Adam Bede by George Eliot

September 9, 2011

Plot summary (from the publisher): Carpenter Adam Bede is in love with the beautiful Hetty Sorrel, but unknown to him, he has a rival, in the local squire’s son Arthur Donnithorne. Hetty is soon attracted by Arthur’s seductive charm and they begin to meet in secret. The relationship is to have tragic consequences that reach far beyond the couple themselves, touching not just Adam Bede, but many others, not least, pious Methodist Preacher Dinah Morris.

A tale of seduction, betrayal, love and deception, the plot of Adam Bede has the quality of an English folk song. Within the setting of Hayslope, a small, rural community, Eliot brilliantly creates a sense of earthy reality, making the landscape itself as vital a presence in the novel as that of her characters themselves.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • The second half of the book was much better than the first. Whereas the first dragged on and on in an attempt to set the scene and familiarize the reader with the characters, the second contained most of the action. I’m just surprised I stuck with it long enough to get to the “good stuff.”
  • I liked that Hetty did not get a happy ending. Getting pregnant was obviously not her fault alone, and I do believe she meant to go back and rescue the baby instead of letting it suffer and die from exposure. But she couldn’t erase that initial act, no matter how much she repented afterward. It’s good that she was spared the death penalty, but it was also fitting that she was transported to the colonies to serve her sentence (where she subsequently died).
  • The teacher (I’ve already forgotten his name) provided a bit of comic relief with his ranting against women. He turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable character in a book mostly devoid of them.

Disliked:

  • It took far too long for Eliot to get her story started. I listened to the audiobook, which was a good thing in this case. If I’d had to read it on my own, I wouldn’t have finished it. That I was stuck listening to it on a long car trip helped me push through to the end.
  • Adam Bede was such a dull, uninteresting character that I have no idea why he merited first billing in this book. He did nothing to arouse any kind of emotion in me whatsoever, so I didn’t care what happened to him or his family.
  • How did Adam and Dinah end up together?? It was pretty convenient of Seth to simply renounce his feelings of love for Dinah so that his brother could have her. And then of course Seth ended up being the perfect bachelor uncle to Adam and Dinah’s children while they all lived together? Whatever.

Rating:
It had been far too long since I’d read a classic, so I decided to jump back in by tackling Adam Bede by George Eliot. This story totally felt like a first novel from an inexperienced writer — which is precisely what it was. No wonder it wasn’t published until after her death. I give the book 2 stars out of 5.

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