One of the curious things about Hetty is that George Eliot shows her no mercy, and inspires none in us. Yet she is a limited being in everything except physical gorgeousness, and as a result, you wonder how much she can be held to account for her silliness and superficiality, which later snowballs into amorality and for which she ultimately pays a colossal life-long price.
Yet their author does have the two finest characters in the book, including the one Hetty has most wronged, show her compassion and forgiveness.
‘Yes, the actions of a little trivial soul like Hetty’s, struggling amidst the serious, sad destinies of a human being, are strange. So are the motions of a little vessel without ballast tossed about on a stormy sea. How pretty it looked with its particoloued sail in the sunlight, moored in a quiet bay!
‘Let the man bear the loss who loosed it from its moorings.’
But that will not save the vessel – the pretty thing that might have been a life-long joy.’
Source: George Eliot, Adam Bede (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985 (1859)), p. 386