Adam Bede, my last major Eliot novel

Hetty Sorrel and Captain Donnithorne in Mrs Poyser's dairyWithout unveiling anything that happens in the course of the book, I will say it becomes a page-turner only about halfway through. Early on, whenever someone asked me what I was reading, the only descriptions I could give made it sound like a simple love story with little else to offer. But it picks up. Once I hit the middle point, I soon read through the rest before anyone else had a chance to ask me about it.

To sum up a moral for the story, it is how one brief bit of carelessness can lead to evils untold, for others and for oneself; consequences that can last far longer than the original act that set them in motion and can endure even to death, and even more. Of course, what does it matter if one is careless, so long as no one finds out? Again, this book demonstrates how great are the repercussions that follow on the smallest revelation—how much more when all things are revealed? Then it will only be those who have no secrets that will be at ease and without shame.

dinah morrisThat may sound a bit moralizing, but it fits the context of the book, where one of the main characters is Dinah Morris, a Methodist preacher lady. This book serves as another reminder to investigate George Eliot’s own religious background. Though she is reputed to be agnostic, the sermon she puts on Dinah’s lips, and even the constant references to the Bible made by other characters, shows off a thorough knowledge of Scripture. As for my hunch that she was familiar with Newman’s thought, she makes an explicit reference to the Tracts for the Times, most of which were written by Newman. That she mentions them without much explanation indicates that they were well known in her day.

The book is also quite funny! There is an old school instructor, never married, who has all sorts of colorful, often ridiculous, things to say about women. At one point, the readers watch him and a matronly character make exchanges on the matter, with the sharpest of wits at each step. In addition to humor, Eliot even gives us some thoughts on humor when she speaks of a certain character’s jokes: “I refrain from recording them here, lest Tom’s wit should prove to be like that of many other bygone jesters eminent in their day—rather of a temporary nature, not dealing with the deeper and more lasting relations of things.”

With Adam Bede, I have now read all of the large novels of George Eliot! If I had to rank them without any explanation, it would be as follows:

  1. Middlemarch
  2. Daniel Deronda
  3. Romola
  4. Mill on the Floss
  5. Felix Holt: The Radical
  6. Adam Bede

Even though some are better than others, they are all excellent novels. One snippet I could recommend from Adam Bede is the entirety of chapter 17, “In Which the Story Pauses a Little”, where George Eliot arranges her thoughts on writing and literature, thoughts which are pertinent for understanding all the rest of her work.

[This is #19 on my classic list.]

One thought on “Adam Bede, my last major Eliot novel

  1. Fantastic! I haven’t read Adam Bede, but will do. I might get a copy just to read chapter 17 first though as that sounds very interesting. I agree with you about her thorough knowledge of the scriptures, I do think she was agnostic but after much contemplation. She seems such a learned person.

    Liked by 1 person

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