It is easy to expect good things from a character whose name is Eden. It requires no stretch of the imagination to consider that a man whose name harkens back to the first Adam might function as a type of the second: Christ. Beyond his name and his role as parson and chaplain, how does Francis Eden meet the expectation his name creates? I would like to suggest two specific ways that he does so in the early chapters of It Is Never Too Late To Mend: Eden affirms the dignity of the individual while valuing the community, and he enters into the suffering of those he ministers to in order to relieve it.
Eden’s interactions with the people of Berkshire demonstrate the importance he places on both individual identity and community participation in such a way that reflects the example of Christ. When he first arrives in Berkshire and goes with Miss Merton on the first of many rounds of visits, his manner of engaging with the schoolchildren first suggests his regard for the dignity of individuals. Miss Merton observes how he “fathomed the moral sense and the intelligence of more than one,” a phrase which emphasizes the individuality of the groups’ members, for he did not recognize “their” moral sense and intelligence, but rather the moral sense and intelligence of “more than one.” In other words, one at a time, he recognized these qualities in the children. Subsequently, the way Eden engages Mr. Giles in conversation further evidences Eden’s care for one man’s story. He acknowledges that the well-being of the individual, however, is not disconnected from the well-being of a community, for he advises Miss Merton to give more of herself to causes beyond herself for the sake of her own well-being as much as those to whom her efforts will give succor. His actions reflect those of Jesus, who entered into the concerns of an outcast woman at a specific well, called down from a tree one especially despised man, and healed men and women of their particular afflictions while nonetheless valuing community, for he is the head of one church, his unified body.
The value of Eden’s dual concern for the individual and the community is more striking when contrasted with the system of isolation and dehumanization he faces when he becomes the chaplain of the jail. Governor Hawes’ methods – which correspond strikingly to the system of isolation inherent to Bentham’s Panopticon, according to Foucault’s description of it in “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison” – deny the inmates any sense of community, as they are physically separated in individual cells and prohibited from speaking with one another. Even while emphasizing the separateness of the individual, however, the system simultaneously attacks the dignity of the individual. The inmates take on numbers in place of their names and are required to wear hats with vizors that obscure their features and make them indistinguishable to one another. In imitation of Jesus and in contrast to Hawes and the warders, Eden affirms the individual dignity of every man at the same time as he acknowledges every man’s need for fellowship with other men.
Because Eden cares for individuals, he cares about their suffering. He does not view them in the abstract; he understands their suffering, therefore, to be likewise definite, and he, like Christ, is even willing to enter into it in order to relieve them from it. Eden’s willingness to enter into the inmates’ suffering is most clear when he voluntarily spends six hours in one of the dark cells upon his arrival at the jail. He is in the jail from 3:00p.m. to 9:00p.m., just as Jesus was on the cross from the third to the ninth hour. Although the third to the ninth hour corresponds approximately to the hours of 9:00a.m. and 3:00p.m. rather than 3:00p.m. and 9:00p.m., the numbers three and nine, as well as the duration of suffering, nevertheless make the parallel between Eden’s time in the cell and Jesus’ suffering on the cross clear.
Foucault, Michael. “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.” n.p. n.d. PDF
Reade, Charles. It Is Never Too Late To Mend. Whitefish: Kessinger, n.d. Print.