Adam Bede: by George Eliot - Summary and Analysis

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      George Eliot finished Janet’s Repentance on 9th October 1857, and began Adam Bede on 22nd October. She completed the first volume by the following March: wrote the second during the tour in Germany which followed and after returning to England, at the beginning of September, completed the third volume on 16th November. It was published in the beginning of 1858. When recording these dates in her journal she gives also an interesting account of the genesis of the book.

      Adam Bede (1859) is the second novel of George Eliot, It has the beautiful setting of rural England in the late eighteenth century. The idea of the novel came from the account of her aunt, Elizabeth Evans, a Methodist preacher about a girl waiting at the condemned cell of Nottingham gaol execution for the murder of her child.

      Mrs. Poyser of Hayslope has two nieces pretty Hetty Sorrel, and sober Dinah Morris, a Methodist preacher. The town carpenter, Adam Bede, loves Hetty but she prefers Captain Arthur Donnithorne, the young squire. Adam's brother Seth proposes to Dinah but she refuses. Adam, finding Hetty and Donnithorne embracing, overpowers his rival and compels him to write a farewell note to Hetty. On the eve of her marriage to Adam, Hetty flies to Donnithorne. But his regiment has left for Ireland. Giving birth to Donnithorne's child and then abandoning it she is tried for the murder of the infant. Donnithorne secures her reprieve, but she dies. Adam is drawn towards Dinah.

Adam Bede (1859) is the second novel of George Eliot
Adam Bede

Critical Analysis
      The novel depicts the rural landscape of Hayslope with power and sympathy. The characters are drawn with psychological insight. For the first time characters are analyzed with realism. Hetty is a thoughtless girl; Donnithorne is not a pretty seducer, but a thoughtless strayer. Adam and Dinah display the moral righteousness of the peasants. George Eliot's moral earnestness is, however, evident. Adam Bede proclaims that love without marriage or marriage without love is debasing. The natures and environments determine their fate, and their happiness or misery is the sole of their own making. Mrs. Poyser, talkative but wise is a masterpiece of comic realism. The novel was exceptionally well-received by contemporary reviewers who praised its evocation of English rural life and its character studies, particularly Martin's wife, Mrs. Poyser.

      Adam Bede at once placed the author in the first rank of English novelists. It is neither Dinah Morris nor Adam Bede who has contributed to the popularity of the book. Says Leslie Stephen, “Adam Bede for most of us means preeminently Mrs. Poyser. Her dairy is really the center of the whole microcosm. We are first introduced to it as the background which makes the ‘kitten-like’ beauty of Hetty Sorrel, irresistible to young Captain Donnithorne. But Mrs. Poyser is the presiding genius. She represents the very spirit of the place; and her influence is the secret of the harmony of the little world of squire and parson and parish clerk and schoolmaster and blacksmith and carpenter and shepherd and carter. Each of these types is admirably sketched in turn, but the pivot of the whole is the farm in which Mrs. Poyser displays her conversational powers. The little rustic world is painted in colors heightened by affection.

      There is, it may be, a little more of Goldsmith’s beautifying touch than of Crabbe’s uncompromising realism. But it is marvelously lifelike, and Mrs. Poyser’s delightful shrewdness seems to guarantee the fidelity of the portraits. She has no humbug about her, and one naturally takes it for granted that they must be as she sees them. It is, indeed, needless to insist upon her excellence; for Mrs. Poyser became at once one of the immortals”. In her later novels one sometimes regrets that Mrs. Poyser did not come to the fiber to temper the graver moods. Mrs. Poyser may take rank with Sam Weller as one of the irresistible humorists”.

      The world of Adam Bede clearly is the world of the novelist's first years harmonized by loving memories and informed, no doubt, with more beauty than it actually possessed. Her philosophy, indeed, reminds her that the range of ideas of her characters was singularly narrow and hopelessly obsolete. She has no sympathy with the romanticism which leads to reactionary fancies. She is perfectly well aware of the darker sides of the past, though she does not insist upon them. She has herself breathed a larger atmosphere. Only her affectionate recognition of the merits of the old world makes one feel how much conservatism really underlay her acceptance.

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