According to George Creeger, Hetty is a perfect representative of the Loamshire-Hayslope world. Moreover, in her case the landscape (nature-background) keeps on changing in keeping with the changes in her fortunes and career. In the novel, George Eliot’s presentation of nature-background is strictly utilitarian, as is that of Hardy in Tess of the D‘urbervilles.
Hetty and Loamshire Fertility
Hetty has the fertility of the Loamshire world and also, “she has its beauty, which nevertheless conceals an essential hardness, to think of Hetty; as she first appears in the book is to think of her being in certain places, themselves microcosms of Loamshire: the Hall Farm dairy, its garden, and the Grove of the Donnithorne estate. Each of these places has an individual aura, but all are suggestive of fertility and growth. To each place, Hetty is linked not only by her presence but also by parallel imagery: she too, is described in terms of vegetation (flowers and fruit in particular), of light-colour, warmth-coolness, and moisture.
Furthermore, each of these places is appropriate to a particular phase of Hetty’s relations with Arthur. Their first meeting occurs in the Hall Farm dairy. George Eliot emphasizes its cleanliness and purity, but it remains, by virtue of its own nature and the associated imagery, subtly sexualized. More explicitly sexual is the setting for the meeting between Arthur and Hetty which takes place in the Grove of the Donnithorne estate. George Eliot describes, “a wood of beeches and limes, with here and there a light, silver-stemmed birch—just the sort of wood most haunted by the nymphs; you see their white sunlit limbs gleaming ethwart the boughs…..you hear their soft liquid laughter-—but if you look with a too curious sacrilegious eye, they vanish behind the silvery beeches, they make you believe that their voice was only a running brooklet…..It was not a grove with measured grass or rolled gravel……but with narrow, hollow shaped, earthy paths, edged with faint dashes of delicate moss.”
Rankness—Lack of Order and Control
When Adam comes to deliver the letter in which Arthur writes that he and Hetty must no longer think of themselves as lovers, Adam finds her in the garden of the Hall Farm. Here, in this “leafy, flowery, bushy time”, all things grow together in “careless half-neglected abundance”. One sees “tall hollyhocks beginning to flower, and dazzle the eye with their pink, white, and yellow……syringes and Gueldre roses, all large and disorderly for want of trimming…..leafy walls of scarlet beans and late peas……a row of bushy filberts in one direction and in another a huge apple-tree making a barren circle under its low spreading boughs. But what signified a barren patch or two?” It is appropriate of course that Hetty should be found among the hollyhocks and roses (herself so frequently described in terms of flowers, roses in particular). But if the floweriness and fertility of the place are appropriate, so, too, is its rankness, growth without order or control.
Beauty of Young Frisking Things
A second link between Hetty and the Loamshire world is that of her beauty. It was, George Eliot writes, “a spring tide beauty; the beauty of young frisking things, round-limbed, gamboling, circumventing you by a false air of innocence—the innocence of a young star-brewed calf—that……leads you a severe steeple-chase over hedge and ditch, and only comes to a stand in the middle of a hog.” Such beauty, at once suggestive of fertility and of the infantile, is difficult to comprehend in its effect: “It is a beauty like that of kittens, or very small downy ducks making gentle rippling noises…..or babies just beginning to toddle and to engage in conscious mischief—a beauty with which you can never be angry, but that you feel ready to crush for inability to comprehend the state of mind into which it throws you.”
The Core of Hardness
It is a false beauty, for it conceals in the case of Hetty a core of hardness, as does the beauty of Loamshire itself. In this respect, if on a different social level, she is similar to Mrs. Irwine or to the Squire, and it is significant that those who are like her see only her beauty: Mrs. Irwine, for example, laments the fact that it, “should be thrown away among the farmers”. But Mrs. Poyser is not deceived. She says that Hetty’s heart is as hard as a pebble and that “things take no more hold on her, than if she was a dried pea”. She is no better “than a peacock, as ‘ud strut about on the wall, and spread its tail when the sun shone if all the foks i’ the parish was dying” or “no better nor a cherry wi’ a hard stone inside it”. —(George Creeger)
Hetty’s hardness is that of childish or at best adolescent egocentricity: all people and events have value or significance only as they effect the narrow circle of her own life; failing that, they are of no importance. At the news of Mr. Bede’s death, for example, Hetty is concerned only as long as she thinks it is Adam who is meant; when she discovers her error, she lapses into indifference. She cares little about the Hall Farm, although dutiful toward her aunt and uncle, she exhibits no real affection for them, Totty, who serves so well as a measure of Mrs. Poyser’s love is an equally good measure of Hetty’s inability to love anyone besides herself, that is. Indeed, there is a persistent strain of narcissism in her: one thinks of her inordinate love of fine clothes and adornment, and of such scenes as those in which she appears as the “devout worshipper” before a mirror and in which she turns up the sleeve of her dress and kisses her own arms with the passionate love of life. “Even her love for Arthur is tinged with the same quality: in him she finds, for a brief time at least, the objectification of her day-dreaming desires, but these in turn are only the projection in fantasy of her own ego, sexually translated. What she loves in him is not so much Arthur as her own self—as she wishes it might be.”
Failure to Grow and Mature
The rich, fertile and sheltered world has the fatal power to keep soft gentle natures, like Hetty, for ever children. Growing up needs struggle; it is a process effacing difficulties and hardships. Childish creatures like Hetty in the Loamshire world are not called upon to face any such challenges, hence they remain immature and childish even when they have grown up. Arthur and Hetty are both like wilful children living a sheltered life in Loamshire which may be called an earthly paradise, they are babes who fall an easy prey to the temptations of the devil. This they do not realise, nor do they have maturity enough to foresee the consequences of their own actions. They realise all this only after the fall, when it is too late. Hence, George Creeger is of the view that Hetty is as much a victim of Loamshire as its representative.
Dinah, who is both of Loamshire and Stonyshire, realises all this, and so quite early in the novel, “she tries to prepare Hetty for the possibility of pain in life, for the necessity of leaving her adolescent dream-world, of growing up.” Couching her ideas in terms of the troubles that are “appointed for us all here below”, she speaks to her in much the same vein as she had in her sermon on the green. Like the villagers, however, Hetty remains deaf and for the same reasons: her world has never given her any evidence of the existence of suffering; or if it has, then in such fashion as to show that misery always comes to someone outside the sheltered protection of family or community. Thus her reaction to Dinah’s words, like that of the villagers, is only a “chill fear” which remains vague and child-like.
Small wonder that Hetty is dazed and shocked, when she is faced with suffering and misfortune. When she learns in a letter from Arthur of his determination to bring their affair to an end, all vitality is drained out of her: her face becomes blanched, she feels “cold and sick and trembling”. Even the light of the day fails to cheer her, for it has become “dreary” to her in her “dry-eyed morning misery”. Hetty’s, suffering is subsequently increased by the knowledge that she is pregnant. Dread of disgrace and censure, forces her to flee Loamshire, and in so doing she leaves for the first time a garden world and enters a wasteland.
Hetty’s Journey: Reinforcing Imagery
The reinforcing imagery George Eliot uses in presenting the account of Hetty’s trip to
and back is skilfully handled. The time of year is February, early spring by Loamshire standards, but a spring without hope or promise. All the light and warmth of the earlier spring summer world, with its flowers and fruit, hay and ripening grain are gone, and in their place bleak grayness. Instead of images of shelter and contentment, security and enclosure, George Eliot now uses those of the city, with its baffling maze of streets, of the long unending road, and of barren open fields. Much of Hetty’s trip is made through rainy weather. She finds herself subject to coarse comments and is taken for a wild woman and beggar. Even the respite she knows at the inn in Windsor is only like that of a man who throws “himself on the sand, instead of toiling onward under the scorching sun”. Windsor
Hetty’s Symbolic Hardness
The effect of Hetty’s ordeal is to externalize the hardness which hitherto has been concealed in her heart. Although at first her pregnancy had brought about a sudden burgeoning of “womanliness” when she bears the child and then kills it, she turns emotionally almost to stone. Mr. Irwine reports the change to Adam, who sees it for himself at Hetty’s trial: she is now a “pale, hard-looking culprit”.
Most of the Loamshire world is appalled by the hardness Hetty exhibits, seeing how it has made something inhuman of her. Few of them realize, however, how much they are implicated in her condition: nor can any of them actually help Hetty, since they are unwilling either to forgive or comfort her. But Dinah, the outsider from Stonyshire, where forgiving love can exist because suffering is known, is able to restore Hetty to humanity—to a better humanity, at least, than that with which she had been endowed by her own world.