Book VI begins after a lapse of eighteen months. The scene opens in the Poyser kitchen: Mrs. Poyser is attempting to convince Dinah, who has been living at the Hall Farm for some time, not to go back to Snowfield. Dinah replies that she must resist the temptations of ease and luxury and minister to the poor; she appears resolved to go.
Adam arrives and asks Dinah to come home with him and see his ailing mother; she blushes at his approach and agrees to go immediately. When Mrs. Poyser tells Adam that Dinah is leaving, he replies that she must do what she thinks is right, and Dinah mysteriously bursts into tears and hurries from the room.
Adam and Mr. Poyser discuss business; Adam is becoming quite prosperous. Then Dinah reappears and she and Adam set out for the Bede’s house.
As they walk, Adam refers to Dinah as his sister, and she seems uneasy. He also mentions hearing from Arthur, who is still away at the wars.
Lisbeth is glad to see Dinah, and the evening passes in talk and work. The author comments at length on the effect on Adam of his long sorrow; it has made him more gentle, loving, and sympathetic. He feels a special affection for Dinah but identifies it as brotherly love; romance, he feels, is now out of the question for him.
Dinah sleeps at the cottage, and early the next morning she and Adam have a talk. He tells her he wishes she could stay at Hayslope and she, obviously agitated, says she must go to avoid temptation.
It is clear from the way Book VI begins that Eliot intends a contrast depressing atmosphere of Book V. This section of the novel is to be a love story, one which contrasts sharply with the relationship between Arthur and Hetty. Here there will be no intrigue, no pretense, no shameful secrets, no selfishness. The description of the Hall Farm on this pleasant autumn day sets the mood for the action to come and turns the reader’s attention from the unpleasant scenes he has just witnessed.
For no very definable reason, Dinah has changed during the eighteen months since Hetty’s trial. She has become more domestic, for one thing; Eliot makes a point of saying that she spoils the Poyser children and that she has learned a lot about housekeeping. She is much less serene than before, too; she blushes easily, cries unexpectedly, and betrays a lack of confidence when Adam is near. Although in the past she had always gone back to her people at Snowfield, now she has to force herself to go and speaks of it as a “trial.”
The reason for the change soon becomes obvious to the reader, even without Eliot’s blunt statement towards the end of Chapter 50. Dinah is in love with Adam. But, while the sources of Adam’s affection for Dinah are carefully explained, her love for him is almost completely unmotivated from the viewpoint of character; there seems to be no reason why this dedicated, duty-oriented young woman should suddenly become emotionally fixed on one man. Here as elsewhere in the novel — in the descriptions of Adam’s affection for Hetty, for example — Eliot treats love in a highly romantic, almost mystical, way. She does not explain its source and development rationally, as she is careful to do with other passions, but describes it in vague (though eloquent) terms which lend it a dreamlike quality. In Chapter 50, for example, she says that Adam and Dinah communicate through “the soul’s language” and calls love “a great and beautiful thing,” the signs of which “be like those little words, ‘light’ and ‘music,’ stirring the long-winding fibres of your memory, and enriching your present with your most precious past.”
Since the love between Adam and Dinah has been foreshadowed several times in the novel, the weakness of the motivation for it tends to go unnoticed. The reader is prepared to believe that the couple belongs together and does not stop to consider the implausibility of the development. In this way, careful structuring is used to create an apparent plausibility which does not in fact exist — rather ironic in a novel which insists so heavily on the distinction between appearance and reality.
This love affair resembles the book’s earlier ones in that it involves confusion and the misunderstanding of actions and motives. Adam fails to see Dinah’s romantic inclinations towards him and Dinah misinterprets her own feeling, thinking of it as a temptation rather than a positive desire. Eliot never tires of pointing out that human relationships are complex, and that things rarely are as they seem.
In her lengthy comments on the state of Adam’s mind eighteen months after the trial, Eliot restates a point which she made dramatically in the last few chapters of Book V. Suffering creates sympathy and develops in the individual the power to love. Adam in one sense is better off now than he was before the trial. He is more open and more loving, altogether more worthy to be matched with Dinah, the paragon of humility and benevolence. In Chapter 46, Adam protests against the notion that good can come from evil, but Eliot implies here and in the changes which come about in Hetty and Arthur that it can. Greater strength of personality and increased sympathy for others can result indirectly from evil through the suffering which it causes.