I don’t mind reading a book with a slow start like Adam Bede if I am enchanted by the writing, which I was in this book. The first few pages worried me as they had so much peasant dialect I thought it might take me forever to get through it all. But it eased off as the story moved along and popped up only occasionally and then I got better at bumping through it. Recently I received an e-mail with these lines. It reminded me of some of the paragraphs with dialect that I struggled with at the beginning.
0N 7H15 LIN3 Y0UR M1ND 1S R34D1NG 17 4U70M471C4LLY W17H 0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17, B3 PROUD! 0NLY C3R741N P30PL3 C4N R3AD 7H15.
This book was a delicious read for me, but is not for the quick read, pulp fiction fan. I enjoyed the plodding character development of the beginning chapters. Elliot’s descriptions of pastoral life were like viewing a classic painting, so rich and detailed with light and colors.
“ The low westering sun shone right on the shoulders of the old Binton Hills, turning the unconscious sheep into bright spots of light; shone with a glory beyond that of amber or amethyst. It was enough to make Adam feel that he was in a great temple…” (P. 485)
Elliot’s Adam Bede is a well-liked man’s man with good looks, wisdom and honor. He is a carpenter, self-educated and brilliant beyond his peers. He is fondly connected from childhood to Arthur Donithorne, grandson of the old squire, slated to be the next squire when the old man dies. Arthur prides himself in his generosity and dreams of being a better master to his tenants than his grandfather has been when his time comes.
Both men (unbeknownst to the other) are besot with Hetty, the beautiful niece of the best tenant farmer, Martin Poysner. I knew someone like Hetty once, a woman so beautiful that you can’t look away. I think beauty this stunning is rare. But Hetty had her character flaws, driven by her vanity, perhaps a common temptation to a woman of her brilliance.
“Adam was looking at Hetty, and saw the frown, and pout, and the dark eyes seeming to grow larger with pettish half-gathered tears. Quiet Mary Burge, who sat near enough to see her, thought that so sensible a man as Adam must be reflecting on the small value of beauty in a woman whose temper was bad. Mary was a good girl, not given to indulge in evil feelings, but she said to herself, that, since Hetty had bad temper, it was better Adam should know it. And it was quite true that if Hetty had been plain, she would have looked very ugly and unamiable at that moment, and no one’s moral judgment upon her would have been in the least beguiled. But really there was something quite charming in her pettishness: It looked so much more like innocent distress than ill humor; and the severe Adam felt no movement of disapprobation; he only felt a sort of amused pity, as if he had seen a kitten setting up its back, or a little bird with his feathers ruffled. He could not gather what was vexing her, but it was impossible to him to feel otherwise than that she was the prettiest thing in the world, and that if he could have his way, nothing should ever vex her any more.” P. 255
But Arthur is the one who wins Hetty’s favor with a hopeless liaison of different classes, sure to break her heart. Arthur knows he is doing wrong and plans to break it off after a little indulgent toying. He is not an evil cad, but a man caught in a weakness of temptation that he cannot break from until he finally decides to leave with his military regiment. By this time Arthur knows that Adam loves Hetty too and hopes that his going will open a door for their relationship.
This is the plot set up. What is to happen to Hetty? Don’t read too many reviews of this story as there are surprises that you don’t want to have spoiled.
The story has many poignant spiritual elements, mostly centered about the character Dinah, also a niece of the Poysners. She is beautiful in her own simple way but as different from Hetty as possible. Dinah is a Methodist preacher who has dedicated her life to Christ. As a woman she is an anomaly, but the crowds are drawn to her words and countenance. Dinah has a spiritual gift for comforting. As a motivated Christian I was inspired by her character:
“From her girlhood upwards she had had experience among the sick and the mourning, among minds hardened and shriveled through poverty and ignorance, and had gained the subtlest perception of the mode in which they could best be touched and softened in willingness to receive words of spiritual consolation or warning. As Dinah expressed it, ‘she was never left to herself; but it was always given her when to keep silence and when to speak.” And do we not all agree to call rapid thought and noble impulse by the name of inspiration? After our subtlest analysis of the mental process, we must still say, as Dinah did, that our highest thoughts and our best deeds are all given to us.”
George Eliot narrates parts of the book as a godlike onlooker helping us understand characters, often with of plea to hold judgment. I thought her interludes were insightful and even fun. Her wisdom and understanding of human nature is profound. There are no evil characters, only interesting, flawed and selfish humans as exists in all of us. There is so much wit and wisdom in this book that I would like to give you a page or two of quotes, but the best would be to read it.
This is my first George Eliot, but I have already purchased a book of her best novels. I am looking forward to more of her words.
Masterpiece Theater has a production of this that I rented on Net Flix. It was enjoyable after reading the book. It might seem shallow before. They did take some cinematic liberties with the story that I did not like, mostly exposing elements that should have waited for the last. And some that were never exposed in the book of a sexual encounter that didn't need to be played out.