Adam Bede, George Eliot
Adam Bede George Eliot
The following entry presents criticism of Eliot's novel Adam Bede (1859). See also, Felix Holt, the Radical Criticism.
Following the critical and popular success of Scenes of Clerical Life in 1858, George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Ann, or Marian, Evans) published Adam Bede to further acclaim. Having gained recognition for the realistic characters and situations in the three sketches comprising Scenes, Eliot again sought to create complex characters who display a range of traits, neither all good nor all bad. A pastoral novel, Adam Bede is set at the turn of the nineteenth century and presents realistic images of daily life in a quiet rural community. However, within this apparently peaceful, simple country world, Eliot's character-narrator tells a story of unfulfilled love and selfishness resulting in tragedy and hard-won self-awareness. Through the narrator, the middle-class reading audience is encouraged to look upon the novel's lower-class characters with the same sensibility and sensitivity as they would their peers. Rather than expressing superiority or contempt for the rural people in the novel, readers are invited by the narrator to set aside class or economic biases and view the characters in Adam Bede in light of their humanity and goodness.
Discussing Adam Bede in her personal journals, Eliot cautiously confessed that the character of Adam was inspired by her own father's early life, and the character of Dinah was drawn from her Methodist Aunt Samuel. She insisted, however, that the novel was not biographical beyond those initial inspirations. These same journals, along with her published essays and reviews, have led critics to argue that Adam Bede reflects themes in other literary works with which she was familiar, including Milton's Paradise Lost, Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, and the Greek Tragedies, among others. However, according to Eliot, she did not intend Adam Bede as a memoir or even as historical fiction; it was her most earnest intent to write realistic fiction at a time when realism was “out of fashion.” Adam Bede, considered by her contemporaries to display “a touch of genius,” has been overshadowed in twentieth-century criticism by the more mature Middlemarch. Nevertheless, its reputation has remained untarnished and many scholars regard Adam Bede as one of the finest examples of realistic fiction of its time.
Plot and Major Characters
Adam Bede is set in the rural community of Loamshire, England, in the summer of 1799. Adam Bede, the eponymous main character, and his younger brother Seth are employed as carpenters. Seth is well-meaning and generous while Adam, who serves as foreman to the crew of rustics who assist him, is serious and hard-working. Outwardly, Adam is a role model for the community, but inwardly he is plagued by resentment towards his alcoholic father and annoyance with his ever-complaining mother. Seth is a devout Methodist who practices his religion over the objections of both his family and the larger community. He is in love with Dinah Morris, a solemn Methodist preacher who, though demure and feminine, refuses to allow her religious mission to be compromised by her gender. Her quiet confidence attracts significant attention in Loamshire, and, in part, fuels Seth's affection. Meanwhile, Adam hopes one day for the financial security to be able to ask Hetty Sorrel, a distractingly beautiful and childishly self-centered young woman, to be his wife. While Dinah refuses Seth's romantic affections believing her duty is to minister to the unsaved, Hetty is deliberately distant and coquettish, while at the same time encouraging Adam's hopes for an eventual union. Although the two women are entirely different in character and morals, their lives are nevertheless entwined; both are orphaned cousins staying with their relations, the Poysners, a prominent tenant farming family.
Like the Poysners, the entire community operates under the patronage of the elderly landowner, Squire Donnithorne. His grandson Arthur, without an income of his own as long as his grandfather remains alive, looks benevolently upon Loamshire as his birthright. He imagines himself making improvements to the land and gaining the love of all his tenant farmers through his generosity and earnestness. But until he gains his inheritance, he is powerless and becomes bored and frustrated with his grandfather's mismanagement of the land. Seeking distraction, he discovers Hetty. While he is drawn to her beauty, she is equally drawn to his social position and the promise of being rescued from domestic servitude to live as the wife of a wealthy, respected man.
Hetty becomes deluded about the nature of their relationship, and Arthur is torn between his determination to live up to his social position and his desire for the young woman. At a pivotal moment, the couple is caught in an embrace by Adam who, despite his inferior social standing, challenges Arthur over the indiscretion. Adam, heartbroken, loses his faith in his long-time friend Arthur, but becomes more protective of Hetty. Shortly after Adam's discovery, Arthur ends the affair and leaves town, and Hetty turns to Adam for comfort. He takes her back, and joyously plans their life together. However, haunted by her scandalous behavior, Hetty discovers that she is pregnant and, unable to take responsibility for her actions, runs away.
Alone, Hetty gives birth to a child, whom she abandons in the wilderness. Her crime is discovered, and she is sentenced to death for infanticide. Adam refuses to believe she could have committed such a crime, and Hetty herself refuses to confess. Arthur, who left the country immediately following the affair, has not been heard from, and Hetty is left with only the comfort of her cousin Dinah. Arthur returns with a stay of execution just in time to save Hetty from death. Through the course of his love and loss of Hetty, Adam learns sympathy and forgiveness, and thus becomes a better person than he was at the start of the novel. With this change, Adam is rewarded with marriage to Dinah, who gives up her ministry in favor of domestic life.
While Adam Bede centers around the title character's progress from a calloused sense of moral superiority to a state of sympathy and understanding for others, there are several other significant themes. Adam Bede is widely recognized as a pastoral novel dealing with rural farm life and country people. Attention to the everyday details of butter-making, berry-picking, and cattle-herding, far away from the political and economic changes of an industrialized society, lend the story a sense of innocence and peacefulness. However, as England crossed from the eighteenth to nineteenth century, the pastoral peace enveloping the Loamshire countryside is disrupted by Hetty and Arthur's affair. The pastoral setting underscores the transition of English society from relative innocence to experience, leaving Eliot's readers nostalgic for simpler times.
In addition, issues of religion, while not at the forefront of the novel, are nonetheless present. Dinah's evangelical Methodist preaching is set against Reverend Irwine's staid traditional church leadership. In the midst of this doctrinal difference, moral weaknesses abound and neither religious leader is able to save Hetty and Arthur from their lack of moral judgement. While Eliot avoids religious sermonizing, the lack of spiritual intervention on behalf of the lovers demonstrates her greater concern with the state of religion in nineteenth-century England and hints at her own religious dissent.
Eliot's use of realism in the novel is also significant. The realistic portrayal of both her characters and situations is reinforced by her pointed description of Dutch genre painting in Chapter 17 of the novel. Dutch painting was considered a low art form by Eliot's contemporaries, not because the technique was inferior, but because the subject matter failed to conform to the aesthetic ideal of beauty so favored by critics and consumers alike. By embracing this genre of painting, where commoners engaged in common tasks were presented in great detail, Eliot attempted to justify her own representation of “common, coarse people.”
Immediately recognized as a significant literary work, Adam Bede has enjoyed a largely positive critical reputation since its publication. An anonymous review in The Athenaeumin 1859 praised it as a “novel of the highest class,” and The Times called it “a first-rate novel.” Contemporary reviewers, often influenced by nostalgia for the earlier period represented in Bede, enthusiastically praised Eliot's characterizations and realistic representations of rural life. Charles Dickens wrote: “The whole country life that the story is set in, is so real, and so droll and genuine, and yet so selected and polished by art, that I cannot praise it enough to you.” (Hunter, S. 122) In fact, in early criticism, the tragedy of infanticide has often been overlooked in favor of the peaceful idyllic world and familiar personalities Eliot recreated.
Other critics have been less generous. Henry James, among others, resented the narrator's interventions. In particular, Chapter 15 has fared poorly among scholars because of the author's/narrator's moralizing and meddling in an attempt to sway readers' opinions of Hetty and Dinah. Other critics have objected to the resolution of the story. In the final moments, Hetty, about to be executed for infanticide, is saved by her seducer, Arthur Donnithorne. Critics have argued that this deus ex machina ending negates the moral lessons learned by the main characters. Without the eleventh hour reprieve, the suffering of Adam, Arthur, and Hetty would have been more realistically concluded. In addition, some scholars feel that Adam's marriage to Dinah is another instance of the author's/narrator's intrusiveness. These instances have been found to directly conflict with the otherwise realistic images and events of the novel.
“The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined. Translated from the Fourth German Edition.” 3 vols. [translator; as Marian Evans] (essay) 1846
“The Essence of Christianity” [translator; as Marian Evans] (essay) 1854
*Scenes of Clerical Life (novel) 1858
Adam Bede (novel) 1859
“The Lifted Veil” (short story) 1859
The Mill on the Floss (novel) 1860
Silas Marner, the Weaver of Raveloe (novel) 1861
Romola (novel) 1863
Felix Holt, the Radical (novel) 1866
The Spanish Gypsy (poetry) 1868
Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life. 4 vols. (novel) 1871-72
The Legend of Jubal, and Other Poems (poetry) 1874
Daniel Deronda. 4 vols. (novel) 1876
Impressions of Theophrastus Such (essays) 1879
The George Eliot Letters. 9 vols. (letters) 1954-78
Essays of George Eliot (essays) 1963
*All of Eliot's novels were originally published serially in magazines.
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SOURCE: “The Athenaeum, 26 February 1859,” in George Eliot and Her Readers: A Selection of Contemporary Reviews, edited by John Holmstrom and Laurence Lerner, The Bodley Head, 1966, p. 21.
[Originally published in 1859, this early favorable review of Adam Bede recommends the novel for its realism and power.]
Adam Bede is a novel of the highest class. Full of quiet power, without exaggeration and without any strain after effect, it produces a deep impression on the reader, which remains long after the book is closed. It is as though he had made acquaintance with real human beings: the story is not a story, but a true account of a place and people who have really lived; indeed, some of them may even be living yet, though they will be rather old, but that everything happened as here set down we have no doubt in the world. The duty of a critic in the present instance is almost superseded by the reader. Adam Bede is a book to be accepted, not criticized. … It is very seldom we are called on to deal with a book in which there is so little to qualify our praise.
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SOURCE: “Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, April 1859,” in The Critical Response to George Eliot, edited by Karen L. Pangallo, Greenwood Press, 1994, pp. 37-38.
[The following excerpt of a review originally published in 1859 discusses Eliot's portrayal of religion and praises her for her rendering of common working class people.]
The great merit of Adam Bede consists in the singular grace and skill with which the characteristic detail of country life are rendered. To say of such a book that it does not depend for its main attraction on the development of a carefully-constructed plot, is little more than saying that it is a novel of character rather than action. With one great exception, the masters of fiction of our own day—and among these Mr. Eliot has incontestably made good his place—either fail in the constructive power, or will not condescend to write a story. They throw all their force into the delineation of character, and the enunciation of their own favourite philosophy by the actors whom they place upon the stage. This Mr. Eliot has done, and done it admirably. The story itself is simple enough, and the interest of a very quiet order, until the commencement of the third volume, when it is worked up with great power of detail, and becomes even painfully absorbing. The whole account of Hetty Sorrell's night-wandering in the fields is as strong an instance of the author's power...
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SOURCE: “Adam Bede, from The Times,” in A Century of George Eliot Criticism, edited by George Haight, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965, pp. 2-8.
[Originally published in 1859, the following review praises Adam Bede for demonstrating that despite social differences, people are more similar than not, and recommends the author for imbuing her characters with goodness.]
There can be no mistake about Adam Bede. It is a first-rate novel, and its author takes rank at once among the masters of the art. Hitherto known but as the writer of certain tales to which he gave the modest title of Scenes, and which displayed only the buds of what we have here in full blossom, he has produced a work which, after making every allowance for certain crudities of execution, impresses us with a sense of the novelist's maturity of thought and feeling. Very seldom are so much freshness of style and warmth of emotion seen combined with so much solid sense and ripened observation. We have a pleasant feeling of security in either laughing or crying with such a companion. Our laughter shall not be trifling, and our tears shall not be maudlin. We need not fear to yield ourselves entirely to all the enchantments of the wizard whose first article of belief is the truism which very few of us comprehend until it has been knocked into us by years of experience—that we are all alike—that the human...
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SOURCE: “The Westminster Review, October 1876,” in George Eliot and Her Readers: A Selection of Contemporary Reviews, edited by John Holmstrom and Laurence Lerner, The Bodley Head, 1966, pp. 22-23.
[Originally published in 1876, the following excerpt lauds Eliot's characterization of Hetty Sorrel for its artful power and poignance.]
(This review of Daniel Deronda prefaced its unfavourable notice of the book with a leisurely survey of G. E.'s other novels, and selected Hetty Sorrel as one of her masterpieces.) …
The figure of Hetty is like nothing that art had before developed out of nature, and yet it is profoundly true, with a reality in it which makes the heart ache. The very landscape, hitherto so broad and large and calm, changes and intensifies round this being, so tragical in her levity and shallowness. Never was the hapless simpleton, strange mixture of innocence and that self-love which is the root of ill, deserving of her fate, yet not deserving, in her lightness and reckless ignorance, of any such tremendous encounter with destiny and the powers of evil, so wonderfully set forth. In most cases, when a human soul, either in history or fiction, is brought face to face with the darker passions and calamities, it is of a nature lofty enough to cope with and combat them; but George Eliot was the first to thrill the spectator with the sight of a helpless,...
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SOURCE: “Adam Bede and Myth,” in Papers on Language and Literature, Vol. VIII, No. 1, Winter, 1972, pp. 39-52.
[In the following essay, Wiesenfarth looks at the roles Hebrew, Greek, and Christian mythology play in Eliot's presentation of realism in Adam Bede.]
George Eliot told John Blackwood that Adam Bede was filled with “the breath of cows and the scent of hay.”1 She never said a word about its being filled with Adam, Prometheus, and Jesus. Adam Bede, however, is impregnated with allusions to Hebrew, Greek, and Christian mythology. The reviewer of Stahr and Mackay, the translator of Strauss and Spinoza, the disciple of Feuerbach and Müller, the student of Sophocles and Aeschylus is as present in Adam Bede as the house- and dairy-keeper of Griff House, Nuneaton.2 But the fact remains that George Eliot chose to speak of the realism of her work.3 So the question must be: how does myth contribute to realism in the novel?
In Adam Bede George Eliot dramatizes man's physical and moral-emotional condition. She shows life the way it is and suggests the way it should be so that it actually can become better. Her art blends a realism of presentation (breath of cows and scent of hay) with a realism of assessment (the human need for fellow-feeling).4 In a phrase, George Eliot creates a meliorist realism in...
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SOURCE: “Adam Bede as a Pastoral,” in Genre, Vol. IX, No. 1, Spring, 1976, pp. 59-72.
[In the following essay, Marotta outlines the characteristics of a pastoral, and discusses the limitations of analyzing the pastoral elements in Adam Bede.]
Many critics have attempted to account for the pastoral element in Adam Bede, with varying success. These discussions of the novel as a pastoral are of two kinds, which correspond to two ways of defining the genre. The first, which I will call the “simple” definition, offers a list of pastoral items (the theme of retreat and return, the depiction of a locus amoenus, etc.). The author of the pastoral either presents the items in order to identify the genre to which they contribute, or employs the genre in order to present the items; in both cases, the genre is its own justification, and the motive for its use can be pursued no farther than the author's nostalgic delight in the pastoral world. What I will call the “allegorical” definition, on the other hand, begins with a meaning, a purpose which the pastoral subserves. Here, pastoral is one particular kind of allegory, a kind that, in Empson's broad definition, puts the complex into the simple. These different definitions can be seen to arise from the problematic nature of the genre: they can be easily translated as the Nature and Art of Renaissance pastoral debate, such as that...
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SOURCE: “Arthur's Misuse of the Imagination: Sentimental Benevolence and Wordsworthian Realism in Adam Bede,” in English Studies in Canada, Vol. IV, No. 1, Spring, 1978, pp. 41-59.
[In the following essay, Harris examines Arthur's class consciousness and the psychology of his seduction of Hetty as they are revealed through Eliot's use of Wordsworthian realism.]
Because Adam Bede is “a country story—full of the breath of cows and the scent of hay,”1 it seems to invite oversimplified interpretations. Critics assume that George Eliot's first novel lacks the complexity of her later work, or at least that any complexity it possesses must be in conflict with its pastoral elements. Part of the problem in getting a clear perspective on this novel arises from a tendency to concentrate critical attention on the rather idealized Adam and Dinah as representatives of the author's values, while passing over Arthur, who does not belong to the pastoral community and whose affair with a tenant farmer's niece almost destroys it, as a rather ordinary seducer treated with conventional Victorian moralism. In a recent book on George Eliot, Neil Roberts expresses a widely-held view of the novel when he says that it presents a “static moral drama” enacted in an “absence of social and historical analysis” because Arthur's sin is only “a matter of private morality” unrelated to his...
(The entire section is 9575 words.)
SOURCE: “Aristotle and George Eliot: Hamartia in Adam Bede,” in Hamartia: The Concept of Error in the Western Tradition, edited by Donald V. Stump, James A. Arieti, Lloyd Gerson, and Eleonore Stump, The Edwin Mellen Press, 1983, pp. 267-80.
[In the following essay, Holtze examines Aristotelian tragic influences in Adam Bede and the errors or “hamartia” committed by Adam, Arthur, and Hetty.]
In 1855 George Eliot wrote a review entitled “The Morality of Wilhelm Meister” in which she concludes:
... the tragedian may take for his subject the most hideous passions if they serve as the background for some divine deed of tenderness or heroism, and so the novelist may place before us every aspect of human life where there is some trait of love, or endurance, or helplessness to call forth our best sympathies.1
Eliot was defending the morality of Goethe's work at a time before she herself became a novelist. When she began to write fiction two years later, her work reflected some of the ideas suggested in the earlier review: that the proper subject matter for novels is all human life, the common as well as the noble; that the novel can, and should, teach moral lessons; and that there is a kinship between the genres of novel and tragedy.
The last idea is perhaps the most striking....
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SOURCE: “Infanticide and Respectability: Hetty Sorrel as Abandoned Child in Adam Bede,” in English Studies in Canada, Vol. IX, No. 2, June, 1983, pp. 177-96.
[In the following essay, Harris examines the character of Hetty Sorrel and her place in the larger narrative of Adam Bede, and discusses the realism of her despair and flight.]
Adam Bede has usually been enjoyed and interpreted as a celebration of pastoral community, a loving backward look at a long-vanished rural world. Yet much of this novel's interest, especially for the modern reader, lies in its combination of nostalgic retrospect with “modern” problems not usually found in a pastoral. In particular, Hetty Sorrel's unwed pregnancy, desperate flight, abandonment of her child, and trial for its murder, seems to many readers the most striking episode in the novel. Eliot's vivid depiction of Hetty's flight has attracted some excellent criticism: both Barbara Hardy and Ian Adam analyze the remarkable way in which the narrator merges with Hetty's consciousness to bring us the immediate experience of a confused and inarticulate character.1
Our admiration for Eliot's achievement here, however, has tended to raise questions about Hetty's relation to the novel as a whole. The modern reader is likely to be put off by an apparent harshness in Eliot's commentary on Hetty throughout much of the novel—a...
(The entire section is 10261 words.)
SOURCE: “Delicate Beauty Goes Out: Adam Bede's Transgressive Heroines,” in The Kenyon Review, n.s. Vol. IX, No. 3, Summer, 1987, pp. 84-96.
[In the following essay, Lefkovitz examines the differing qualities of beauty and health that Eliot applies to Hetty and Dinah, and discusses the code of delicacy that these images represent.]
The language in which George Eliot describes her heroines' beauty in Adam Bede records a transition in nineteenth-century values. Here, Eliot's physical descriptions facilitate the delicate heroine's going out in two senses of the phrase: going safely out into the market place and going out of fashion. Through her descriptions, Eliot not only frees the delicate heroine to go out without subjecting her to risks that the delicate heroine typically faces, risks of rape or death, but Eliot also attempts to reconcile competing and mutually exclusive styles of beauty by creating healthy delicacy, a beauty that is both spiritual and sexual. She does so by appealing to and undermining literature's codes of delicacy.
Eliot revises the connotations of delicate beauty by doubling and exchanging the Poysers' beautiful nieces for one another, as Hetty Sorrel and Dinah Morris displace one another, not only in the novel's economy and structure of desire but also as meaningful figures of beauty. Eliot changes the tradition of the delicate heroine by...
(The entire section is 6581 words.)
SOURCE: “Self-Disorder and Aggression in Adam Bede: A Kohutian Analysis,” in Mosaic, Vol. 22, No. 4, Fall, 1989, pp. 59-70.
[In the following essay, Johnstone uses Heinz Kohut's psychoanalytic notion of “self-psychology” to discuss the failure of Adam Bede, and demonstrates Eliot's failure to recognize her characters' aggressive behavior as reflective of her own unresolved conflicts.]
Although George Eliot's novels seem to be designed to portray her protagonists' growth from egoism and self-delusion toward self-knowledge and a capacity for empathy, critics have long noted tendencies that undermine this concern. F. R. Leavis, for example, draws attention to a “distinctive moral preoccupation” (28) which, as Barbara Hardy suggests, leads Eliot to idealize certain “charmless” characters in order to provide her readers with a “moral example” (39). Eliot has also been criticized for lack of distance, or as Leavis expresses it, “the direct (and sometimes embarrassing) presence of the author's own personal need” (32). Eliot's moralism and want of objectivity are factors in the ongoing debates concerning the endings of some of her novels, with critics of various schools attempting explanations for the dissatisfaction that so many readers feel.
Especially problematic in this respect is Adam Bede, Eliot's nineteenth-century reinterpretation of the...
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SOURCE: “Gyp's Tale: On Sympathy, Silence, and Realism in Adam Bede,” in Dickens Studies Annual, Vol. 20, 1991, pp. 227-42.
[In the following essay, Adams examines the limits of the human ability to express emotion through language in Adam Bede.]
In Chapter 21 of Adam Bede, the narrator remarks upon the quiet “drama” of three laborers learning to read: “It was almost as if three rough animals were making humble efforts to learn how they might become human” (281). Commentators on Eliot's novel frequently single out this evocation of an obscure struggle against mystery and dispossession: it has “unmistakably the quality of an allegorical panel,” as one critic remarks.1 But a tribute to the humanizing power of literacy is curiously discordant in a work which so strenuously insists on the inadequacies of formal education. Adam, after all, is not made any more human by his literacy: that hopeful view is gently parodied in Bartle Massey's lament that the catastrophe “might never have happened,” if Adam, “poor fellow,” had “gone into the higher branches” of mathematics (463). Moral education—that which makes one truly human—rests instead on the “lesson” of sympathy, which is transacted in a very different language, under the silent, often inchoate tutelage of suffering. “That is a long and hard lesson,” the narrator remarks after Thias Bede's...
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SOURCE: “Dutch Painting and the Simple Truth in Adam Bede,” in Studies in the Novel, Vol. XXIV, No. 4, Winter, 1992, pp. 366-80.
[In the following essay, Gunn examines Eliot's discussion of Dutch genre painting and its relationship to realism in Adam Bede.]
When George Eliot compared her fiction to the work of Dutch genre painters in chapter 17 of Adam Bede, admiring the “rare, precious quality of truthfulness” in these “Dutch paintings, which lofty-minded people despise” (1:268), she did more than simply announce her intentions as a realist writer.1 She also marked off a conventional space for “common coarse people” (1:270) in her novel, using a conspicuous visual precedent to define and imagine the rural artisans and tenant farmers she had chosen to represent. The Dutch painting analogy begins as a gloss on the Reverend Irwine's moral weakness, but it quickly opens into an apology for the presence of characters whose class would traditionally have excluded them from serious treatment in art—“old women scraping carrots with their work-worn hands,” for example, or “your common labourer, who gets his own bread and eats it vulgarly but creditably with his own pocket-knife” (1:270, 271). In this essay, I want to examine Eliot's references to Dutch art from the perspective of these figures, concentrating on the relation between aesthetic and ideological...
(The entire section is 7636 words.)
SOURCE: “Adam Bede: History, Narrative, Culture,” in Victorians Institute Journal, Vol. 22, 1994, pp. 55-83.
[In the following essay, McLaughlin examines the historical and ideological foundations of the English middle class, and identifies Eliot's Adam Bede as a narrative attempt to normalize and legitimize this growing segment of the population.]
Late in October 1857, Engels wrote to Marx about the economic crisis then developing in England. Engels, who had predicted “a dies irae like no other,” now thought the times propitious: “Nous avons maintenant de la chance,” he wrote (Marx and Engels 197). Marx agreed that luck was on their side and he wrote that he could do little else besides work on what would become the Grundrisse and keep records of the present crisis. Over the next several months the crisis steadily developed into “one of the worst depressions of the nineteenth century” (Hughes, Fluctuations 30) and seemed to portend a worldwide economic collapse. Though Marx and Engels looked on expectantly, other middle-class intellectuals were less concerned with revolution—England's survival of 1848 had largely allayed that fear—than they were with a society paralyzed by working-class discontent with middle-class leadership. Out of the famines, depressions, labor unrest, and threat of revolution in the earlier decades, mid-Victorian England...
(The entire section is 9415 words.)
SOURCE: “Women or Boys? Gender, Realism, and the Gaze in Adam Bede,” in Women's Writing, Vol. 3, No. 2, June, 1996, pp. 113-27.
[In the following essay, Levine analyzes the importance of the gaze as it questions the relationship between looking and loving in Adam Bede..]
In the past two decades, critics from Laura Mulvey to Mary Louise Pratt have concerned themselves with the politics of looking.1 They have compelled us to recognize that vision is not passive, but active—even constitutive. The world is not simply given to sight: it is shaped through the interested eyes of the tourist, the artist, the colonizer, the ordinary man—and yes, it may well be a man—on the street. Suddenly we find that it is crucial to consider who is looking, and how; who is seen, and for what reasons.
Looking, in Adam Bede, is an activity which reappears with startling persistence. From the anonymous stranger in the opening pages of the novel, whose only role is to gaze, to the famous treatise on realism, with its focus on visual art, we are repeatedly confronted with the surprisingly conspicuous act of seeing. And this is no accident: vision, Eliot tells us, is an integral element of an ethical education. She illustrates this point with her memorable example of Dutch painting, which offers us visual images of the homely and the ordinary, and thus invites us to...
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Adam, Ian. “The Structure of Realisms in Adam Bede.” In Nineteenth Century Fiction 30, No. 2 (September 1975): 127-49.
Looks at how the level of accuracy with which commonplace subject matter is presented has structural significance to Adam Bede.
Adams, Kimberly VanEsveld. “Feminine Godhead, Feminist Symbol: The Madonna in George Eliot, Ludwig Feuerbach, Anna Jameson, and Margaret Fuller.” In Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 12, No. 1 (Spring 1996): 41-70.
Argues that by placing Adam in the role of Christ figure and Dinah as the Madonna, Adam Bede becomes a representation of the Godhead's female qualities; through this configuration of the female earthly ideal, the Madonna figure becomes a means to criticize social oppression of women.
Anderson, Roland F. “George Eliot Provoked: John Blackwood and Chapter Seventeen of Adam Bede.” In Modern Philology 71, No. 1 (August 1973): 39-47.
Examines Eliot's disagreement with publisher John Blackwood as the real-life impetus for her discussion of artistic realism and Dutch painting.
Brown, Monika. “Dutch Painters and British Novel-Readers: Adam Bede in the Context of Victorian Cultural Literacy.” In Victorians Institute Journal 18 (1990): 113-33.
(The entire section is 837 words.)