Summary of Chapter 3: After the Preaching
Seth Bede walks Dinah Morris home. She is staying with her Aunt Poyser at Hall Farm. Seth is discouraged from his suit because Dinah’s whole attention is on other people. She is a visionary and can tell from her prayers who needs help. For instance, she mentions that she is watching over Hetty Sorrel, the young woman that Adam loves. Seth gathers courage and asks Dinah to marry him. She refuses, saying she has been called by God to do his work and doesn’t expect to marry. She is deeply attached to the community in Snowfield and will be returning there to continue her work among that people. When Seth proposes he move to Snowfield to be near her, she discourages him and says he must ask for divine guidance. Seth says he will learn to bear his sorrow, but asks permission to write to her, and she agrees. They part at the gate to Hall Farm.
Commentary on Chapter 3
Seth is a very gentle and sympathetic man who respects Dinah and her calling but is sad at being rejected. He is not jealous or selfish and has a tendency to devote himself to those of higher nature, like Adam and Dinah. His mother thinks him less a man than his brother because he is unworldly. Dinah is not making excuses when she refuses Seth; she is genuinely devoted to her calling to help others. The narrator explains that she is like other Methodists who believe in miracles, in opening the Bible randomly for a message, and in dreams, omens, and visions. Dinah sincerely uses her vision and prayer to see where she should go next, whom to comfort. She is in command in this scene, completely centered in her religious faith. There is no difference between her public preaching and her private life. The narrator herself doesn’t subscribe to Dinah’s beliefs but she approves the effect that she has on other people, for everywhere she goes, Dinah brings help, sympathy, comfort, and inspiration.
The narrator uses this opportunity to speak of the value of religion that takes us away from selfishness and towards universality. Eliot believed that religion had a refining influence on humanity, though she didn’t think a rational person could accept the doctrines and beliefs. She also comments on Seth’s personal love of Dinah as being part of the awakening to divine love, for the personal experience of love is but the wave on the ocean of infinite love.