Miss Nancy Lammeter arrives at the Red House with her father on New Year’s Eve. She sees Godfrey standing at the door, and wishes she could have her sister Priscilla at her side to cast Godfrey’s attention onto someone else. She does not know what to make of Godfrey’s strangeness, his fluctuating interest in her, and she has determined to not marry him. As Godfrey lifts her down from her carriage, Nancy hides her confusion and hurries inside.
Nancy Lammeter’s interactions with Godfrey reveal her character to be both proper and strongly grounded in her moral beliefs. She has determined to not marry a man who appears so inconsistent to her, and yet she is also a young woman who cannot help but be flattered by his attention and, perhaps, to sense his inner goodness (despite his weakness of character).
Mrs. Kimble, the Squire’s sister and the doctor’s wife, greets Nancy. In nearly every bedroom in the house, women are getting dressed and ready for the tea and the dance. Nancy finds her way to the Blue Room where her and her sister’s things were delivered earlier in the day. She meets her aunt Mrs. Osgood and her aunt’s guests, the Miss Gunns, who are similar to her aunt in thought and opinion.
The New Year’s Eve event provides a portrait of the time period, from the details of the women’s preparations for the evening to the extravagant house that can accommodate many guests. The manners of Nancy, her aunt, and the Miss Gunns show the civil society author George Eliot observed.
Nancy prepares for the evening. Everything she owns is neat and pure. When she is ready, the Miss Gunns think she looks completely perfect other than her hands, which reveal the marks of labor, but Nancy is not ashamed of her hard work. Her speech, however, shows her lack of education. Otherwise, Nancy has all the delicacy, honor, and refined personal habits of a lady, in addition to a slight pride and over-commitment to her strongly held opinions.
Nancy ’s appearance reflects her character: her well cared for belongings demonstrate her diligence, and her work-worn hands show her humility and her active nature. Nancy ’s uneducated speech is the result of how little Raveloe values freethinking and education, regardless on one’s place in society.
Nancy’s older sister Priscilla arrives and comments on her and Nancy’s matching gowns. Nancy wants her and her sister to match despite the fact that the color of their gowns does not flatter Priscilla. However, Priscilla cheerfully owns to being ugly, and to having no interest in marrying. Once the Miss Gunns and their aunt leave, Nancy insists that she had wanted her sister to choose the color of their gowns. Priscilla says it would be silly for them to dress to match her coloring and skin, but she does find fault with Nancy’s insistence that sisters should dress alike.
Priscilla’s character creates a foil for Nancy’s. Where Priscilla is blunt, Nancy is shy; where Priscilla is honest, Nancy is sensitive to others’ feelings. The matching outfits link the two as sisters, despite their personality differences. Priscilla’s deference to her young sister’s gown color highlights Nancy’s uniquely beautiful appearance for a woman in Raveloe society.
Priscilla remarks that she’d rather see the men fawning over Nancy, and Nancy, blushing, says she won’t ever marry. To which Priscilla responds that one old maid among two sisters is enough. The sisters descend to the parlor and Godfrey guides Nancy to a seat near himself. Surrounded by the Squire’s family’s wealth, Nancy is very conscious of her decision to never marry Godfrey, for she feels she could not marry a man so careless of his character. However, her love for him has caused her to vow that she will never marry another.
Nancy struggles with her vow to not marry Godfrey, in conversation with her sister and in her own heart. Her love for Godfrey, which is rarely the focus in the novel, is proven by her decision to never marry if Godfrey is not the man. Nancy’s love for Godfrey often conflicts with what is right, as she later struggles with the idea of adopting a child to make her husband happy.
Nancy blushes as she takes her seat and Mr. Crackenthorp teases her that he saw the roses blooming on New Year’s eve. The Squire also compliments Nancy, and Mr. Lammeter is flattered, but reluctant at the thought of a union between his daughter and the Squire’s son. He feels Godfrey would have to make some changes before he would consent to such a marriage. Dr. Kimble compliments Priscilla’s pork pie, and then her witty responses. The cheerful doctor skips to Nancy’s side and implores her for a dance. Squire Cass teases him, telling him that Godfrey must have secured the first dance with Nancy. Godfrey asks, with as little awkwardness as possible, if Nancy will dance with him.
Dr. Kimble is a minor character who, nevertheless, has life and depth. George Eliot brings the world of Raveloe to life through her portraits of secondary characters. Squire Cass, Mr. Lammeter, and Dr. Kimble all note Nancy’s beauty in this scene. Despite Nancy’s moral resoluteness, her beauty is her most visible characteristic to the members of Raveloe society. Priscilla, lacking beauty, is noted for other abilities.
Hearing the fiddle beginning in the hall, Squire Cass calls the fiddler into the dining room as the young people wish impatiently for the end of the meal and the beginning of the dance. With another lively tune, the fiddler leads a procession into the White Parlour and the dancing begins. The older folks lead the early dances before sitting down to cards, and upholding this proper tradition seems to reinforce Raveloe’s society and quality. Those villagers sitting and watching comment upon the dancers. Mr. Macey and Ben Winthrop comment upon the figures of the dancers, and, while Mr. Macey criticizes Godfrey’s shoulders and coat, Mr. Winthrop can find no fault in him.
The fiddle playing, dancing, and card playing all follow a familiar pattern at Squire Cass’s party. Onlookers feel that the very society of Raveloe is strengthened and glorified by maintaining such traditions. What is right and proper corresponds to what has always been done. The onlookers comment upon the dancing, another tradition in which the villagers take pride in their society through the beauty and skill of the dancers.
In the middle of the dance, Nancy’s skirt is caught under the Squire’s foot and stitches are torn out at the waist of her dress. Godfrey leads her into the adjoining parlor until Priscilla can come help her fix her dress. Godfrey tells her how much dancing with her matters to him and asks if she could ever forgive him for the past. Nancy replies that she’d be happy to see any person improve his character, but that it would be better if such an improvement were not necessary. Priscilla’s appearance to fix the dress interrupts their confrontation.
The chance event of Nancy’s torn skirt allows Godfrey the opportunity to speak with her and to make his feelings more apparent to her. Chance governs Godfrey’s life, both in keeping or revealing his secret, and in allowing him time with Nancy. Nancy upholds her moral conviction that Godfrey’s character does not meet her standards, in large part because he is so inconstant and relies on chance rather than his own moral understanding of right and wrong.