Adam Bede, an intelligent young carpenter respected by everyone in the village of Hayslope. He is honored when Arthur Donnithorne, the young heir to Donnithorne Chase, has him put in charge of managing the woods on the estate. Three weeks later, however, he sees Arthur kissing Hetty Sorrel, the young woman Adam loves. Knowing that Arthur will never marry Hetty, Adam becomes angry and fights with Arthur. Arthur leaves to join his regiment, and Hetty, deserted and pregnant, promises to marry Adam. When Hetty runs off, Adam is in despair. He stands by Hetty through her trial for the murder of her child. A man who has judged others—his drunken father, Arthur, and Hetty—harshly, Adam learns tolerance and forgiveness. Later he falls in love with Dinah Morris and marries her.
Dinah Morris, a young Methodist preacher, niece of Mrs. Poyser, a farmer’s wife in Hayslope. A compassionate young woman, she aids those who are ill or in trouble. When not needed by friends or her family in Hayslope, she preaches at Snowfield, a grimy industrial town twenty miles away. Seth Bede, Adam’s younger brother, proposes to her several times, but she says that her religious dedication takes precedence over any private emotion. She sympathizes with Hetty Sorrel and gets Hetty to confess that she had abandoned her illegitimate baby. Dinah later falls in love with Adam Bede and recognizes the claim of private emotions by marrying him.
Captain Arthur Donnithorne
Captain Arthur Donnithorne, the pleasant and impulsive young heir to Donnithorne Chase who tries to forward Adam Bede’s career. Attracted to Hetty Sorrel, he does not intend to marry her. After he learns that she has given birth to and abandoned his baby, he recognizes that his acts can have fateful consequences for other people. In disgrace, he leaves Hayslope, not to return for seven years.
Hester (Hetty) Sorrel
Hester (Hetty) Sorrel, the niece of Mr. Poyser, a dairy farmer. Fond of jewels and petty finery, Hetty is an easy prey for young Donnithorne. When she realizes that he will not marry her, she becomes engaged to Adam Bede; however, in the later stages of her pregnancy, she goes to Windsor to find Donnithorne, only to learn that his regiment has been shipped to Ireland. She then tries to find Dinah Morris, but on the way her baby is born. In confusion, she abandons the child, who is discovered dead. She is tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death, but Donnithorne, just back from Ireland, manages to have her sentence changed to deportation. She dies a few years later while on her way back to Hayslope.
Mrs. Rachel Poyser
Mrs. Rachel Poyser, a bustling and efficient farmer’s wife. Although meddling and talkative, Mrs. Poyser is generous and loyal. She also stands up for her rights and refuses to let old Squire Donnithorne impose a new farming arrangement on her and her husband. She is pleased when her niece Dinah marries Adam Bede.
Martin Poyser, her husband, the owner and manager of prosperous Hall Farm. A genial and understanding man, Poyser is regarded as the leader of the farmers and tradesmen in Hayslope. He is fond of Adam Bede and feels strongly about the deceit practiced by Hetty and Arthur Donnithorne.
Seth Bede, Adam’s younger brother. Although more dreamy, less efficient, and less powerful than Adam, Seth is a fine and generous young man. A Methodist, he is in love with Dinah.
Jonathan Burge, Adam’s employer, the owner of a firm of carpenters and builders. Burge makes Adam his partner.
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Mrs. Lisbeth Bede, the cantankerous yet devoted mother of Adam and Seth. She is strongly partial to Adam and encourages him to marry Dinah Morris.
The Reverend Adolphus Irwine
The Reverend Adolphus Irwine, the rector of Broxton and vicar of Hayslope. He is a genial Anglican clergyman, little interested in doctrine or conversion, who is friendly with both Arthur Donnithorne and Adam Bede. Shocked by Arthur’s desertion of Hetty, he does all he can for her at the trial.
Bartle Massey, the intelligent, misogynous local schoolmaster. He values Adam as his prize pupil and teaches him mathematics in night school.
Matthias Bede, the father of Adam and Seth. Once a skillful carpenter, he has become an indolent drunkard. While drunk, he falls into a creek and drowns.
Squire Donnithorne, Arthur’s aged and parsimonious grandfather, the owner of Donnithorne Chase. He dies just before Hetty’s trial.
Joshua Rann, a shoemaker of Hayslope who also serves as parish clerk and strongly supports the Anglican Church.
Ben Cranage, a carpenter who works in Burge’s firm. An iconoclastic man and a spirited dancer, he is the only villager who prefers Seth to Adam.
Jim Salt, another carpenter who works for Burge.
Mum Taft, a silent carpenter who works for Burge.
Chad Cranage, Ben’s cousin, a blacksmith who is strongly opposed to Methodism.
Bess Cranage, called Chad’s Bess, his daughter, a young woman fond of wearing finery. She is intermittently converted to Methodism.
Bess Salt, called Timothy’s Bess, her cousin, the wife of Jim Salt.
Will Maskery, the Hayslope wheelwright and one of the few local Methodists.
Mr. Casson, the rubicund landlord of the Donnithorne Arms.
Mary Burge, the daughter of Jonathan Burge. The townspeople expect her to marry Adam Bede.
Mrs. Irwine, Mr. Irwine’s attractive and sophisticated mother.
Miss Lydia Donnithorne
Miss Lydia Donnithorne, Arthur’s aunt and the daughter of old Squire Donnithorne. Adam’s insistence on just payment for a screen he made for her causes the old squire to become antagonistic to him.
Sarah Stone, a widow of Stoniton who takes in Hetty Sorrel and helps her when the baby is born.
John Olding, the farm laborer who discovers Hetty’s dead child.
Marty Poyser, the Poysers’ oldest, literal-minded son.
Tommy Poyser, the Poysers’ second son, dependent and fond of his mother.
Charlotte “Totty” Poyser
Charlotte “Totty” Poyser, the Poysers’ spoiled young daughter.
Martin Poyser, Sr.
Martin Poyser, Sr., the old father of Marty Poyser.
Alick, a shepherd on the Poyser farm.
Pym, Arthur Donnithorne’s trusted servant.
Satchell, the Donnithorne steward, who suffers a stroke.
Mrs. Pomfret, a lady’s maid at Donnithorne Chase who teaches Hetty to mend lace.
Mrs. Best, the housekeeper at Donnithorne Chase.
Mr. Craig, a gardener at Donnithorne Chase who is in love with Hetty.
Dolly, the Burge housekeeper.
Miss Kate Irwine
Miss Kate Irwine, the older daughter of Mrs. Irwine.
Miss Anne Irwine
Miss Anne Irwine, her younger sister, frequently subject to headaches.
Lisbeth Bede, the daughter of Dinah and Adam Bede.
Adam Bede, Jr.
Adam Bede, Jr., the son of Dinah and Adam Bede.