Study Guide

Adam Bede

by George Eliot

Adam Bede Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In Adam Bede, Eliot again represents the humor and wit of the lower classes through their rural dialect and idiom, a skill that had captivated readers of “Amos Barton” and helped to establish her as a writer of humor, pathos, and social realism. Where the earlier work had divided such wit between a few characters and the narrator, however, Adam Bede concentrates it in Mrs. Poyser, master of the colorful maxim, and leaves the narrator more distant than in the earlier story. Eliot interrupts the narrative, nevertheless, to instruct the reader in the aesthetic rules of realism. The well-known chapter 17 is often quoted as Eliot’s artistic creed, favoring truthfulness over idealism, exhorting the reader to find beauty in “old women scraping carrots with their work-worn hands” as well as in “a face paled by the celestial light,” and urging the reader to “tolerate, pity, and love” his “more or less ugly, stupid, inconsistent” fellow mortals.

For the germ of her story, Eliot recalled an episode recounted during her youth by her Methodist Aunt Samuel, who had visited in prison a young woman condemned to execution for the murder of her child, and who had wrought from her a penitential confession after the failure of others to do so. The novel goes far beyond the historical event, however, rendering it as art by the detailed fictional creation of Hetty Sorrel as childishly and unconsciously self-engrossed, hardly capable of any moral awareness that her acts...

(The entire section is 613 words.)

Adam Bede Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In the village of Hayslope at the close of the eighteenth century, there lives a young carpenter named Adam Bede. Tall and muscular, Adam is respected by everyone as a good worker and an honest and upright man. Even the young squire, Captain Arthur Donnithorne, knows Adam and likes him, and Adam in turn regards the squire as his best friend.

Adam is, in fact, so good a worker that his employer, Jonathan Burge, the builder, would welcome him as his son-in-law and partner. Adam, however, has no eyes for Mary Burge; his only thoughts are of distractingly pretty Hetty Sorrel, niece of Mrs. Poyser, whose husband, Martin, runs Hall Farm. Hetty, however, cares nothing for Adam. She is interested only in Donnithorne, whom she met one day at her aunt’s dairy.

No one in Hayslope thinks Hetty would make a good wife for Adam, least of all Adam’s mother, Lisbeth, who will disapprove of any girl who threatens to take her favorite son away from her. Her feelings of dependence upon Adam are intensified after her husband, Matthias Bede, drowns in Willow Brook while on his way home from the village inn.

Adam’s brother, Seth, has fallen in love with the young Methodist preacher, Dinah Morris. Dinah is another niece of Mrs. Poyser, as unlike her cousin Hetty as Adam is unlike Seth. Hetty is as soft and helpless as a kitten, but Dinah is firm and serious in all things. One evening, while Dinah and Seth are walking home together from the village green, he proposes marriage. Dinah sadly declines, saying she has dedicated her life to preaching the gospel.

When funeral services for Matthias Bede are held in Hayslope Church on the following Sunday, the thoughts of the congregation are on many events other than the solemn occasion they are attending. Adam’s thoughts of Hetty blend with memories of his father. Hetty’s thoughts are all of Donnithorne, who has promised to make his appearance. She is disappointed, however, for Donnithorne has already departed with his regiment.

When Donnithorne returns on leave, the young squire celebrates his twenty-first birthday with a great feast to which nearly all of Hayslope is invited. Adam is singled out as a special guest to sit at Donnithorne’s table, which makes Adam’s mother both proud and jealous, since her son seems to be getting more and more out of her reach.

One August night, three weeks after the Donnithorne party, Adam is...

(The entire section is 993 words.)