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GEORGE ELIOT, Adam Bede

Notes on characters

Adam Bede
 Adam is portrayed as a mixture of a Saxon and a Celt, which, of course, points to the opposition
of the sympathy and harshness inside him. [50]
 There is, for example, the incident where his anger over his father drunkenness prevents him
from showing any consideration for his mother’s feelings; he is more willing to show sympathy to
Gyp, which makes the narrator comment on this and, more importantly on the plight of women
like Lisbeth Bede who are ‘at once patient and complaining’. [86-7]; Later, of course, Adam will
regret not showing any sympathy for his father troubles [246-7], which is one of the main points
that Eliot wants to make clear – sympathy towards our fellow beings is a prerequisite.
 The image of Hetty in his dreams and thoughts after his father’s death is intermingled with that
of his mother. (Maybe there is some psychological interest in this). There is also his foolish
thought, on hearing footsteps in the kitchen, that Hetty was there while it was Dinah who had
come to console Lisbeth. This, of course, could be seen as anticipatory of Dinah settling for good
in Adam’s house at the end of the novel.
 On Adam and Arthur’s meeting, Eliot comments that he ‘was very susceptible to the influence of
rank, and quite ready to give an extra amount of respect to everyone who had more advantages
than himself, not being a philosopher …’. She also points that he had only something to say about
the world if it related to his skills. Moreover, she stresses the fact that characters like him have
now vanished.
 Adam, supposedly speaking to the narrator about Mr Irwine and his successor Mr Ryde says that
religion, more than doctrines and notions, should deal with feelings.
 Adam, while thinking about Hetty during his father’s funeral service, thinks on the past and
projects to the future, which prompts Eliot’s important comment that ‘a certain consciousness of
our entire past and our imagined future blend’ together and that ‘the secret of our emotions
never lies in the bare object but in its subtle relations to our own past.’ It is no coincidence that
Hetty never thinks about the past but always projects her thoughts to an imagined future. [245]
 Eliot’s comment on ‘poor’ Adam’s naivete to think that Hetty’s melancholy was attributed to her
sympathy for his troubles. She says that men look at the face of the woman they love as they
look at the face of earth and see there all the answers to their yearnings. [254] – Waiting for the
kindness, which he thinks that Hetty is showing, to transform into love and imagining happy years
to come living together [269]. Having return home from Arthur’s birthday feast he dreams of
Hetty while Arthur, at the same time, arranges to meet her in the wood [334].
 In the beginning of chapter 27, which deals with one of the main crisis of the book – Adam finding
Arthur and Hetty making love and his subsequentin beating of Arthur – George Eliot comments on
the pleasant August day on which, despite its cheerfulness and the fact that some would be
happy, the novel’s turning point is about to happen and she says that, for this reason, we should
never forget that ‘we are children of a large family, and must learn, as children do, not to expect
our little hurts will be made much of – to be content with little nurture and caressing and help
each other the more’ [338].
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 Adam, on that day, going through the Chase thinks about Artur’s good qualities and feels happy
being honoured by him; this make again Eliot comment that a ‘nature like Adam’s, with a great
need of love and reverence in it, [to] depend for so much of its happiness on what it can believe
and feel about others’ [341]. Later, seeing Arthur and Hetty together his consequent rage ends in
knocking him down, which he will almost immediately regret. Having received Arthur’s letter to
Hetty, he thinks that he cannot feel the same as before towards anybody and that he had been
measuring the world wrongly [363]
 Seeing Hetty again after having given her Arthur’s letter he is surprised to see her practically
unaffected; he just thinks that there is ‘something harder, older, less childlike’ in her
appearance and behaviour being unaware, of course, that Hetty has become a woman and, what
is more, carrying a child inside her. When he begins to have hopes that Hetty will love him, Eliot
comments that his inability through or behind Hetty’s beauty to the ‘narrowness, selfishness,
hardness’ is attributable to the fact that he created Hetty’s mind ‘out of his own, which was
large, unselfish, tender [400]. When Hetty agrees to marry him he does not know that his ‘caress
stirred no passion in her’ and that he was simply ‘the best her life could offer now’ [406]. When
she decides to go and find Arthur, on the pretext of going to see Dinah Morris, she cries and Adam
mistakenly thinks that the tears he sheds are from the love she feels for him [413].
 On the morning of Hetty’s trial when Adam feels unable to confront her Eliot makes one of her
central comments that ‘deep, unspeakable suffering may well be called a baptism, a
regeneration, the initiation into a new state’ [471]. Adam, having experienced and endured
suffering, is able to find happiness with Dinah Morris.
 Later, when Eliot describing Adam’s state of mind after the suffering, she comments that none
can be unaffected and stay the same having undergone this kind of ordeal and that Adam who
thought that love ‘could never be anything to him but a living memory … did not know that the
power of loving was all the while gaining new force within him’ [532].
 Eliot explains Adams feelings going to see Dinah saying that he is a changed person whose
suffering , along with time, has made him a fuller person [573-4].

Arthur Donnithorne
 On visiting Mr Irwine, Arthur mentions the Lyrical Ballads saying that ‘most of them seem to be
twaddling stuff’ but speaking of Coleridge’s The Ancient Mariner he says that it ‘is in a different
style’ and that although he ‘can hardly make head or tail of it as a story’ he finds it ‘a strange,
striking thing’ [109]. it could be said that after having suffered the consequences of his
impetousness – concerning his affair with Hetty – he will be able to understand more of the poem.
 In the beginning of Chapter 12 Arthur, before having the fated meeting with Hetty in the wood,
he whistles his favourite song from The Beggar’s Opera, which is indicative of his subconscious
wishes.
 We learn that he is determined, if he ever does anything mean, to inflict the consequences
on himself. Eliot’s comment, however, that this is not always feasible in real life alongside
other anticipatory comments points to what will happen later in the novel [169-71]
 His determination not to see Hetty followed by its reverse course of action followed by
Eliot’s comment [173]. Going back after his lunce the desire to see Hetty becomes
unresistable and tries to find excuses in his mind saying that there cannot be any harm done.
His decision to go the Hermitage and finish the novel Zelugo is indicative of what will follow
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since his consequent throwing down of the book wil prevent him from realising the
consequences of seducing women [174].
 The effect of their meeting is conveyed by Eliot’s comment, which tells us that Arthur should
have found it strange that he feels fluttered and blushes like Hetty. Her further comment
that their meeting would have taken without any serious consequences if they had been still
children, who would have been satisfied with just a ‘butterfly kiss’. There is also her
comment prior to their meeting concering the lovely nature ‘in which destiny disguises her
cold awful face behind a hazy radiant veil … and poisons us with violet-scented breath’
[175].
 When Hetty cries and he takes her arm into his hand the look on Hetty’s eyes haunts him and
falls instantly in love. What is important is his consequent inner struggle. His resolution not
to see her is finally abandoned and he tries to excuse himself by saying that he will see her
just to get things straight [177-9].
 When he succumbs to her tears and her irresistible charm in Chapter 13, their kissing is again
commented by Eliot who uses classical allusions like Eros and Psyche.
 Arhur feels that he has humiliated and betrayed himself by succumbing to his passion and
refuses to believe in a future where he would continue to do this. He thinks of the
impossibility of having anything serious with Hetty; he thinks of the Poysers and he cannot
bring himself to think of losing the respect of the tenants. Yet, when he thinks of the
uncontrollable impulse that took over him he is afraid that he could succumb to temptation
again and he resolves to tell Mr Irwine [183-4].
 In chapter 13, when he goes to Mr Irwine’s his resolution abandons him thinking that imaged will
be marred. When the issue of marriage comes up he feels even more disinclined to speak. This
disinlination is commented by Eliot who says that he ‘was of an impressionable nature, and lived
a great deal in other people’s opinions and feelings concerning himself’
 There is also Mr Irwine’s insightful comment that men carry inside them the germ of their
most exceptional actions [217]. He also makes the prophetic comment ‘our dees carry their
terrible consequences … that are hardly ever confined to ourselves’. However, his serious
tone prevents Arthur from confiding to him.
 The above are followed by Eliot’s comment on the complexity of the human soul and she
hints that Arthur reluctance to speak might have had to do with the fact that after
confessing to Mr Irwine he still might not have been able to control his passion for Hetty.
 In chapter 44, returning to Hayslope he feels that ‘his real life was beginning’ now; he would
materialise his plans and everybody would consider him ‘a jolly fellow that everybody must like’.
Ironically he feels at ease about Hetty despite some qualms about the past; he thinks that the
situation will be smooth now thinking that Adam and Hetty are going to get married. He even has
thoughts about Hetty admitting that ‘he was a great fool about her still’ [484-486].
 At the end of the novel he is greatly changed; he looks sadly, shattered by fever.

Hetty Sorrel
 In chapter 7 – The Dairy – Hetty is described as ‘a distractingly pretty girl of seventeen’ who is
‘slily conscious that no turn of her head was lost’. Her beauty is described as ‘made to turn the
heads not only of men, but of all intelligent mammals, even of women. It is a beauty like that of
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kittens, or very small downy ducks … or babies just beginning to toddle and to engage in
conscious mischief’ [126-9].
 Commenting on the fact that Hetty was thinking more about Captain Donnithorne than Adam
Bede and his troubles Eliot comments on ‘those cunningly-fashioned instruments called human
souls [which] have only a very limited range of music, and will not vibrate in the least under a
touch that fills others with tremulous rapture or quivering agony’ [141]. On subsequent comments
Eliot stresses the fact that ‘the poor child no more conceived at present the idea that the young
squire could ever be her lover, than a baker’s pretty daughter in the crowd, whom a young
emperor distinguishes by an imperial but admiring smile, conceives that she shall be made
empress’. She also stresses the fact that ‘Hetty was quite uneducated’ [144-5].
 Later on, before Hetty’s second meeting with Arthur her thoughts and feelings are described not
as a girl like her would have expressed but from the worldly informed mind of the narrator. So,
we learn that Hetty felt ‘as if she had been wood by a river-god, who might take her to his
wondrous walls below a watery heaven’. Interestingly enough, Eliot later says that ‘Hetty had
never read a novel’, which accounts for the fact that words are too hard for her [181].
 In her relationship with Dinah when she ‘talked to her … in a serious way … Hetty didn’t mind
much, for she never listened’. Then Eliot goes on to comment for Hetty ‘Dinah was a riddle … she
did not care to solve … any more than she cared to know what was meant by the pictures in the
Pilgrim’s Progress’ [186-7].
 In chapter 15, where Hetty is in her bedroom with Dinah, although her thoughts concerning her
beuaty are described, in the beginning, in her style, Eliot finishes the paragraph with the
comment that the ‘vainest woman is never thoroughly conscious of her own beauty till she is
loved by the man who sets her own passion vibrating in return’ [195]. Then follows a part where
Eliot lets Hetty’s voice creep into the narrative unobstructed, where we learn about her hopes of
Arthur marrying her. However, this is followed by Eliot’s comment, which sounds ironic, on how
her future husband should feel proud of her [196-7].
Then when she imagines herself and Arthur Eliot makes one of the central comments in the novel
that ‘there are some plants that have hardly any roots’ because her thoughts focus only on the
future ahead of her without any second thoughts about her relatives and her life in the farm.
Then there the prophetic words concerning children whom ‘Hetty would have been glad to hear
that she should never see … again’ since ‘they were worse than nasty little lambs’ which ‘were
got rid of sooner or later’. This, of course, points to her getting rid of her own child [200-1].
 In chapter 22 when Hetty gets ready for Arthur’s birthday feast and she tries on the earings given
to her by Arthur Eliot feels the need to make the prophetic comment that ‘it is too painful to
think that she is a woman, with a woman’s destiny before her – a woman spinning in young
ignorance a light web of folly and vain hopes which may one day close round her and press upon
her, a rancorous poisoned garment, changing all at once her fluttering, trivial buttefly sensations
into a life of deep human anguish’ [295].
 In chapter 26 when she dances with Arthur Eliot says that her ‘face had a language that
transcended her feelings’ which makes Arthur, although he has almost decided to break up with
her, wish he could give up ‘three years of his youth for the happiness of abandoning himself
without remorse to his passion for Hetty’ [330].
 In chapter 31 when she thinks of finally marrying Adam, Eliot comments that ‘the actions of a
little trivial soul like Hetty’s, struggling amidst the serious, sad destinies of a human being, are
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strange. So are the motions of a little vessel without a ballast tossed about on a stormy sea’
[386].

Dinah Morris
 When she is introduced, in chapter 2, through the eyes of the strange rider we see that he ‘was
struck with surprise as he saw her approach and mount the cart … not so much at the feminine
delicacy of her appearance, as at the total absence of self-consciousness in her demeanour’.
Later on we learn that her eyes ‘had the liquid look which tells us that the mind is full of what it
has to give out, rather than impressed by external objects’. When the stranger says to himself
that ‘surely nature never meant her for a preacher’ Eliot makes the comment that ‘perhaps he
was one of those whot think that nature has theatrical properties, and, with considerate view of
facillitating art and psychology, “makes up” her characters, so that there may be no mistake
about them’ [66-7].
 In chapter 3, when Seth wants to talk to her about his feelings she is described as having ‘an
expression that is most of all discouraging to a lover’; even her ‘very walk was discouraging
[having] that quiet elasticity that asks for no support’ [77].
 Later, ‘defending’ the kind of old Methodism found in people like Dinah and Seth she says that
despite their potential faults it is possible to ‘have very erroneous theories and very sublime
feelings’. Tackling the theme of sympathy again she claims that ‘considering these things, we can
hardly think Dinah and Seth beneath our sympathy’. Then she goes on to make a significant
comment about the typical heroes found in novels saying that ‘accustomed as we may be to weep
over the loftier sorrows of heroines in satin boots and crinoline, and of heroes riding fiery horses,
themselves ridden by still more fiery passions’ [82].
 In chapter 6, Dinah is criticised by her aunt because she doesn’t ‘settle down like any other
young woman in her senses, instead o’ wearing [her]self out, with walking and preaching, and
away giving every penny you get’ [123].
 In chapter 8, answering Mr Irwine’s question on the origin of her preaching eloqueness she says
that, although she can spend much time lost in her thoughts, ‘sometimes it seemed as if speech
came to [her] without any will of [her] own, and words were given to [her] that came out as the
tears come’. Then describing her first preaching, which she was forced to do on account of
another preacher’s illness she says that she ‘spoke the words that were given to [her]
abundantly’. Her speech makes Mr Irwine say that anyone who could try to dissuade her from her
calling would be ‘a miserable prig’ since ‘one might as well go and lecture the trees for growing
in their own shape’ [135-6].
 In chapter 15 thinking about Hetty, Dinah creates in her imagination ‘a thorny thicket of sin and
sorrow, in which she saw the poor thing struggling torn and bleeding, looking with tears for
rescue and finding none’. This points to what will actually happen to Hetty later in the novel
when she wanders in the countryside trying to find the courage to drown herself.
 Towards the end of the novel, in chapter 47, when she is on the cart together with Hetty, who is
taken to be hanged, she pours forth ‘her soul with the wrestling intensity of a last pleading, for
the trembling creature that clung and clutched to her as the only visible sign of love and pity
[507].
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Eliot’s purpose
 In chapter 17, where she responds to supposed criticisms from ‘lady readers’ that she could have
made Mr Irwine to give Arthur ‘some truly spiritual advice, she states that a good novelist should
be servile after nature and not to put their own admirable opinions into the characters’ mouths.
In other words not to use the characters as mouthpieces.
Other important comments:
 ‘I aspire to give no more than a faithfull account of men and things as they have mirrored
themselves in my mind.’
 ‘I feel as much bound to tell you … what that reflection is, as if I were in the witness-box
narrating my experience on oath’.
 ‘Fellow-mortals should be accepted as they are’.
 ‘I would not, even if I had the choice, be the clever novelist who could create a world so
much better than this’. ‘So, I am content to tell my simple story … dreading nothing, indeed,
but falsity’. ‘Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult’.
 ‘It is for this rare, precious quality of truthfulness that I delight in many Dutch paintings,
which lofty-minded people despise’. ‘I turn without shrinking from cloud-borne angels, from
prophets, sibyls, and heroic warriors, to an old woman bending over her flower-pot … and all
those cheap common things which are the precious necessaries of life to her’.
 Therefore ‘do not impose on us any aesthetic rules which shall banish from the region of art
those old women scraping carrots with their work-worn hands, those heavy clowns taking
holiday in dingy pot-house, those rounded backs and stupid weather-beaten faces that have
bent over the spade and done the rough work of the world – those homes with their tin pans,
their brown pitchers, their rough curs, and their cluster of onions’. ‘Therefore let Art always
remind us of them; therefore let us always have men ready to give the loving pains of life to
the faithful representing of commonplace things’.