Author: George Eliot
Date Read: 10th April 2017
“George Eliot’s first full-length novel, Adam Bede paints a powerful portrait of rural life, seduction, faith, and redemption. First published in 1859, this innovative novel carried its readers back sixty years to a time of impending change for England and the wider world. Eliot’s penetrating portrayal of the interaction of ordinary people brought a new social realism to the novel, in which humor and tragedy co-exist, and fellow-feeling is the mainstay of human relationships.”
I had to read Adam Bede as part of one of my modules which explored realism and the use of vernacular, so I was only reading this book out of duty. It took me about two months to actually finish it, compare that with the week it should have taken me to read it and I think that speaks volumes about how much I actually enjoyed this book. It wasn’t totally unreadable but I just didn’t find it all gripping or captivating.
The story line involves two interweaving love stories between Adam Bede who is in love with Hetty Sorrel and Hetty who is in love with Captain Arthur Donnithorne. I have absolutely no bad feelings against the plot or even the love triangle, the plot was probably the only thing that I quite liked because it explores some dark themes which lead to events which are entirely unforeseen, which adds an element of shock to the novel. The beginning of the novel involves Adam pining after Hetty and it is not until he discovers that her and Arthur have been spending time together that he perceives of a love between the two and so confronts Arthur. In a kind of mutual understanding, they both decide that Arthur must tell Hetty that his feelings towards her were false and then Adam can then proceed to marry her. It is only then that the reader discovers that Hetty is pregnant, which comes as a shock because it’s never suspected that Arthur and Hetty were even that intimate, acting as an obstacle considering that Hetty is due to marry Adam. Hetty then runs away and along the way kills the baby, leading to a court trial in where she has to plead for her life by disputing that she isn’t a child-murderer. This plot is incredibly shocking and is something that I’d be very interested to read about however, I just couldn’t immerse myself into the way it was written and executed which meant I really didn’t enjoy reading it which is a shame.
One thing I found considerably hard to grasp was the way in which the villagers speak to each other; where they use a strong country dialect it became quite hard to understand what was being said and I can imagine for most 21st century readers too, it may have been hard reading it without first having to try and interpret what was being said. I know that the use of a country dialect alongside the well-spoken individuals in the book is integral to idea of place, voice and narration in the book but it just seemed like a deterrent in trying to understand and follow the story and what each character was trying to say.
On the topic of characters, I really took a disliking to Hetty who seemed incredibly indecisive yet abrupt in her way of acting. I understood that she possessed an awareness for her naivety but used this to her advantage in order to gain what she wanted: she loves Arthur yet she’s aware that Adam is in love with her, so even though she doesn’t want to marry Adam she still doesn’t like the idea that Adam could possibly be married to someone else, which seems incredibly petty and doesn’t make sense considering she has absolutely no interest in him at all. I found it really hard to warm to Hetty’s character, especially during her trial where she’s described as appearing physically depleted, I feel like because I didn’t warm to her at the beginning of the novel this is probably why I didn’t sympathise with her during the trial.
The book itself seemed incredibly long-winded and description packed which made it even more intense which I didn’t enjoy. Religion is such an important aspect in this book, where the idea of repenting your sins to God allows forgiveness. Therefore despite not being prominent throughout the book Dinah Morris, the local preacher has such a strong presence throughout the book where she’s spoken about a lot by the other characters or mentioned even when she’s absent. For this exact reason, there were only a few parts of each book which were particularly interesting and/or necessary, there was just a lot of inane chatter plotted throughout the book and intense description which I don’t think necessarily benefited the novel. However, the ending of the book by marrying Adam and Dinah together did seem satisfying because of the tumultuous journey it took to get to this point.
By Beth Morley