's debts we can't pay like money debts." The contrast between Eppie and the gold is continued in that statement, and a moment later the image of Eppie as a blessing is renewed. Godfrey realizes at last that he has turned away a blessing, that while he wanted to "pass for childless" once, he must ironically be childless now.
Godfrey views his childlessness as punishment. In a sense, this is gratuitous poetic justice, for his childlessness does not rise from the error he is being punished for. However, it is appropriate, and it is not the sole cause of his remorse. Even before he married Nancy, Godfrey felt guilty about not claiming Eppie. His failure to have other children is only an addition to that. In thinking of this as divine retribution, Godfrey is only sharing a belief common to the characters of the novel. It is not, however, a belief to which Eliot commits herself.
Godfrey often makes bad impressions, but Eliot always softens them in the end. In this case, the effect of the preceding chapter is softened by a view of Godfrey and Nancy alone together. If their love does not extend to the depth of Silas and Eppie's, still theirs is a successful marriage, and with one another they are generous and thoughtful. Godfrey can rightly find some consolation in the thought that he has Nancy "in spite of all." Furthermore, he now for the first time displays some decisiveness in doing his duty even when it goes against his desire — he determines to help Eppie and Aaron even though he did not want her to marry a workingman.