It is Christmas, and Helen has been married for a year. She now has a son to love, and her two hopes are simple ones: she wants God not to take him from her and she wants him to grow up to be a good man. As a devout Christian, she believes that, were little Arthur to die young, he would be rewarded with eternal life in heaven, but still, losing him is painful to contemplate. So is thinking he might grow up to be a sinner in love with the vices of the world. Should that be the case, she hopes God would take him from her and spare her that disillusionment.
Helen’s hopes for little Arthur are clearly colored by her unhappiness with his father, and her views on his future are extreme. Readers now understand why she might choose to dote on her son while at Wildfell Hall—she is terrified he will turn out like his father. This is often the effect of the novel’s structure: Helen’s diary clarifies her behavior in the Gilbert sections.
Helen knows that little Arthur does not yet know her, but she loves him more than she could have imagined, and only wishes that her husband shared her feelings. At the moment, he is mostly indifferent to their son, only hoping little Arthur will grow up to be a fine boy and a worthy heir. Sometimes Arthur is even jealous of the attention Helen gives to the baby. He goes so far as to say he’s in danger of hating the boy because Helen dotes on him so. Helen is shocked and says he can’t be serious, but he is. He feels invisible now that the baby has arrived.
Arthur is selfish to his core. He is incapable of putting his own wants second, even behind his own son. Like Helen’s concerns about little Arthur, his personality traits are on the extreme side, but they are also a direct result of a society that teaches young men that women exist to serve their needs. Helen had been mothering her husband, and now he doesn’t want to share her with their child.
Helen tries to get Arthur to hold his son, but he panics and she takes the baby back, kissing little Arthur several times to make up for his father’s neglect. Arthur is jealous of the kisses she bestows on the baby, so she gives in and kisses him, too, saying she has half a mind not to kiss him again until he loves the baby as a father should. Arthur says he can’t love little Arthur until the boy can show affection for him. It might be selfish, he says, but that’s the reality.
This scene mirrors Gilbert’s flirtatious talk with Eliza Millward about cats and men’s resentment of them because they are so often the beneficiary of female affection. The men in the book are often incapable of sharing the love of women with others, while women are not allowed to be so self-centered.