Adam Bede, is a young hard-working carpenter who lives in the
in the village of Hayslope , with his brother Seth, his mother Lizbeth, and his father Thias Bede. Adam works hard all the day, and also attends the night school of Bartle Massey, to improve his knowledge. He is in love with the charming and vain Hetty Sorrel, the niece of Mr. Martin Poyser, the tenant of Hall Farm nearby. Seth, on the other hand, loves Dinah Morris, a young and beautiful Methodist preacher from the town of county of Loamshire , but at present putting up with her aunt Mrs. Poyser. Snowfield
Adam at Work
On the day the novel opens, Adam Bede, the hero of the novel, is shown hard at work in his workshop alongwith Seth and four other workmen. He continues working, even when work time is over and the others put down their tools. Later when he finds that the coffin which has to be delivered next morning at Broxton—a village in the neighbourhood—and which his father had to make, has not yet been completed, he immediately starts work at it, and does not care even to take his food. In the night he hears a tap at the door which, according to the local superstition, indicates death in the family. The belief comes true, for the next morning it is discovered that their father was drowned in a pond as he was returning home in a drunken state.
Death of Adam’s Father—Visit of Dinah Morris
Thus death comes to the family and it becomes a house of mourning. Lisbeth is disconsolate and fretful, and the two sons do their best to console her. Dinah Morris comes to them from the Hall Farm to console Lisbeth in her grief. She stays with them over the night. She is sweet and charming and her presence brings great relief to Lisbeth. Seth tidies up the kitchen, and also persuades Lisbeth to wash and change her dress, and also to take something. This shows that not only is she a good preacher, but also a kind and gentle young lady, with a charming and fascinating personality. Seth had twice proposed to her, but every time she had rejected his proposal on the ground that God had destined her to carry on His work among the poor and the suffering. She would obey His call, continue to preach and serve her fellow creatures to the best of her ability.
Hetty Sorrel and the Young Squire
While Dinah Morris came to them, Hetty Sorrel did not care to visit them, not even to make a courtsey call of condolence. In fact, she is a vain, conceited and frivolous young woman whose only recommendation is her beauty. It was Arthur Donnithorne, the young grandson of the Squire or landlord of the village, and his heir, who, alongwith his friend Mr. Irwine, the Rector, visited the Hall Farm on the very day that Thias Bede died, and conveyed to them the sad news. He was attracted by Hetty, took keen interest in her, talked to her. and in the course of conversation found out that she frequently visited the Chase, the Squire’s residence, to learn lace-making from one of the maid-servants. Arthur with Mr. Irwine left the Poysers after inviting them to the celebration on the occasion of his 21st birthday when he would come of age and would become the master of his estate. The attention of the young Squire intoxicated the empty-headed Hetty and she forgot all about Adam and his troubles.
Hetty and Her Dreams
The funeral of Thias Bede was duly performed, and the Poysers went to the church for the funeral ceremony. Hetty did not pay much heed to Adam or to the ceremony for which they had assembled. She was lost in thoughts of Arthur, and dreamed of becoming a grand lady one day with a splendid carriage and gorgeous dresses. She did not think even for a moment that it was impossible for Arthur to marry her, such was the wide social gulf that separated them.
The twenty-first birthday of Arthur was celebrated with due pomp and dignity. All in Hayslope were invited to it. There were singing, dancing, games and sports and much eating and drinking. Arthur and Adam had been close boyhood friends, Arthur had great respect for Adam, considered him to be one of the finest workers in the neighbourhood, and so before all the guests he announced that he had appointed Adam Bede to the post of the manager of the woods. The announcement was greeted with loud applause, for Adam Bede was loved and respected by all.
During this time Arthur had been frequently, but secretly, meeting Hetty in the woods. Arthur was not bad or wicked at heart, but he was weak of will and unable to resist a temptation. Now temptation came to him in the form of Hetty, and he was carried off his feet. One day as Adam passed through the woods he saw them kissing and embracing. He was infuriated, called Arthur a scoundrel, and challenged him to a fight. Arthur was no match to him in physical strength, and soon Arthur lay unconscious on the ground. Adam took him to the Hermitage, a lovely retreat in the woods and was surprised to find indications of its being in frequent use. He gave brandy to Arthur, and soon he was well enough to return to the Chase.
Adam compelled him to write a letter to Hetty telling her that their affair must end, for he could never marry her. Adam himself delivered the letter. Its effect on Hetty can better be imagined than described in words. She was heart-broken and all her dreams were shattered. Soon after Arthur left Hayslope to join his regiment at
. In her grief and despair, Hetty turned to Adam who still loved her. Soon they were betrothed and a date for their marriage was fixed. Adam could now afford to marry as he was a partner in the business of Jonathan Burge, and was doing well. Windsor
Hetty Leaves Hayslope
However, before the marriage could he solemnised, Hetty discovered that she was in the family way, and as the time of the wedding, approached, Hetty realised that her pregnancy could no longer be concealed. In her desperation, she often thought of suicide, as the only way out of her difficulties. Ultimately, she decided to go to
and join Arthur. Perhaps, he would take pity on her present plight and marry her. So, she told her uncle and aunt that she wanted to go to Snowfield, to stay for a short while with Dinah and invite herto the wedding. They readily agreed, and so one fine morning Hetty left Hayslope in a coach, apparently for Snowfield, but in reality for a much longer journey to Windsor . Windsor
The Journey in Hope
In two of the most powerfully written chapters in the novel, the novelist has described her onward journey in hope, and then her return journey in despair. She had only three guineas in her pocket and was unaware of the fact that this amount would not suffice for the long journey that lay ahead of her. She travelled to Stoniton by coach but found that it had cost her a great deal more than what she could afford. She decided to economize in all possible ways. She walked part of the way, begged rides in carts, ate cheap meals and reached her destination,
, with a shilling in her pocket. The coachman expected a tip and she was going to offer her last shilling, but the man had one look at her famished and agonised appearance and refused to accept the money. Fortunately the proprietor of the inn, the Green Man, where the coach stopped, was a very kind man. He noticed her miserable condition and took her to his wife. Hetty was crying all the time. They could see that in spite of her condition the hand of Hetty was without the wedding-ring. She was given some food, which she ate with the greed and hurry of one who has been starving. It was here that she came to know that Arthur’s regiment had left for Windsor a fortnight ago, and that Arthur had gone away with the regiment. Poor Hetty was heart-broken. All her hopes were shattered. She was a long distance away from home with practically no money in her pocket. Moreover, she could not return to Hayslope in her present condition. Suicide seemed to her to be the only course open for her. Ireland
The Journey in Despair
By the next morning, she had regained some measure of self-control. She told the landlord of the inn and his wife that she had come there in search of her brother whose address was known to Arthur. Now she would go back. As she had no money, she decided to raise some money by selling the few ornaments that she was wearing. The landlord agreed to advance her three guineas—the amount she needed—on the security of the ornaments. She could redeem them later on, if she so desired. They were kind-hearted people, who did not accept anything from her for her food and lodging. While Hetty was searching through her purse for the ornaments, she came across the address of Dinah Morris. This was a ray of light in the darkness of despair which enveloped her, for she could go to her and she was confident that she would do something for her. However, all this was floating through her subconscious; consciously, she saw no other way out of her troubles, except suicide.
So, Hetty began her return journey in despair. Part of the way she again covered by coach. Then she walked on foot and, as before, begged rides in carts. She would sit for hours by the side of the hedges. She could not even find comfort in religion as she had no deep faith in Christianity. After five days she arrived at Stratford-on-Avon. Thoughts of suicide were constantly-present in her mind. She was on the look out for a deep pool, where to drown herself. At last she found a dark, deep pool. She thought that she would sink her belongings alongwith the basket, and collected some stones in order to make it heavy so that it might sink to the bottom. Then she thought there was no hurry and after having some food lay down to sleep by the side of the pool. When she awoke it was night and she was horrified by the darkness and the utter loneliness. She went away from the place to look for a hovel she had seen earlier so that she might spend the night there.
The Child Murder
In the morning she moved away from the place after she had been awakened by an old man. She kept moving in this way, and a few days later gave birth to her baby in an inn, where the landlady was kind and sympathetic. She left the inn secretly the next evening. She was seen sitting in a crazy condition under a haystack, by a labourer who was passing by that way. Sometime later, when he returned by the same way, he saw the hand of a child protruding out of a heap of grass and wood chips. The infant was dead. Hatty could not keep herself away from the spot for any length of time. She returned to it, and was arrested for child murder. All these details came out later on, when she was tried for the crime in the court.
When Hetty did not return for over a fortnight, her relatives in Hayslope became anxious and worried. When the suspense became unbearable, Adam decided to go out in search of her. He learned at Dinah’s cottage that she had gone to Leads more than a fortnight ago and that no youngwoman of the name of Hetty Sorrel had called there. He made further inquiries but to no avail. He was convinced that she must have gone to Arthur who, he knew, was in
with his regiment. He, therefore, returned to Hayslope determinded to go to Ireland and save Hetty, if possible. Ireland
The Arrest and the Trial
On returning to Hayslope, he provided himself with enough money to meet the expenses of the journey. But before leaving on this long journey, he decided to seek the advice and guidance of Mr. Irwine. He found Irwine in a very gloomy state of mind. Adam told the Rector what he had found out about Hetty, of his suspicions, as well as of the affair between Arthur and Hetty. All this made the Rector very much agitated. Then he told Adam the terrible news that had reached him a moment earlier. Hetty had been arrested for the murder of her child and had been lodged in the prison at Stoniton. Adam was heartbroken. He also informed Adam that Arthur was already on his way home because the old Squire had sent for him. That very night the old Squire passed away. Adam at once left for Stoniton and Mr. Irwine had the unpleasant task of breaking this, news to the Poysers. Adam did not have the heart to meet Hetty and, at the same time, he could not bear the thought of being away from her. Bartle Massey went with him, and it was he who brought him the news of the conduct of the trial from day to day.
Hetty’s Obstinate Silence: The Verdict
Throughout the trial, Hetty maintained an obstinate silence. Mr. Irwine arranged the best possible lawyers for her, and did his best to help her. The case was going against her, and there was sufficient evidence to establish her guilt. Had she confessed, an appeal for mercy could have been made. But now she was found ‘guilty’, and was sentenced to be hanged till she was dead. When Hetty heard the verdict, she gave a heart-reading shriek and fainted. During the last moments of the trial, Adam stood by her, even though her own relatives had deserted her.
Dinah: the Confession
She was to be hanged two days later. However, before the date Dinah reached there determined to be with her in the prison cell, up to the very last moment. She talked to Hetty, prayed for her, and persuaded her to open out her heart to her. Hetty was touched and confessed her guilt. Dinah’s sincerity melted her heart and she said, “I will speak…..I won’t hide anything.” Then she told Dinah all that had happened. She had not meant to murder the infant but had only thought that someone would take it away. She had later returned to take away the child but found that it was gone. She then knelt down and prayed alongwith Dinah.
The Last Moments—The Reprieve
Adam came to see Hetty on the last day to say farewell. He assured Hetty that he had forgiven her. Adam and Hetty bade a solemn and moving farewell to each other. Hetty told Adam to tell Arthur that she was trying to forgive him. Dinah was with Hetty even when she was taken out to the place of execution. A large crowd had gathered there. As the cart stopped, the crowd suddenly gave out a loud shout. They were not jeering at Hetty but it was a shout of joy as they saw a horseman who was waving a pardon in his hand. It was Arthur Donnithorne. Owing to his efforts, the death-sentence had been reduced to transportation for life.
Life in Hayslope returned to normal, and Hetty’s tragedy was soon forgotten except by the Poysers, by Adam and by Arthur. The Poysers intended to leave Hayslope, and similarly Adam also wanted to go away from the neighbourhood. However, this was not to be for one day. Adam and Arthur happened to meet once again in the woods. This second meeting is a close parallel to their first meeting three years ago. But now instead of fighting there was reconciliation. Adam was touched by the suffering and anguish that was writ large on Arthur’s face. Arthur talked to him of his suffering and remorse, and soon the two were reconciled. Arthur persuaded Adam to stay on in Hayslope and work as the manager of his estate, under the guidance of Mrs. Irwine who would have over-ail authority over the estate. He would himself be going out with his regiment. Arthur also requested him to persuade the poysers to stay on in Hayslope. It was in this way that both Adam and Hetty’s relations continued to live in Hayslope, while the repentant Arthur went over with his regiment to take part in the war with the French.
Dinah and Adam: Marriage
According to the conventions of the age, and the demand of novel-readers the novelist rounds up the novel with the ringing of marriage bells. Dinah and Adam had come close together during the trial of Hetty, and both remembered her and felt for her. Soon signs of love were perceived in Dinah, Adam proposed to her and was accepted. A month later they were married by Mr. Irwine who thought that it would be the happiest news he could convey to Arthur.
As is usual with George Eliot, she ends the present novel too with an epilogue. We get a glimpse of the married life of Dinah and Adam. Lisbeth is dead, they have two children and ‘uncle’ Seth lives with them, happy in the company of the children whom he loves as his own. Adam has been doing well in life and has become the owner of Jonathan Burges’ timberyard. Dinah has been thoroughly domesticated, for the second Wesleyan conference forbade women preachers. Hetty was released before her time, but she died on her way to
. Arthur, too, was taken ill in England , and was advised to go to his own country for rest and change of climate. The novel ends as Adam returns home after meeting Arthur on his arrival at Hayslope. The Poysers are still there, and life at Hall Farm goes on as usual. France