Sunday, October 31, 2010

Characters in the Novel: Adam Bede

A Close Pen-portrait
Adam Bede, the hero of the novel, is a close pen-portrait of the novelist’s own father, Robert Evans. At least there are close resemblances between the characters of the two. He is a carpenter by profession, and lives in his humble house with his parents—Lisbeth and Thias Bede—and his brother Seth Bede.

A Towering Personality
Adam Bede is not an ordinary individual. He is unique in many respects. He is a towering personality. His extraordinary physical strength is stressed in the very beginning. As the novelist tells us, “he is a large-boned, muscular man, nearly six feet high, with a back so flat and a head so well poised that when he drew himself up to take a more distant survey of his work, he had the air of a soldier standing at ease. His sleeves rolled up above the elbow showed an arm that was likely to win the prize for feats of strength; yet the long supple hand, with its broad finger-tips, looked ready for works of skill. In his tall stalwartness, Adam Bede was a Saxon, and justified his name; but the jet-black hair, made the more noticeable by its contrast with the light paper cap, and the keen glance of the dark eyes/that shone from under strongly marked, prominent and mobile eyebrows, indicated a mixture of Celtic blood. The face was large and roughly hewn, and when in repose had no other beauty than such as belongs to an expression of good-humoured, honest intelligence.”
A Sincere and Skilled Craftsman
His physical strength is combined with a rare skill as workman and with a still rarer honesty and integrity. He is intelligent as well as honest. He feels work and duty as satisfying in themselves, and this sense of satisfaction is expressed by the hymn which he sings. He is a good craftsman who takes joy in his work and in life. He works hard, and lives healthily and happily. He is happy because his conscience is clear as clear as the noon-day, and his converse is sincere, because he knows that God’s all-seeing eye sees—”Thy secret thoughts, they works and ways”. Countless instances can be cited of his sincerity as a craftsman. For example, when he finds that a coffin which has to be delivered the next day has not been completed by his father, he immediately sets to work on it even though he is tired after the day’s work. He does not even care to take his food. He works at it all night and has it ready for delivery the next morning. When his mother insists that he should first have his food, he angrily, pushes her aside and says, “It’s fine talking about having supper when here’s a coffin promised to be ready at Broxton by seven o’clock tomorrow morning, and ought to have been there now, and not a nail struck yet. My throat’s too full to swallow victuals.” As a craftsman it is a point of honour with him that whatever he does should be well-done and it should all be done on time.
It is because of his sincerity, honesty, skill and capability, that he is widely respected, valued and honoured. Thus Arthur makes him the manager of the woods, and gives to him a place of honour during the celebration of his 21st birthday. Jonathan Burgess is keen to make him a partner in his business, and the Poysers feel that Hetty cannot do better than marry Adam. They feel honoured when he courts her and is betrothed to her.
His Love of Learning
Adam has also taken great pains, to acquire a bit of knowledge. It had cost him a great deal of trouble and work in overtime to get the mastery of his pen, to write plainly and spell fairly well, and to learn his musical notes and part-singing. He had read his Bible and several books such as The Pilgrim’s Progress. Bartle Massey would have lent him more, but he had little time for reading. Adam was certainly not an ordinary character among workmen.
Tolerant and God-fearing
In matters of religion he stands for conformity, for remaining within the folds of the established church. When the other workmen laugh at Seth for his being a Methodist, he frankly tells them that he himself would like to worship in the traditional manner, and go to the church regularly, but he does not like that anybody should laugh at the religion of others; Seth or anybody else for that matter, is free to be a Methodist, if he so likes, he would not mock anybody for his religion. He is, thus, tolerant and God-fearing and believes that everybody should seek God according to his or her own light. As far as he is concerned, the religion of his father is quite good for him. Moreover, he believes in the virtue of hard work; work is his religion, work is worship for him. He is himself fair in his dealings, and expects others also to be equally fair. Thus he is not over-awed by Lydia Donnithorne, the Squire’s sister, and insists on a fair price for the screen he has made for her.
His Physical Prowess: Positive Innocence
Adam is honest and hard-working, and he also has the physical capacity to hold his own against all comers. As R.T. Jones points out he represents, “a positive, and active innocence”, as compared with his brother, Seth who represents “passive innocence”. Adam will not knowingly hurt anybody, but he will not hesitate to hurt someone, if he is convinced that he deserved it. As he tells Mr. Irwine he will not strike anybody except a scoundrel, and he does strike Arthur and lays him flat on the ground because he has acted like a scoundrel towards Hetty. Arthur is a military man, but still Adam gives him a good thrashing, and compels him to write to Hetty and confess to her that he can never marry her, and so their affair should come to an end.
His Love of Hetty
Adam’s love of Hetty is his only weakness. Love blinded him to Hetty’s true nature. He constantly made excuses for her behaviour and seemed to overlook her faults, except her love of finery: when she stuck a rose in her hair, “The tender admiration in Adam’s face was slightly shadowed by reluctant disapproval. Hetty’s love of finery was just the thing that would most provoke his mother, and he himself disliked it as much as it was possible for him to dislike anything that belonged to her.” Adam’s suffering at the time of Hetty’s trial was almost too much to be borne, and affected him for the rest of his life. He shrank from witnessing her agony, but forced himself to stand by her.
No doubt, he ultimately transfers his love to Dinah, but the memories of her which they have in common, do much to bring them together. During Hetty’s trial Adam and Dinah got to know each other intimately, and love found its way into their hearts. And Dinah was so bound up with the sad memories of his first passion, that he was not forsaking them, but rather giving them a new sacredness by loving her, Nay, his love for her had grown out of the past: it was the noon of that morning. Adam’s love for Hetty had been tender and deep, but his love for Dinah, was better and more precious to him, for it was the outgrowth of that fuller life which had come to him from his acquaintance with deep sorrow. “It’s like as if it was a new strength to me”, he said to himself, “to love her, and know as she loves me. I shall look t’ her, to help me to see things right. For she’s better than I am—there’s less o’ self in her, and pride.” Indeed, Adam’s love for Dinah made him a stronger and wiser man.
Self-righteous, Hard and Unsympathetic
Adam’s sense of his own ‘righteousness’ makes him a bit hard and unsympathetic. He is less accessible to compassion than his brother (Seth). As the novelist herself tells us, “the idle tramps always felt sure that they could get a Copper from Seth; they scarcely ever spoke to Adam”. He is impatient of any failing or weakness in others. He is intolerant and indignant at his father’s habit of neglecting his work and going out for drinking; he is angry and irritated when his mother insists that he should have his food, before beginning work on the coffin. Seth, too, knows that it is useless to discuss with him, for when he says a thing he means it.
It is the sense of his own ‘righteousness’ which makes him so hard and unsympathetic to the failings of others, that he has been criticised by one critics after another and called a ‘prig’ and a very “monster of goodness”. Thus Henry James writes, “my chief complaint with Adam Bede himself is that he is too good. He is meant, I conceive, to be every inch a man; but to my mind, there are several inches wanting. He lacks spontaneity, he is too stiff-backed. He lacks that supreme quality without which a man can never be interesting to man—the capacity to be tempted.
The Basic Flaw: Habit of Moralising
Adam’s sense of his own, “righteousness”, his vanity that he has clarity of vision, and can see everything clearly while others cannot see it, is the basic flaw in his character and the novel shows his gradual purgation and inner illumination and attainment of self-knowledge. In this connection the views of Joan Bennett are interesting and worth quoting at length. “It is evident that the author intended self-righteousness to be the flaw in his character which is partially, if not wholly, purged by the suffering he undergoes in the course of the story. Adam, before the tragic climax in the prison, is a prig and forfeits some of the reader’s sympathy in consequence.” But the author deliberately draws him as a man who is too apt to moralize on all occasions. He preaches to his mother when she nags at him for putting on his best clothes to visit Hetty:
‘Nay, nay, mother’, said Adam, gravely, and standing still while he put his arm on her shoulder, I’m not angered. But I wish, for thy own sake, thee’dst be more contented to let me do what I’ve made up my mind to do. I’ll never be no other than a good son to thee as long as we live. But a man has other feelings besides what he owes to’s father and mother; and thee oughtna’ to want to rule over me body and soul. And thee must make up thy mind, as I’ll not give way to thee where I’ve a right to do what I like. So let us have no more words about it.’
His Education and Regeneration
This kind of moralising is a part of George Eliot’s conception of Adam’s character. The reader who feels respect for Adam from the first, but only a limited liking, is being affected as she meant that he should be. The proof of this is that she allows Adam finally to discover, as the result of suffering, that his own self-righteousness had marred his relation to his father and mother, to Arthur Donnithorne, and even to Hetty. His acute suffering alone in his dull upper room outside the prison in which Hetty awaits her trial is mingled with mortification. It is there that he first begins to recognize his own failings.
The second scene with Arthur in the wood, in which the reconciliation takes place, is crucial to his self-discovery and purgation. The behaviour of both men is convincing throughout the scene and the obstacles, inherent in the nature of each, are very gradually overcome until at last, after a silence of several minutes, Adam says:
‘It’s true what you say, sir: I’m hard—it’s in my nature. I was too hard with my father, for doing wrong. I’ve been a bit hard t’ everybody but her. I felt as if nobody pitied her enough—her suffering cut into me so; and when I thought the folks at the Farm were too hard on her, I said, I’d never be hard to anybody myself again. But feeling overmuch about her has perhaps made me unfair to you. I’ve known what it is in my life to repent and feel it’s too late: I felt I’d been too harsh to my father when he was gone from me—I feel it now, when I think of him. I ‘ve no right to be hard towards them as have done wrong and repent.’
Finally, when Adam discovers his love for Dinah, he sees in full light what has been amiss in himself:
‘It’s like as if it was a new strength to me’, he said to himself, “to love her, and know as she loves me. I shall lookt’ her to help me to see things right. For she’s better than I am—there’s less o’ self in her, and pride. I’ve always been thinking I knew better than them as belonged to me, and that’s a poor sort o’ life when you can’t look to them nearest to you t’ help you with a bit better thought than what you’ve got inside you already.’
The marriage of Dinah and Adam is justified because it enables the author to put final touches to Adam’s education and purgation.
The Ideal—the Norm
Adam is the ideal, the norm, like Caleb Garth in Middlemarch, by reference to which other characters are to be judged. His strength, and his capacity for slow but effective change, make Adam an ideal, a standard, by which other modes of life in the novel are to be evaluated. Adam is seen throughout the novel as a fully imagined individual, one man painfully finding his own way. “It would be inappropriate—a misreading of the novel—to object to the portrayal of Adam by saying ‘I don’t believe anyone so righteous ever existed’. We accept this righteousness as one of the suppositions from which the novel starts; what the novel asks us to consider critically is how whole-heartedly we can admire Adam’s quality, the mode of innocence that he represents. For it does exist, and there are people who embody it, even if not in so unmixed a state as Adam does”.                                                          —(R.T. Jones)
Attainment of a Better Understanding of Life
Whether Adam is an ideal or not, there can be no denying the fact that the novel shows the process of his education, a process which makes him a wiser and better man. Step by step he sheds his pride in his own clarity of vision, his own righteousness, and attains a sounder and more complex understanding of life. Gradually, he acquires the virtue of humility, becomes conscious of his own short-comings, and also of the fact that those who have acted wrongly, and seem to be wicked, may not be wicked in reality. This is clearly seen in his reactions to the guilt of Hetty. When he is told of it, he reacts with spontaneous passion, and refuses to believe that Hetty could be wicked; and we feel that he is right not to believe it. The evidence that she has behaved wickedly, by Adam’s own standards as well as by those of the law, builds up inexorably, but “it’s too hard to think she’s wicked”. Adam at this stage, is on the way towards a more complex, and less confident, sense of right and wrong—towards an awareness of the confusing, yet saving fact, that although objective evidence can demonstrate with almost mathematical certainty that a person has behaved badly, nothing but personal familiarity and our unverifiable emotional response can tell us if he is bad or not. He is no longer sure that he is right, that he sees pretty clear, but is fully conscious of the complexity of human motives and human morals. His new humility is seen in the fact that, instead of telling Mrs. Irwine that, “he would do what is right, he tells him, I will do what you think right”. Change comes slowly to so strong a character as Adam; but it does come. When he hears how strongly the evidence given in court is going against Hetty, he expresses his desire to Bartle Massey to go to the court and stand by her. Adam confesses his fault, “is determined to amend, and undertakes to do a kind of public penance by going to the court and showing his love and solicitude for Hetty. Adam has known what suffering is, and so could no longer lay even a finger on a bruised man. He has changed, has grown more humble and more compassionate, and it is in the fitness of things that such an Adam should marry the Eve who is his natural feminine counterpart.”
(2) SETH BEDE, the Foil to Adam Bede
A Foil to Adam
Seth Bede, the younger brother of Adam Bede, is an important minor character in the novel. He has a negligible influence on the course of action, but from beginning to the end, he has been drawn as a foil to Adam Bede, the central figure in the novel.
His Physical Appearance
In the very beginning of the novel he is contrasted with Adam as regards their physical appearance, and also as workman. We are told that Seth is, “nearly as tall; he has the same type of features, the same hue of hair and complexion; but the strength of the family likeness seems only to render more conspicuous the remarkable difference of expression both in form and face. Seth’s broad shoulders have a slight stoop; his eyes are grey, his eye-brows have less prominence and more repose than his brother’s and his glance, instead of being keen, is confiding and benignant. He lacks the hardness of Adam and so, “the idle tramp always felt sure that they could get a copper from Seth, but they scarcely ever spoke to Adam”. Adam is hard on his mother and his father, but Seth is more indulgent, more considerate, more tolerant of the weakness of others, and more forgiving. While Adam works all night on the coffin which has to be delivered the next morning, it is Seth who consoles his mother and prays with her.”
As a Craftsman
Seth is not such a skilled and careful workman as Adam is. He forgets to put the panels to the door, and declares that it is finished. He forgets his tool-box. He is also not capable of working all day and night, even without food, as Adam is. In their religion also the two brothers are different. Seth is a Methodist, a dissenter, while Adam is a conformist, one who goes to the church regularly, and for whom the faith of his father is quite enough.
His Innocence: Passive and Ineffective
The two brothers represent two different varieties of innocence. Adam represents an innocence which is active, dynamic and militant; Seth’s innocence is passive and ineffective. R.T. Jones writes in this connection, “While Adam exemplifies a positive and active righteousness, his brother Seth might remind us that the word ‘innocent’ is derived from the Latin nocere ‘to hurt’, with a negative prefix. Adam, though he does not knowingly wrong anybody, does not hesitate to hurt; it is Seth who is constantly careful not to hurt anybody. His pacific and soothing manner, backed by a good deal of quiet strength, is displayed in the first chapter and summarised by Wiry Ben in the second:
‘Seth’s the lad for me, though he war a Methody twice o’er. I’m fair bear wi’ Seth, for I’ve been teazin’ him iver sin’ we’ve workin’ together, an’ he bears me no more malice nor a lamb. An’ he’s a stout-hearted feller too, for when we saw the old tree all a-fire a—comin’ across the fields one night, an’ we thought as it war a boguy, Seth made no more ado, but went up to’t as bold as constable……‘
“Seth’s meekness has nothing of fear it; there is nothing paradoxical in the description of him as bold. But for all his goodness, Seth does not strike us as likely to prove a powerful and effective force for good as events in the novel unfold. He has already been characterised in the first chapter by the story of the door that he thinks he has finished making while in fact he has neglected to fit the panels into it.” This, in such a village as the novel presents, is the kind of story that sticks to a man for years—perhaps for life; the kind of story that gives rise to local proverbial expressions, “Like Seth Bede’s door”.
“With his absent-minded unreliability as a craftsman dramatised so vividly and so early in the novel, Seth must strike us as unlikely to be a decisive force in the novel. Neither his harmlessness nor his Methodism can be held accountable for his lack of concentrated application to the practical task in hand.”
His Goodness and Love of Dinah
Seth’s goodness—and his love of Dinah—is of the kind that Blake describes in the first stanza of The Clod and the Pebble:
Love seeketh not itself to please
Not for itself hath any care.
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.
When his offer of marriage to Dinah has been gently refused, he is resolving, as he now walks homeward under the solemn starlight, to repress his sadness, to be less bent on having his own will. This is the more touching when we recall that his offer of marriage, far from being a selfish demand, was from the start an offer of devotion and service, “to give you more liberty—more than you can have now, for you’ve got to get  your own living now, and I’m strong enough to work for us both”.
“When Adam arrives home and finds that his father has not made the coffin promised for the following morning, it is Adam who, angered by the failure to keep a craftsman’s promise, works through the night to finish the job; and it is Seth who comforts his mother.”
Weak and Ineffective
However much we may favour, in principle, meekness and selflessness, Seth’s too ready acceptance of Dinah’s rejection makes us feel that she has been right to reject him. Seth’s innocence is not of a kind that decisively influences any train of events; he neither initiates action nor wholly masters the activities in which he is involved. As a carpenter he omits the panels of his door, and leaves his basket of tools behind; as a Methodist, he is at the end of the novel, an ineffectual dissident in respect of the Second Wesley Conference’s prohibition on women preachers. And as an example of meekness arid humility he lacks compelling power.
In the sequence of events, Seth is almost negligible. His function in the novel is to show Adam more clearly by comparison: Adam’s capacity for sympathy, because it has been achieved with difficulty, is more to be admired, and because it is founded on experience and a habit of systematic thought, more effective, than Seth’s.
“The fact that Seth, the rejected suitor, can live with Adam and Dinah without its ever occurring to anybody (including the reader) that the arrangement might be a dangerous or imprudent or improper one, and without Seth’s seeming to find it in the least disturbing, tells us a great deal about Seth”. “To talk by Dinah’s side, and be tyrannised over by Dinah’s and Adam’s children, was uncle Seth’s earthly happiness.”
His Importance
Mr. Irwine, the Rector of Broxton, Vicar of Hayslope and vicar of Blythe, is an important character, for he has close friendly relations with the major characters of the novel and plays an effective and decisive role in it. As a dignitary of the established church and as the close friend of Arthur Donnithorne, the Squire’s nephew and the future Squire, he enjoys immense prestige and authority.
Physical Appearance
The novelist gives us a clear portrait of Mr. Irwine in church: “In his ample white surplice that became him so well, with his powdered hair thrown back, his rich brown complexion, and his finely-cut nostril and upper lip; for there was a certain virtue in that benignant yet keen countenance, as there is in all human faces from which a generous soul beams out.”
Generous and Sympathetic
He was handsome and generous, but having an income of no more than seven hundred pounds a year and seeing no other way of keeping his mother and sisters, he remained, at the age of forty-eight a bachelor; but he did not make any merit of his renunciation of matrimony. Perhaps he was the only person in the world who did not think his sisters uninteresting, for his was one of those large-hearted, sweet blooded nature that never knew a narrow or a grudging thought. He ignored his mother’s hardness to her daughters, for he held it no virtue to frown at irremediable faults.
Mr. Irwine may not have been a profound theologian, but he was neither vindictive nor intolerant, and he had that charity which is sometimes lacking to illustrious virtue. He was tender to other men’s failings and unwilling to impute evil. His people would have been very sorry to part with him and most faces brightened at his approach. In time of trouble he proved himself to be a friend as well as a guide and comforter to his people, but he was not quick to discern their faults and remained oblivious of Arthur’s weakness in spite of the close ties between them.
His Attitude to Religion
Mr. Irwine’s attitude to religion and his religious duties are well brought out by a brief contrast with the attitude of Dinah Morris, the Methodist preacher. Making that contrast R.T. Jones writes, “Mr. Irwine’s redeeming features are qualities of character that seem to survive inspite of his ecclesiastical functions and have in themselves very little to do with anything we might recognise as a religious vocation. Dinah may be thought sometimes to speak too earnestly about trivial things; Mr. Irwine, on the contrary, surprises us with the lightness with which he speaks of his religion and its sacraments. His mother has just beaten him at chess:
‘Ah! you witch-mother, you sorceress. How is a Christian man to win a game off you? I should have sprinkled the board with holy water before we began. You’ve not won that game by fair means, now, so don’t pretend it.’
A Devoted Son
Holding three livings, Mr. Irwine could hardly perform all his parochial duties effectively, even if he were an exceptionally energetic man; and that, evidently, he is not. In the description of him in the fifth chapter, where he is introduced into the novel, the impression made by the house is one of ease and comfort. A very important part of that environment—the objects of his devotion, perhaps—is his mother. There seems to be nothing Christian about her: She is described as ‘stately’, ‘magnificent’, ‘splendid’; with the reference to Ceres, it is a pagan splendour that is suggested. And it seems primarily to her service that Mr. Irwine is dedicated.
His Tolerance
Regarded as a man, he is ‘a pluralist at whom the severest Church-reformer would have found it difficult to look sour’. In fact, we see him at his best when Joshua Rann, in his capacity as parish clerk of Hayslope, comes to report Methodist activity in the parish. Mr. Irwine’s advice to let matters take their course may be attributed partly to a general inclination to let things be; but it also involves a recognition that there is an element of justification for the Methodist view of him.
‘It is really insolent of that man, though, to call you an “Idle shepherd”, and a “dumb dog”, said Mrs. Irwine: ‘I should be inclined to teach him a little there. You are too easy-tempered, Dauphin.’
‘Why, mother, you don’t think it would be a good way of sustaining my dignity to set about vindicating myself from the aspersions of Will Maskery? Besides, I’m not so sure that they are aspersions. I am a lazy fellow, and get terribly heavy in my saddle; not to mention that I’m always spending more than I can afford in bricks and mortar, so that I get savage at a lame beggar when he asks me for six pence. Those poor lean cobblers, who think they can help to regenerate mankind by setting out to preach in the morning twilight before they begin their day’s work, may well have a poor opinion of me…..‘
Perhaps he does take his duties as a clergy rather lightly, but at least he does not take himself too seriously.
A Cultured Gentleman: His Role
Mr. Irwine’s virtues are impressive; his close knowledge of his parishioners, his cool and moderate judgment, his lack of resentment at personal disparagement, his friendly interest in the most various individuals. They are qualities that would be as appropriate to a squire as to a clergyman; they are eminently suitable for the tutor and friend of Arthur Donnithorne, the future squire. These qualities of head and heart enable him to play an effective role in the novel, and influence the course of action. He embodies gentlemanly tolerance and this no doubt is responsible for his failure to avert the tragedy of poor Hetty. A gentleman must not pry too closely into the affairs of others, and so when Arthur comes to him to confide to him his affair with Hetty, the Rector does not press him hard and the opportunity is thus lost: If there had been anything special on Arthur’s mind in the previous conversation, it was clear he was not inclined to enter into details, and Mr. Irwine was too delicate to imply even a friendly curiosity. He preceived a change of subject would be welcome…..“Evidently it is a hard vocation to be a priest, having the care of men’s souls, and at the same time a gentleman, prohibited by delicacy from intruding into the consciences of others.”
His self-reproach is bitter when he realises the full consequences of that failure: “It was a bitter remembrance to him now—that morning when Arthur breakfasted with him, and seemed as if he were on the verge of a confession. It was plain enough now what he had wanted to confess…..if he himself had been less fastidious about intruding on another man’s secrets……it was cruel to think how thin a film had shut out rescue from all this guilt and misery. He saw the whole history now by that terrible illumination which the present sheds back upon the past.”
Judicious and Prudent
But if Mr. Irwine, and the gentlemanly tolerance he embodies are to some very small extent responsible for the failure to avert the calamity, we can hardly blame him more than he blames himself; and once he knows what has happened we can only feel admiration for the way in which he deals with his parishioners as the news of Hetty’s arrest spread. He does not try to change Battle Massey’s opinion that ‘the sooner such women are put out o’ the world the better’; but he does ask him not to talk in such a way to Adam: ‘You must be careful what you say to him, you know. I’m afraid you have too little fellow-feeling in what you consider his weakness about Hetty.’
It is, after all, the consequences of Bartle’s possible indiscretion that are important and need to be looked to at the moment: not the justice of his opinions. But in order to dissuade Adam from taking his own revenge on Arthur, it does become necessary for Mr. Irwine to try to change Adam’s mind by reasoning with him. It is also appropriate to do so, since Adam (unlike Battle Massey) is accessible to reason. In this undertaking, Irwine uses no religious arguments: he uses rather his knowledge of life, and seems to draw on his experience as a magistrate:
‘It is not for us men to apportion the shares of moral and retribution. We find it impossible to avoid mistakes even in determining who has committed a single criminal act, and the problem how far a man is to be held responsible for the unforeseen consequences of his own deed, is one that might well make us tremble to look into it. The evil consequences that may lie folded in a single act of selfish indulgence, is a thought so awful that it ought surely to awaken some feeling less presumptuous than a rash desire to punish…..‘
His Humanity
It is his experience as a man and as a magistrate that leads to a humbling consideration of the human impossibility of absolute justice. One must not be too hard on sinners. We are all fallable and liable to temptation. Himself humane in his approach it is this humanistic approach he wants his parishioners to adopt in their dealings with those who are prone to the weaknesses of the flesh.
His Physical Character
Arthur Donnithorne is the grandson of the Squire (landlord) of Hayslope and heir to the state. He is an attractive youngman, known in Hayslope, variously, as “the young squire”, “the heir”, and “the captain”. He was only a captain in the Loamshire Militia; but to the Hayslope tenants he was more intensely a Captain than all the young gentlemen of the same rank in his Majesty’s regulars—he outshone them as the planet Jupiter outshines the Milky Way. He is brown-locked, clear-complexioned—well washed, highbred, white-handed, yet looking as if he could deliver well from the left shoulder, and floor his man. Thus he is a youngman cultured and refined and of considerable physical prowess and physical charms.
His High Opinion of Himself
Arthur was generous, open-hearted, affectionate and full of good intentions. His was an impressionable nature and found pleasure in the good opinion of others. He had a high opinion of his own self. He liked to confess his faults, but he had an agreeable confidence that his faults were all of a generous, kind, impetuous and warm-blooded nature. He was good-natured and all his pictures of the future, when he should come into the estate, were made up of a prosperous, contented tenantry, adoring their landlord, who would be the model of an English gentleman. Thus he tells Mr. Irwine that when he comes of age and inherits the estate he would do a lot for the good of his tenants. “When I was a little fellow, aid Adam was a strapping lad of fifteen, and taught me carpentering, I used to think if ever I was a rich sultan, I would make Adam my grand-vizier. And I believe now, he would bear the exaltation as well as any poor, wise man in an Eastern story. If ever I live to be a large acred man instead of a poor devil with a mortgaged allowance of pocket-money, I’ll have Adam for my right-hand. He shall manage my woods for me, for he seems to have a better notion of those things than any man I ever met with; and I know he would make twice the money out of them than my grandfather does, with that miserable old Satchell to manage, who understands no more about timber than an old carp.”
His Lack of Self-control
Young Arthur’s head is full of good intentions, of all the good that he is going to do to all around, but his tragedy is that he lacks self-control. Despite all his good intentions, he cannot withstand a temptation. He knew what he ought to do and was dissatisfied with himself, irritated and mortified when he did wrong. Arthur really loved Hetty, but he was not rash enough to wish to marry her, and the discovery that Adam loved her was a great shock to him. If there had been a possibility of making amends tenfold, Arthur would have made them, but he did not learn the extent of the wrong he had done to Hetty until it was too late to make amends, and we can only guess whether he would had risen above his social prejudice in order to do what was right had he known the truth in time. He hated to witness pain and did acts of kindness, for he liked to have grateful eyes beaming on him. In spite of the pain it caused him, Arthur felt it was for the best when Adam forced him to break the relationship with Hetty. Nevertheless, he had not meant to avoid all responsibility and had told her to write to him if she was in trouble. The result of Arthur’s weakness was the tragedy that wrecked Hetty’s life and his own. He made what reparations he could, but apart from saving her from execution, he could do little to help Hetty. To the last he hoped to help her in some way, but she died in exile.
His Repentance: Henry James’ View
In the opinion of Henry James, Arthur is not real and convincing, for there is something vague and indeterminate about his character. He writes, “I would rather have him either better or worse, I would rather have he had a little more premeditation before his fault, or a little more repentance after it, that is, while repentance could still be of use. Not that, all things considered, he is not a very fair image of a frank-hearted, well-meaning, careless, self-indulgent young gentleman: but the author has in his case committed that error which in the case of Hetty she avoided—the error of showing him as redeemed by suffering. I cannot but think that he was as weak as she. A weak woman, indeed, is weaker than a weak man; but Arthur Donnithorne was a superficial fellow, a person emphatically not to be moved by a shock of conscience into a really, interesting and dignified attitude, such as he is made to assume at the close of the book.” In other words, his repentance at the end, according to the learned critic, fails to carry conviction.
Not a Conventional Villain
Arthur would be a villain, a rogue, a blackguard, of a melodrama, seducing an innocent girl, without the novelist’s skill in psycho-analysis which gives us a peep into the complex working of his mind, and the way in which he yields to temptation, despite his best efforts. Says R.T. Jones in this connection, “The innocence that Arthur represents consists in cultivating friendly relations with everybody; never willingly doing harm to anybody; and being willing to make amends for any harm he may accidentally do. This ‘innocence’ is a matter of intentions, of meaning well and meaning no ill, and is necessarily presented in descriptions of his thoughts rather than in actions. Without the account of his intentions, his actions, objectively regarded, would be almost indistinguishable from those of calculated villainy.” For example, consider the following:
‘Do you always come back this way in the evening, or are you afraid to come by so lonely a road?’
‘Oh, no, sir, it’s never late; I always set out by eight o’clock, and it’s so light now in the evening. My aunt would be angry with me if I didn’t get home before nine.’
‘Perhaps Craig, the gardener, comes to take care of you?’
A deep blush overspread Hetty’s face and neck. “I’m sure he doesn’t; I’m sure he never did; I wouldn’t let him: I don’t like him”, she said hastily, and the tears of vexation had come so fast, that before she had done speaking a bright drop rolled down her hot cheek. Then she felt ashamed to death that she was crying, and for one long instant her happiness was all gone. But in the next she felt an arm steal round her, and a gentle voice said—
‘Why, Hetty, what makes, you cry? I didn’t mean to vex you. I wouldn’t vex you for the world, you little blossom. Come, don’t cry: look at me, else I shall think you won’t forgive me.’
Arthur had laid his hand on the soft arm that was nearest him, and was stooping towards Hetty with a look of coaxing entreaty…..
If Arthur had been the conventionally wicked squire’s son setting out to seduce the village maiden he could hardly have made a better start. Yet George Eliot enables us to look at this scene—with the additional knowledge that there is no prospect of Arthur’s, marrying Hetty—and still remain convinced that he means no ill.
For we have seen how Arthur has tried not to allow himself to meet Hetty: “If he lunched with Gawaine and lingered chatting, he should not reach the Chase again till nearly five, when Hetty would be safe out of his sight in housekeeper’s room; and when she sets out to go home, it would be his lazy time after dinner, so he should keep out of her way altogether.” His error is to underestimate the strength of his impulse to meet Hetty; this becomes more evident in the sentences that follow, but is already implicit here in his apparent belief that after dinner-laziness will be an adequate deterrent. He goes, but returns early: and the author’s generalisation serves to make the return intelligible to us and at the same time to make us aware of a common inconsistency which we may recognise in ourselves. “It is the favourite staragem of our passions to shame a retreat, and to turn sharp round upon us at the moment we have made up our minds that the day is our own.”
Stratagems of Passion
The ‘stratagems of passion’ are seen with illuminating clarity when Arthur, after luncheon, is unable to ‘recall the feelings and reflections which had been decisive’ in his decision to avoid Hetty. We are told of his conscious thoughts, and the self-deceptions and distortions of truth that we see in them, make, so to speak, a chart of the subconscious force of his impulse to see her—as a strong underwater current, showing on the surface, is yet known to be present by the extent to which its pull on the keel of a ship alters its course. It is in such accounts of motives, conscious and unconscious, that Arthur is created and exists as a character in the novel. Our recognition of his good intentions, self-deceptions and weakness of will makes the portray a real and acceptable to us.
His Self-deception
By George Eliot’s account of Arthur we are made to understand how he gradually falls into habits of deception, both of himself and of others; and we are made at the same time to see how easily an amiable character can deteriorate.
His Innocence: Its Ironic Treatment
“The novelist’s treatment of Arthur is a brilliant demonstration of the inadequacy of a very common mode of ’innocence’ that consists of a general wish to please and a confidence that one never means any harm to anybody. It is an account that we can profitably return to again and again, not only for what it demonstrates but for the way in which it does so. A familiarity with George Eliot’s ironical treatment of Arthur’s innocence is an antidote for complacency.”
—(R.T. Jones)
His Sincere Repentance
However, the sincerity of Arthur’s repentance cannot be doubted. By going away for several years Arthur made it possible for the Poysers and Adam to remain at Hayslope. He drank the bitter cup of repentance to the full, for, as he said to Adam, “I was all wrong from the very first, and horrible wrong has come of it. God knows, I’d give my life if I could undo it.” The words carry a ring of sincerity, and it was right on the part of Adam Bede to be reconciled to him.
The Central Figure
Hetty Sorrel is the niece of Martin Poyser, the husband of the immortal Mrs. Poyser. He lives at the Hall Farm with her uncle and aunt, because her mother is dead and there is none else to take care of her. Adam Bede is by and large the story of her suffering, and hence Henry James is right in considering her to be the central figure in the novel, and one of the most successful female figures of the novelist.
Her Physical Charms
She is a young girl of seventeen, of exceptional physical charms. The novelist has tried to convey the full flavour of her fascinating personality not by giving a mere, catalogue of her various beauties but through a series of sense-impressions: “It is of little use for me to tell you that Hetty’s cheek was like a rose-petal, that dimples played about her pouting lips, that her large dark eyes hid a soft roguishness under their long lashes, and that her curly hair, though all pushed back under her round cap while she was at work, stole back in dark delicate rings on her forehead, and about her white shell-like ears, it is of little use for me to say how lovely was the contour of her pink and white neckerchief, tucked into her low plum-coloured boddice or how the linen butter-making apron, with its bib, seemed a thing to be imitated in silk by duchesses since it fell in such charming lines, or how her brown stockings and thick-soled buckled shoes lost all that clumsiness which they must certainly have had when empty of her foot and ankle…..“. The impression thus created on us of Hetty’s charms is a lasting one.
Deceptive Softness: Core of Hardness
Hetty is beautiful, but her beauty is deceptively soft. She has the softness, and beauty and fertility of Loamshire, but also its core of hardness. Others, including Adam, are deceived by her apparent softness, but Mrs. Poyser is able to see through it and perceive the core of hardness that lies within. She admired Hetty’s beauty, but she saw her faults: “She’s no better than a peacock, as’ud strut on the wall, and spread its tail when the sun shone, if all the folks i’ the parish was dying”, she complained to her husband. The hardness which Mrs. Poyser had noticed in her niece came to the fore during Hetty’s flight: “A hard and even fierce look had come in the eyes, though their lashes were as long as ever, and they had all their dark brightness. And the check was never dimpled with smiles now. It was the same rounded pouting, childish prettiness, but with all belief in love departed from it—the sadder for its beauty, like that wondrous Medusa-face with the passionate, passion­less lips.” Certainly she had now great affection for anyone. She did not understand how anyone could be fond of middle-aged people and children, who were as tiresome as animals. She was not very much attached to her uncle Martin Poyser, who looked upon her as his daughter; and she is irritated by Totty. She is so hard and self-centred that, moved by her instinct of self-preservation, she could even kill her own child.
Vain and Self-centred: Her Dreams
Like young, beautiful girls of seventeen in general, Hetty was frivolous and vain. She was quite conscious of the fact that she had a number of admirers, and this made her vain and self-centred. Her’s, was a sparkling, self-engrossed loveliness. Her dreams were all of luxuries and finery—”To sit in a carpeted parlour and always wear stockings; to have some large, beautiful ear-rings, to have Nottingham lace round the top of her gown and something to make her handkerchief smell nice.” It is to be noted that dreams of such luxuries are not inappropriate to her nature, and the novelists’s account of such dreams adds to the realism of her character. If she had dreamed of running the affairs of the Donnithorne estate, and of the village, and of being admired for her wisdom, judgment and discretion, then we might well have regarded her fantasies as dangerous and foolish.
A Self-centred: Flirt
Hetty is vain and coquettish. She knew that Adam was the best and most suitable of her admirers, but she had no wish to marry him for he was poor and unable to provide her with the fineries which she loved, and of which she dreamed constantly. But, still, she took care to rekindle his admiration and encourage him, if he stayed away from her for any length of time. She could never marry Adam Bede because he was poor, and having the innocence of “young frisking things” of a kitten or of a “young star-browed calf”, she was quite oblivious to the sterling qualities of his head and heart. Adam Bede, could not more stir in her the emotions that make the sweet intoxication of young love, than the mere picture of the sun could stir the spring sap in the subtle fibres of the plant. We are further told she is a pretty creature of sensuous delight, who could hardly have any feelings for Adam’s troubles or think much about poor old Thias being drowned.” Young souls, in such pleasant delirium as hers, are as unsympathetic as butterflies sipping nectar; they are isolated from all appeals by a barrier of dreams—by invisible looks and impalpable arms. She turns to Adam and agrees to marry him, when she had lost all hopes of Arthur’s ever returning to her, and when she also knew that Adam was doing well, that he was on the way to prosperity, and that he would be able to offer her the comforts she yearned for. She thinks of her own well-being, of the gratification of her own desires, and no thought of Adam’s happiness enters into her-head, so egocentric and self-centred is she.
Her Love of Arthur
Even during their first meeting, Arthur’s attentions intoxicate her and transport her to a world of dreams and fantasy. Henceforth, she thought more of Arthur Donnithorne than of Adam and his troubles. Comments the novelist, “Bright admiring glances from a handsome young gentleman, with white hands, a gold chain, occasional regimentals, and wealth and grandeur immeasurable—those were the warm rays that set poor Hetty’s heart vibrating, and playing its little foolish tunes over and over again. She was a simple farmer’s girl and to, her a gentleman with a white hand was as dazzling as an Olympian god. When Hetty realized that Arthur loved her, she became thoroughly conscious of her own beauty. The scene in her bed-chamber showed her at her vainest. Dinah’s serious talk upset her, not because she responded to it, but because she had the timidity of a luxurious, pleasure-seeking nature which shrinks from the hint of pain.”
Her Suffering and Anguish
But poor, beautiful Hetty was destined to face great pain and her lovely dreams ended in tragedy. “The parting with Arthur was a double pain to her: mingling with the tumult of passion and vanity, there was a dim, undefined fear that the future might shape itself in some way quite unlike her dream.” Hetty’s girlish happiness died on the night that she received Arthur’s letter of farewell. “There is no despair so absolute as that which comes with the first moments of our first great sorrow.”
Hetty so far had not experienced pain and suffering but henceforth terrible suffering and anguish was to be her lot. The two chapters Journey in Hope, and Journey in Despair make poignant reading, as records of the heart­rending anguish of the ‘innocent’ Hetty. She was driven to desperation and contemplation of suicide by fear of shame and disgrace. She had no guiding principle to follow, for although she had attended church regularly, she had not absorbed a single Christian idea or feeling. Worn out with her wanderings to Windsor and back to Stoniton, she gave birth prematurely to her child in the house of a stranger, Sarah Stone. The next evening, feverish and half-crazy, she went out and tried to escape from her shame by abandoning her baby in the woods. Its crying haunted her and she returned—but too late. Facing the public disgrace of her trial and the knowledge that she was condemned by all, Hetty “shut her heart against her fellow-creatures”. Dinah alone was able, through her loving sympathy to reach out and help her, convincing her of God’s mercy and removing her dread of perpetual remorse beyond the grave.
Her Helplessness
As U.G. Knoepflimacher has noted that throughout her journey, animal imagery has been used to bring out her helplessness, her suffering as well as her passionate desire for life and instinct of self-preservation. During her flight, Hetty meets a cart with a lonely dog on it, “a small white and liver coloured spaniel”, and for the first time feels “as if the helpless timid creature had some fellowship with her”. In the next chapter Hetty herself clings to life “only as the hunted, wounded brute clings to it”. After her unsuccessful attempt at suicide, she stumbles into the straw of a sheepfold. Her delight in life causes her to break out in hysterical joy over the fact “that she was still on the familiar earth”. “The very consciousness of her own limbs was a delight to her: she turned up her sleeves, and kissed her arms with the passionate love of life”. The sheep, the humble surroundings and, above all, her approaching motherhood, are meaningless to Hetty. They merely accentuate her narcissism. The next time we hear of her is through the mouth of Rector Irwine, informing Adam that she is accused of having murdered her child.
Her Love of Life
Hetty contemplates suicide. The novelist tells us that as she wanders alone she often thinks of suicide: “Soon she is in Scotland, where the grassy land slopes gradually downwards, and she leaves the level ground to follow the slope. Farther on there is a clump of trees on the low ground, and she is making her way towards it. No, it is not a clump of trees, but a dark shrouded pool, so full with the wintry rains that the under boughs of the elder-bushes lie low beneath the water. She sits down on the grassy bank, against the stooping stem of the great oak that hangs over the dark pool. She has thought of this pool often in the nights of the month that has just gone by, and now at last she is come to see it. She clasps her hands round her knees and leans forward, and looks earnestly at it, as if trying to guess what sort of bed it would make for her young round limbs.”
No, she has not the courage to jump into that cold watery bed, and if she had, they might find her—they might find out why she had drowned herself. There is but one thing left to her: she must go away, go where they can’t find her.
Her Positive Innocence
She thinks of suicide, but has not the courage to do it, and so wanders along. Why does she wander along, and what does she think is likely to turn up and set her free from her present terrors, grief and despair? She cannot return home, and marriage with Adam is out of the question. But Arthur can be forced into marrying her, for she has in her possession Arthur’s letter, in which he asks her to write to him, “if any trouble should come that we do not now foresee,” and it constitutes evidence of his responsibility for her present condition. The letter does indeed say he cannot marry her, but circumstances have changed. Hetty would have had to be both exceptionally stupid and exceptionally inattentive to village conversation about other affairs, not to have realised that she has very strong grounds for insisting that Arthur should marry her. We cannot suppose her not to understand the persuasive force of such a letter supported by her pregnancy. But if we suppose that she does understand, and still makes no use of the letter, we must give her credit for a positive innocence that reflects back on her earlier conduct. We cannot now suppose that what Hetty has wanted all along has been marriage—at any price—with Arthur. All she has done has been for tenderness (of which she has been starved at home); Arthur’s warm and comforting tenderness, without which the marriage and Nottingham lace she has dreamed of hold no attractions for her. When she does decide to go to Arthur, it is for tenderness, not marriage under duress, that she goes. But George Eliot gives Hetty no credit for this innocence; and her comment at the end of the chapter, as Hetty sets off for Stoniton, is unjust: But Hetty’s tears were not for Adam—not for the anguish that would come upon him when he found she was gone from him for ever. They were for the misery of her own lot, and why should they not be so? Hetty’s is the primary misery in the novel; the others are lesser sorrows that derive from it. It is more appropriate for Hetty to weep for her own lot and not Adam’s than for Martin Poyser to weep at his own lot when Hetty is under arrest on a capital charge.
Hetty’s Punishment: Unjustified and Revolting
Hetty’s suffering and anguish is out of all proportion to her guilt. What happens to Hetty is not Nemesis—the punishment of an exceptional, outrageous crime, or of excessive and unnatural pride. According to Walter Allen, “One cannot help revolting against what seems her creator’s vindictiveness towards Hetty. Hetty’s pretty sensuality is beautifully rendered: everyone in the novel who meets her feels it and so does the reader. But for George Eliot it seems to be a bad mark against her, something in itself reprehensible. George Eliot, we learn from her biographers, was perhaps over-conscious of what she construed as her own ugliness and it sometimes appears that in her fiction see had to mortify women beautiful as she herself was not. She could not, one feels, forgive sexual passion. Hetty has to suffer because she has fallen a victim to it herself and arouses it in others. “The drawing of Hetty is neither observation from life nor a true recasting of experience by the imagination; it is a personal fantasy of George Eliot’s. George Eliot was punishing herself and Hetty has to suffer for the “sins” George Eliot had committed, and for which, to her perhaps unconscious dismay, she herself was never punished.”                                                                          —(V.S. Pritchett)
Hetty: Symbolic of Suffering Humanity
In other words, the novelist has been too hard upon poor Hetty. As R.T. Jones puts it, “Hetty is not absolutely innocent, but the consequences of her guilt are so vastly disproportionate to her responsibility that she remains, in our recollection of the novel, as a representative of suffering humanity. ‘No wonder man’s religion has much sorrow in it’, says George Eliot: ‘no wonder he needs a suffering God’. The case of Hetty makes this clear enough, and within the novel she stands as a type of the agony of mankind of which the wayside crucifix (‘an image of a great agony—the agony of the Cross’) is a fittingly reverent reminder.”
A Close Pen-portrait
Dinah Morris, the preacher-woman, is the heroine of the novel, and plays an important role in it. She is a Methodist and, as George Eliot herself tells us, has been drawn after the novelist’s methodist aunt, Elizabeth Evans, who had related to her how she solaced a young unwed mother, who had been convicted of child-murder, in the hours just before her execution. It can be readily seen that it was this real life story that became the kernel of Adam Bede.
A Born Preacher
Dinah became an orphan early in life and was brought up by a Methodist aunt in Snowfield. The aunt had died, and
Mrs. Poyser was now her only relative. From the time she was sixteen, Dinah had been used to teaching children, speaking in class meetings and praying with the sick. Her call to preach came unexpectedly when, at Hetton Deeps, a local preacher was taken ill suddenly.
Her Fascinating Personality
Dinah is a young lady of considerable physical charms. She has a, “small oval face of a uniform transparent whiteness with an egg-like line of cheek and chin, a full but firm mouth, a delicate nostril, and a low, perpendicular brow, surmounted by a rising arch of parting between smooth locks of pale reddish hair. The eyebrows, of the same colour as the hair were perfectly horizontal and firmly pencilled. The eyelashes, though no darker were long and abundant. It was one of those faces that make one think of white flowers with light touches of colour on their pure petals. The grey eyes had no peculiar beauty, beyond that of expression.”
As a Methodist
Dinah is a Methodist of the old type. The novel contrasts Dinah’s Christianity with Mr. Irwine’s, while showing no unbridgeable gap between the two. She shows, perhaps, the Methodism of the time at its best in Dinah, for she differs from the general expectation based on acquaintance with other Methodists—’He knew but two types of Methodists—the ecstatic and the bilious’. Nothing could be less like the ordinary type of the Ranter than Dinah. It shows the relation between Dinah’s Methodism and its origins, when she talks about her early recollection of hearing Wesley preach; and the relation between the Methodism of her time and that of sixty years later. She is not that modern type which reads quarterly reviews and attends in chapels with pillared porticoes; but of a very old-fashioned kind, who believed in present miracles, in instantaneous conversions, in revelations by dreams and visions; they drew lots, and sought for Divine guidance by opening the Bible at hazard; having a literal way of interpreting the Scriptures, which is not at all sanctioned by approved commentators.
As a Preacher
Dinah is introduced to us even before Hetty. In Chapter II, we find her preaching on the village green. The naturalness of her manners is stressed, and readers are left in no doubt that she is perfectly suited to the vocation she has chosen. During the sermon, our attention is drawn to the speaker’s feelings: “She was not preaching as she had heard others preach, but speaking directly from her own emotions, and under the inspiration of her own simple faith. Among those emotions, the one most consistently demonstrated is an intense and loving concern for the people she is addressing; and the belief that this feeling is valuable in itself is what makes it possible for George Eliot to value Dinah’s Methodism although she herself had rejected the historical basis of Christianity.”
Doctrinally, Dinah loves God first, and consequently loves her fellow-men ‘as those for whom my Lord has died’. But in the account of her preaching, we are made aware of a love for humanity that is direct and immediate, rather than merely consequential; so direct as to show itself in physiological effects beyond the control of the will: “Her pale face became paler; the circles under her eyes deepened, as they do when tears half gather without falling! So to love God and to love Humanity are hardly distinguishable—are, perhaps, different ways of expressing the same feeling: and what matters is the quality of the feeling. This is what seems to emerge from the presentation of Dinah; it is a remarkably balanced achievement.”
Her Active and Positive Innocence
Dinah’s innocence, as R.T. Jones points out, takes the form of active and positive devotion to others. She is completely unselfish and lives entirely for others. She is a great comforter, and her heart bleeds at the suffering of others. Her ways are gentle, sweet and sympathetic. That is why, she was much loved by all who knew her—old and young, rich and poor alike. Even Hetty liked her, although Dinah’s attempts to turn her mind to more serious things frightened and annoyed her. Dinah was a great comfort to those in trouble, for she seemed guided to say and to do the right thing. “She was never left to herself, but it was always given her when to keep silence and when to speak.” She was never idle and was capable of cleaning and cooking well enough to please even Lisbeth.
As a Comforter
Her role as a comforter is best seen in the way in which she comforts, soothes and consoles, and ultimately succeeds in persuading Hetty to open out her heart. Says T.R. Jones, “Dinah is impressive when she comforts the afflicted; and the scene in which she prepares Hetty for death is created with a sureness of imagination that shows itself both in Dinah’s approach and in Hetty’s response. When Dinah talks about ‘misery after death’ and ‘a friend to take care of you after death—in that other world’, the theology of hell and salvation is too explicitly present for the words to be taken in a double sense. But they are fully justified, whatever the reader’s beliefs may be, by their effect on Hetty: her gradually increasing willingness to receive comfort from Dinah. And perhaps what produces this effect is not the religious consolation at all, but the tender care that Dinah shows towards the condemned and isolated girl: what opens Hetty’s heart, enables her to talk about the horrors she has suffered and makes her accessible to some kind of comfort, is not the religious doctrine that Dinah offers, but the human affection that Dinah expresses in offering it. Dinah unquestionably has a talent for giving comfort—a talent based on generous sympathy and the using of Christian doctrine as its medium.
Her Faults
These Christian doctrines, the use of Christian myth and Christian theology is quite alright as long as Dinah is contorting others, for they establish a sort of friendly relationship and enable her to speak with authority without failing in humanity. But her methodist language and Christian terminology sound rather incongruous and unnatural when she has to deal with her own private feelings. When Seth makes the marriage proposal to her, she rejects, the offer using Biblical terminology, “I’ve not turned a deaf ear to your words, Seth, for when I saw as your love was given to me, I thought it might be a leading of Providence for me to change my way of life and that we should be fellow helpers; and I spread the matter before the Lord…..And when I’ve opened the Bible for direction, I’ve always lighted on some clear word to tell me where my work lay. I believe what you say, Seth, that you would try to be a help and not a hindrance to my work; but I see that our marriage is not God’s will—He draws my heart another way……“. The religious language comes too easily, and lends a false air of Biblical authority to Dinah’s own wishes. The effect here is unfortunate, and bewilderingly cruel to Seth, “for it seems to shift the responsibility for her decision from herself to another Authority, another Will, almost as if to imply that, left to herself, she would have accepted him. Dinah’s decision has in fact been made precisely by consulting her own feelings, and opening the Bible at random for direction has been merely a self-deceiving confirmation of her own decision. Dinah doesn’t want to marry Seth. One wishes she could have said so, with that admirable simplicity that she so often shows, instead of obscuring the fact in Biblical language.
Similarly, when Adam proposes to her, she still uses the same terminology: ‘Yes, Adam, my heart is drawn strongly towards you; and of my own will, if I had no clear showing to the contrary, I could find my happiness in being near you, and ministering to you continually…..‘ But this comes after, descriptions of her immediate physical reactions: Dinah’s lips became pale, like her cheeks, and she trembled violently under the shock of painful joy. Her hands were cold as death between Adam’s. She could not draw them away, because he held them fast…..tears were trembling in Dinah’s eyes, and they fell before she could answer.
Her Acceptance of Adam
It is a touching scene—we watch the pretty ‘preacher woman’, as she makes in her capacity as preacher the theologically correct observations, while at the same time in her capacity as a woman she makes a biologically sound choice. Adam is the better man to marry: in comparison, Seth has advantages only as a disciple. But here again one wishes the Biblical terms had not come quite so easily; again they suggest something like self-deception. For Dinah’s mode of speech implies allegiance to a Divine authority of a kind that would favour Seth, the harmless contemplative, while her choice in the flesh shows her effective allegiance to something more like the principle of Natural Selection, which prefers the active and materially practical Adam.
“The pretty preacher woman is domesticated at the end. And we to see this as reduction of Dinah’s exceptional destiny to mere commonplace domesticity? It seems to me that we do share some of Seth’s regret that Dinah has to give up preaching; but the final effect of the close of the novel is that Dinah has exchanged an impressive but eccentric role for the higher destiny of full participation in the common lot of humanity.”

Opinion of Critics
The character of Dinah has come in for a good deal of criticism, at the hand of critics. As noted above, her use of Methodist terminology even in her personal relations has been criticised by R.T. Jones, as being artificial and confusing. Another critic regards her too good to be believed. Her fault as a fictional character is that she is the all-English girl as much as Adam is the ‘all-English boy’. She is too good for modern literary taste, always returning good for evil, ‘walking the second mile’, speaking in stilted, semi-Biblical rhetoric, and in general acting like an employee of God instead of like a human being. She, too, begins to show “her human-ness only at the end of the book, and it takes a more humane Adam to awaken her humanity.” Joan Benett too ‘is critical of her and writes, “if the characterization of Dinah partially fails to produce the effect intended, it is not because she is too virtuous but because of the author’s treatment of her subject. It is in part because she intervenes too much, explicitly guiding the reader’s response by her own comments, and it is in part the result of Dinah’s semi-biblical idiom. Doubtless that idiom is a faithful record of the speech of Aunt Samuel and other Methodists, but it is none the less, a self-conscious and irritating mode of speech. When Dinah’s conversation is set beside Lisbeth Bede’s in a scene in which George Eliot’s excellent ear for dialogue probably catches the tune of each with equal fidelity, Lisbeth sounds natural and wins the reader’s sympathy, where as Dinah sounds priggish and stilted.”
A Balanced Estimate
However, we are inclined to agree with Henry James whose estimate of her character is more balanced and sympathetic. He writes, “Dinah Morris is apparently a study from life and it is warm, praise to say, that in spite of the high key in which she is conceived, morally, she retains many of the warm colours of life. But I confess that it is hard to conceive of a woman so exalted by religious fervour remaining so cool-headed and so temperate. There is in Dinah Morris too close an agreement between her distinguished natural disposition and the action of her religious faith. If by nature she had been passionate, rebellious, selfish, I could better understand her actual self-abnegation. I would look upon it as the logical fruit of a profound religious experience. But as she stands, her heart and soul go easily hand in hand. I believe it to be very uncommon for what is called a religious conversion merely to intensify and consecrate pre-existing inclinations. It is usually a change, a wrench, and the new life is apt to be the more sincere as the old one had less in common with it. Dinah Morris bears so many indications of being a reflection of facts well-known to the author—and the phenomena of Methodism appear to be so familiar to her—that I hesitate to do anything but thankfully accept her portrait.”
An Immortal Figure of Fun
Mrs. Poyser, the wife of Martin Poyser, a rough and ready farmer, is among the immortals of literature. Like Shakespeare’s Falstaff she is extremely witty and her verbal resourcefulness, has been a source of surprise and amusement to all readers of Adam Bede. She is a minor character inasmuch as she exercises little influence on the course of action, but the novel owes much of its charm and fascination to her. She pervades the novel and once we have made her acquaintance we never forget her.
Personal Appearance
She is neither old nor shrewish but a, “a good looking woman, not more than eight-and-thirty, of fair complexion and sandy hair, well-shapen, light-footed: the most conspicuous article in her attire was an ample checkered linen apron, which almost covered her skirt; and nothing could be plainer or less noticeable than her cap and gown, for there was no weakness of which she was less tolerant than feminine vanity, and the preference of ornament to utility. Her tongue was not less keen than her eye, and whenever a damsel came within earshot, it seemed to take up an unfinished lecture, as a barrel organ takes up a tune, precisely at the point where it had left off.”
A Good Housewife
Mrs. Poyser was never idle—a good house-wife and organizer, she was famous for the cleanliness of her kitchen and dairy. “Mrs. Poyser’s environment is the farmhouse of the Hall Farm, and it is full of evidence of hard work.” When we first see Mrs. Poyser she is, as we might have expected, busy. She is ironing, but finding time, while the iron cools, to carry the keen glance of her blue-grey eye to dairy and kitchen, to supervise the work of Hetty and Nancy. Her management of the dairy made her interested in the cattle, and her husband often boasted of her discernment in the matter of short horns. Her only weakness was her love for her children. She adored Totty and spoiled her, and could not understand Hetty’s lack of affection for the child.
Her Wit and Wisdom
Mrs. Poyser has been universally admired for her wit and wisdom. In this connection one critic writes, “She has that combination of shrewish remark and homely wit with genuine kindness and racy style which is so attractive in Samuel Weller: Mrs. Poyser, in her way, is as amusing as Mrs. Gamp or
Mrs. Nickleby, and much more sensible. Her wisdom is always coming out, either spoken by herself or quoted by somebody else, or mentioned by the author. On one occasion the author, unable to express herself in her own words, introduces Adam Bede to express the thought in his words, and Adam Bede, finding his own language inadequate, is obliged to fall back upon the expression used by Mrs. Poyser, whom accordingly he quotes: ‘You’re mighty fond of Craig’, says Mrs. Poyser to her husband, ‘speaking of a certain Scottish gardener, but for my part, I think he’s welly-like a cock as thinks the sun’s rose o’ purpose to hear him crow.’ This is the Poyser style, a good pungent style, remarkably effective when it is necessary to scold her husband, to subdue her nieces, or to lash the maids.”
Her Verbal Resourcefulness
Numerous instances of her verbal resourcefulness are scattered all over the novel. Once on a fine afternoon, Molly, the maid, having, finished her after-dinner work asks her permission submissively, if she may sit down to her spinning till milk-time. Says the novelist, as if herself enjoying the outburst, “But this blameless conduct, according to
Mrs. Poyser, shrouded a secret indulgence of unbecoming wishes, which she now dragged forth and held up to Molly’s view with cutting eloquence.” And as for spinning, why, you’ve wasted as much as your wage i’ the flax you’ve spoiled learning to spin. And you’ve a right to feel that, and not to go about as gaping and as thoughtless as if you were beholding to nobody. Comb the wool for the whittaws, indeed. That’s what you’d like to be doing, is it? That’s the way with you—that’s the road you’d all like to go, headlongs to ruin. You’re never easy till you’ve got some sweetheart as is as big a fool as yourself: you think you’ll be finely off when you’re married. I daresay, and have got a three-legged stool to sit on, and never a blanket to cover you, and a bit o’ oat cake for your dinner, as three, children are snatching at. “Poor Molly is non-plused and can do nothing but weep.”
Her Ability to Hold Her Own
Mrs. Poyser thoroughly enjoyed a battle of words and usually came off best, as in her encounters with Bartle Massey and Squire Donnithorne. Mrs. Poyser, once launched into conversation, always sailed along without any awe or fear of the gentry. The confidence she felt in her own powers of exposition was a motive force that overcame all resistance. Thus she was not afraid to tell the Squire what she thought of him and enjoyed “having her say out” for once. While her husband hesitates and is afraid to speak out, Mrs. Poyser is shrewd enough to see through the nefarious scheme of the miserly old Squire and boldly has her say out without any fear of consequences. She dilates at length over the imaginary drawbacks of the Hall Farm and makes herself out to be a martyr who drudges along there, day in and day out with hardly profit enough to make both ends, meet. The readers admire her boldness, her verbal felicity, as well as enjoy the discomfiture of the old Squire. Molly, Nancy and Tim, grinning not far from him, also enjoy it, and so does his groom, who grins behind his back. Even Mr. Poyser is triumphantly amused at her wife’s outburst, despite all his fears of being turned at an early date, “leaving their roots behind”.
Her Skill in Extricating Herself from Difficult Situations
Mrs. Poyser has a Falstaff-like capacity of extricating herself from unpleasant situations, and wriggling out of dilemmas, maybe of her own creation. One example would suffice to bring out the point. Once at dinner time Molly enters the room with her arms full of Jugs, Jars and mugs. Unfortunately, her leg is caught in the apron which has come untied, she slips and falls down with a crash. Mrs. Poyser indulges in one of her usual tirades, and poor Molly gets a sound drubbing. Mrs. Poyser then goes out to the cupboard and takes out another jug. Just then Hetty comes, dressed like Dinah, and looking like an apparition in the dress. Mrs. Poyser is startled and breaks the jug. We would imagine that she would be silenced and non-plused, taking into account the sharp rebuke she has just administered to poor Molly. But there is no beating the immortal Mrs. Poyser. She is able to come triumphant out of the situation with another of her immortal speeches. “Did ever anybody see the like?” she said, with a suddenly-lowered tone, after a moment’s bewildered glance round the room. “The jugs are bewitched, I think. It’s then nasty glazed handles—they slip o’er the finger like a snail.”
“Why, thee’st let thy own ship fly i’ thy face”, said her husband who had now joined in the laugh of the young ones.
“It’s all very fine to look on and grin”, rejoined Mrs. Poyser; “but there’s times when the crockery seems alive, an’ flies out of you hand, like a bird. It’s like the glass, sometimes will crack as it stands. What is to be broke will be broke, for I never dropped a thing I’ my life for want o’ holding it else I should never ha’ kept the crockery all these years as I bought at my own wedding.”
Having silenced her husband and the audience with this witty retort she turns to poor Hetty to administer to her a sharp rebuke and send her back to change her dress. There is no repressing Mrs. Poyser, and no knowing what she will say next.
Her Poetic, Visual Imagination
Mrs. Poyser’s imagination is visual and graphic. It is poetic and similes and metaphors flow out of her as do sparks from a chimney fire. Mrs. Irwine admired Mrs. Poyser, for, as she said to her son, “I like that woman even better than I like her cream-cheeses. She has the spirit of three men, with that pale face of hers: and she says such sharp things too…..her tongue is like a news-set razor. She’s quite original in her talk, too; one of those untaught wits that help to stock a country with proverbs.” A few examples would suffice to bring out her wit and wisdom. She says: “Folks must put wi’ their own kin, as they put up with their noses—it’s their own flesh and blood.” Or, “I am not one o’ those as can see the cat i’ the dairy an’ wonder what she’s come after.” Another time, she says: “The men are mostly so slow, their thoughts overrun them, an’ they can only catch them by the tail. However, I am not denying women are foolish, God Almighty made them to match the men.” She adds, “Some folks tongues are like the clocks as run on striking, not to tell you the time of the day, but because there is summit wrong in their own inside.” All these saying have the ring of a proverb.
Kind and Gentle
Mrs. Poyser is not only ‘sharp of eye’ and ‘sharp of tongue’, she is also good at heart, kind and gentle. Mrs. Poyser is highly regarded; if her tongue’s keen her heart’s tender, as Adam says of her at the end of the novel; her continual nagging is a matter of policy as well as of temperament. “I’ve talked to her for an hour on end”, she says of Dinah, “and scolded her too; for she’s my own sister’s child, and it behoves me to do what I can for her.” Mrs. Poyser’s prayer might well be, “Bid her, therefore, that she help me”, and it would perhaps not be, as selfish as it sounds. It is a strange way of showing affection but she means, well by those she scolds.
Compared with Her Husband
Her kind heartedness is brought out when we compare her reactions to Hetty’s disgrace with those of her husband. Her husband is hard and deserts. Hetty in her hour of need, for says he,” ‘I’m willing to pay any money that is wanted towards trying to bring her off’, said Martin the younger when
Mr. Irwine was gone, while the old grandfather was crying in the opposite chair, “but I’ll not go nigh her, nor ever see her again by my own will. She’s made our bread bitter to us, for all our lives to come……‘ Hetty, meanwhile, we recall, is likely to be hanged. With this in mind, our sympathy with Mr. Poyser is limited when he weeps for his own uprooting: ‘Ah, there’s no staying i’ this country for us now’, said Mr. Poyser, and the hard tears trickled slowly down his round cheeks Mrs. Poyser is much less severe in her judgment than her husband. When old Mr. Martin remarks that they are disgraced for ever, even their children would be taunted for being related to a murderess, Mrs. Poyser stands up for poor Hetty and remarks “It’ll be their own wickedness, then”, said Mrs. Poyser, with a sob in her voice, “But there’s one above ‘ull take care o’ the innocent child, else it’s but little truth they tell us at church. It’ll be harder nor ever to die and leave the little uns, an’ nobody to be a mother to ‘em.” This speaks volumes of the largeness of her heart, and of her kind, generous nature.
Mrs. Poyser may not have much significance as far as the evolution of the plot is concerned, but it is she alone who provides the much needed dramatic relief in the novel. She does much to dispel the tragic gloom and tragic tensions generated by the suffering and anguish of Hetty whose story forms the core of the novel. Mrs. Poyser, with her epigrammatic shrewdness, her untiring energy, her fine pride of respectability, her acerbity of speech and her charity of heart, is one of George Eliot’s finest creations. While other critics are full of admiration for her. Henry James alone is critical of her. He writes, “Mrs. Poyser is too epigrammatic; her wisdom smells of the lamp, I do not mean to say that she is not natural, and that women of her class are not often gifted with her homely fluency, her penetration, and her turn for forcible analogies. But she is too sustained; her morality is too shrill—too much staccato: she too seldom subsides into the commonplace. Yet it cannot be denied that she puts things very happily. Mrs. Poyser has something almost of Yankee shrewdness and angularity.” The last two sentences show that even Henry James has not been able to escape her magic spell.

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sharjeel said...

''Adam bede'' is one of the finest novels in the English language, and one of her best constructed ones . George Eliot frequently tells us what they must think of certain characters , instead of leaving them to from their own judgment . ''Hetty'' is labelled ''sinner'' . She considers Adam and Dainah well night perfect , but the modern reader finds Dainah somewhat colourless and sanctimouious and Adam , at times , a bore .
''Adam Bede'' it is indulged without the least attempt at dicipline . The technique seems to us extremely crude , holding up the narrative and frequently spoling the illusion . The flight between the Adam and Arthur in the bark is melodramatic . The story of seduction , child murder and convection of an innocent girl , is the common stuff of a cheap melodrama .It is the novelist psychological insight alone which raises it above this level .One major blemish in the novel agianst which no excuse or defence is possible , is the melodrama of Hetty,s pardon .
TOO MUCH SPACE IS TAKEN UP IN BUILDING UP THE BACKGROUND . If we had not known these people in their gossiping and small domestic ambitions , We should not sympathise with them so deeply in their stress.
THE BIBLICAL LANGUAGE WHICH DAINAH USES EVEN IN PERSONAL RELATIONS STRIKES THE READERS AS PRIGGISH AND UNNATURAL . Hitherto that idiom is a faithful record of the Aunt Samuel and other Methodists , but it is none the less a self conscious and irritating mode of speech . There is distasteful over carefulness about Dainah,s idiom. The conscious of virtue , hard to distinguish from self sympathy .
Dainah is afraid to accept Adam at first because she thinks that her love of Adam would come in the way of her vocation . She retreates to stoniton to ponder over the matter , and acepts Adam when she meets him at the top of the hill in stoniton .
If the story has ended , as i should have infinitely preferred to see it end , with Hetty,s execution, or even with her reprive , and Adam had been left ti his grief , and Dainah Morris to the enjoyment of that distinguished celibacy for which she was so well suited , then i think Adam might have shared the honours of pre-eminence with his helpless sweetheart .
The marriage of Adam and Dainah . according to GEORGE CREEGER ,is not an anti climax . It is essential, for without it two of the chief characters in the novel ,Adam and Dainah would have remained incomplete human beings, for there can be no fulfilment without love .

There are flaws in rich tapestry of rular life of the time , the farm , the cottage , the workshop , the rectory , the great house. The novel has its faults , but they are minor faults and they in no way detract from the novelist,s skill in construction . It should Be judged in the context of the age in which it was written and not by modern standards .

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