Adam Bede Summary and Analysis
by George Eliot
Book First, Chapters 9-16
Hetty has been extremely flattered by the Captain's attentions. She knows that many men like to look at her including Adam Bede, whom she finds quite manly, She also knows that her father would like her to marry Adam. Although Hetty did not like it when his attentions to her slipped, she is not in love with him-especially because he cannot provide her with any luxuries. She is aware that the Captain went to great trouble to see her, but she does not even conceive of marrying him. She is in awe of him and finds him "as dazzling as an Olympian God."
On the way home, the Captain confesses to the vicar that he finds Hetty attractive, but the vicar responds that the Captain should not give her airs because he therefore will spoil her for an honest man like Adam. The Captain says that Adam would make a better match with Mary Burge, because then he could take over her father's business. The vicar tells the Captain to look at Mary less, because then he will want her less.
At five, Lisbeth comes downstairs with the key to the room where her husband lies dead. She performs small offices for him such as mending his shroud, thinking with a peasant's superstition that he is somehow still conscious before he is buried. She always assumed that she would die before her husband, since she is older, so she buries him under a tree that she has dreamed about being buried under herself.
Seth wants to prepare her a cup of tea, which is a luxury that she seldom allows herself, but Lisbeth laments her husband, saying that she would rather follow him in death than have a cup of tea. Lisbeth gets up to look for Adam, but Seth says that he is asleep in the workshop and that she should not wake him. She goes into the shop just to have a look at him, but Gyp wakes him up by barking. Adam was dreaming about the day's events and adding Hetty into the picture. Lisbeth complains of her fear that Adam will marry, worrying that then she would become useless. Adam does not soothe her by saying that he will not marry, so she follows him around the house. When he goes back upstairs, she cries in the kitchen. Dinah enters, and Lisbeth thinks that she might be an angel, but she sees Dinah's rough hands and realizes that Dinah is a working woman.
When Lisbeth finds out that Dinah is a Methodist, she is worried that Dinah will rejoice in the suffering. Dinah explains that she does not want to make light of Lisbeth's suffering but to help her bear it, and Lisbeth replies that she is welcome to stay for tea. Seth is so happy that Dinah is in the house that he has to reproach himself, because it is almost as if he were rejoicing that his father has died. Dinah remembers that she was very sad when her aunt died, and Lisbeth asks if she is an orphan. Dinah sees that her voice soothes the lady, so she tells her life story. As she does so, she cleans up the kitchen, thinking that a sense of order will help Lisbeth feel better. Lisbeth notes that she cleans well, adding that she would like Dinah for a daughter. She invites Dinah to stay the night so they can talk for a while longer. She agrees to clean her face and make herself tidy.
Dinah wakes up at half past four and goes downstairs quietly, joined by Gyp. Adam has also woken up and gone to the workshop to pick out the wood for his father's coffin. Adam hears a light footstep on the stairs and imagines that it might be Hetty. Dinah greets him, Adam looks at her closely for the first time, and she feels self-conscious under his gaze. Gyp appears friendly to Dinah, and she says that she likes dogs.
Seth and his mother come downstairs, and they have breakfast together as Dinah serves them. Lisbeth says that Dinah has made the porridge well. Dinah says that she can stay for one more night, but after that she has to go back to Snowfield, where the people have harder lives and need her more. Lisbeth asks her sons to make their father's coffin, saying that the noise will not bother her; no one else could make the coffin as well. She says that she wants Adam to make it, not Seth. Dinah says goodbye to Seth, adding that she will be in his house when he gets home from work, but she will have to go home soon after that. He says that he will walk her home, maybe for the last time. Adam says that he cannot blame his brother for loving her, and Seth is relieved that his secret has been found out so that he does not have to tell it. Adam thinks that it is a mystery that strong men like his brother and himself can be made weak by a woman.
Captain Donnithorne resolves to go to Eagledale to fish for a week. His character is such that he gets into predicaments but always resolves to let the burden fall solely on his own shoulders. Eliot writes that he is a "nice" young gentleman, but that one should not question the actions of such men too deeply when, for example, one is rich enough to pay to keep a woman after he has ruined her.
He goes into his stables and notices with irritation that his grandfather does not spend enough on the horses to make them truly splendid. He takes pleasure in seeing his horse, Meg, however, until the stableman informs him that she has been made lame by the kick of another horse. He makes new plans, now to see Gawaine for lunch, so that he will be out of the house when Hetty visits his housekeeper. He changes his mind, however, and dashes back on his horse to see if Hetty is still around. He decides to loll in a tree grove that she will be sure to walk through, reading Dr. Moore's Zeluco.
Hetty comes along the path, they both blush, and the Captain begins to walk with her. He asks her why she is learning mending from his housekeeper, and Hetty replies that she would like to be a lady's maid. The Captain asks if sometimes her gardener comes to walk her back, and Hetty says that she does not like the old man. She begins to cry. The Captain puts his arm around her, and they have a loving moment until she drops her basket. After she retrieves all of the yarn, he says that he should probably let her go and then hurries away, confusing her. He hurries back to the Hermitage, knowing that he is falling in love with her and feeling angry for letting himself see her again. He resolves not to see her again, but then he decides that he must meet her once again, if only to explain his conduct earlier. The Captain dresses for dinner.
Hetty wonders fearfully whether the Captain will meet her again on her way home. The housekeeper notices her beauty and worries for her, thinking that a sensible man would not take her on either as a servant or as a wife. Hetty walks home, delighting in the expectation of meeting the Captain not only because she finds him attractive, but also because of what he could give her in the future. She begins to cry when she thinks that he is not there. When the Captain sees her, he forgets his resolve to behave coldly. He asks her if something has frightened her, and then, before he knows what he is doing, he puts his arms around her and kisses her.
The Captain leaves her quickly, very upset with himself. He thinks that the trees in the grove hold some sort of evil sway over him. He reminds himself that flirting with Hetty is not as uncomplicated as flirting with someone of his own class. The Captain tries to think of a way to regain control over his own actions as he always has done before, and he decides to go confess to the vicar, with whom he has a close relationship.
Lisbeth watches Seth leave with Dinah and then admits that she is sorry to see Dinah go. She wishes that Dinah would marry Seth, although she can see that Dinah does not really care for Seth since she is moving so far away. Adam says that she will fall in love with Seth eventually, and Lisbeth notes that he always sticks up for his brother.
Seth and Dinah part just as Hetty is coming up the lane. Hetty likes Dinah as much as she can like another woman, although she does not understand her. Dinah is always quick to put in a good word for her to her aunt, or to take care of Totty for her. Dinah says that she has enjoyed visiting the Bedes and seeing their good relationship with their mother, noting that Adam has worked hard for his family. Mr. Poyser meets them at the gate. He is a great combination of gentleness in family life and competitiveness as a famer. He asks after the Bedes, and Dinah explains the situation. Mrs. Poyser is trying to get Totty to go to sleep as the older Mr. Martin Poyser looks on, and she scolds the girls for being so late. She tells Hetty that she can eat supper in the pantry, but Hetty says that she is not hungry.
Upon Mrs. Poyser's asking, Dinah says that Lisbeth, although she does not generally like having young women around, got used to her presence quite easily. Hetty says that she will take Totty to bed, but Totty slaps her away. Mrs. Poyser asks Dinah if she can take her, which she does quite easily and without protest from Totty. Hetty is quite unconcerned at this event. Everyone goes to bed, and Mr. Poyser gently scolds Hetty once again, saying that her aunt was worried when she was so late.
Hetty and Dinah sleep in two rooms adjoining each other which have no blinds to shut out the moonlight. Hetty is quite upset with her mirror for having so many spots on it; to get a good view of herself she must press her knees against some uncomfortable brass handles. She lights two candles, takes out a smaller, hand-held mirror, and lets down her hair to brush it. She knows that she is prettier than the other young ladies around, especially the ones who have visited the Chase (the Captain's property). She puts large glass earrings on and throws a shawl around herself, but she feels vexed because her hands are coarse with work.
She imagines that the Captain must want to marry her, because why else would he kiss her in that way? The doctor's assistant married the doctor's niece in secret, and then when everyone found out about it there was no use in being angry. Thus, she imagines that her own marriage must happen in the same way. She is so excited that she gets up in a hurry, and the small mirror crashes to the floor.
Eliot observes that her figure is quite lovable in its innocence, and even though she is not wise, it is plain to see that she will love her children very much because she is almost a child herself. Adam feels this way about her, as does the Captain. Eliot notes that nature is tricky in this way, because it makes us believe that a girl with beautiful, long eyelashes is good, which she may or may not be. Eliot compares Hetty to a rootless plant that would be quite happy to be resettled into a new life and to forget the old one completely. She does not care much for her younger cousins as it is, and she takes no pleasure from tending to the hens, except that she can buy ribbons for herself out of the proceeds. The housemaid, who is quite ugly, possesses a much more maternal nature than Hetty. Mrs. Poyser has noted this cold-heartedness in the beautiful Hetty and feels troubled by it. Hetty is afraid of her aunt, so she always bolts the door when she struts around in this fashion, which is just as well, because someone now taps on her door.
Hetty blows out the candles and throws off the scarf. Dinah knocks again, because she heard something fall in Hetty's room, began thinking about the self-absorption of the girl, and decided that Hetty was in need of guidance. She tries to tell Hetty that if she is ever in need, she can find her cousin Dinah available, but Hetty misunderstands her. She thinks that Dinah is predicting that something bad will happen to her soon, and she begins to cry. Dinah mistakes her tears for a religious reaction and, pleased, she goes back to her room to pray.
The Captain sets out to see the vicar early in the morning, so that he can discuss the affair of Hetty with him over breakfast. He knows that the vicar takes his breakfast alone. He runs into Adam Bede along the way, and he makes Adam very happy by shaking his hand. Adam taught the Captain some carpentry when he was a boy, which made him love the older man very much. He, too, advises Adam to enter into a partnership with Mr. Burge, but Adam makes it clear that he wants nothing to do with Mary Burge. They part ways.
When the Captain arrives at the vicar's house, he finds it harder than he thought it would be to bring up the subject of Hetty. He resolves to do it, however, especially because he performed his last resolution (not to go looking for Hetty in the woods) so poorly. When he turns the conversation to the question of love, the vicar asks him directly if he is infatuated with someone. The Captain denies it, and soon the possibility to talk about Hetty passes; the breakfast is over.
Although the narrator's opinions are not so evident in Chapter Nine, Eliot implicitly endorses some of the precepts of Methodism by showing Hetty's vanity in a negative light. All that she desires are material goods, and she prefers the Captain to Adam not because he is smarter or better-looking, but because he can provide her with these goods. This preference fits with her seeming vapidity in earlier chapters. The reader has not yet seen her interact with Adam, but it is becoming increasingly hard to believe that she is a good match for him.
This chapter also connects the visual sense with attraction in a way that was common in the Victorian period. Sight was considered more of a masculine trait, while touch and smell were considered more feminine. This idea might help explain the vicar's logic in recommending that the Captain avoid looking at the object of his affections.
In Chapter Ten, it is perhaps even more remarkable that Dinah is able to give spiritual guidance to one old lady in her own home than to preach to an entire village, because she now is in a personal setting that can hardly benefit from the stamp of authenticity given by an established audience. It is, therefore, a testament to her character that she is able to gain the trust of the old lady so quickly. This point is especially striking given Lisbeth's immediate mistrust of anyone who is Methodist.
Adam's dream uses the literary device of foreshadowing to indicate a conflict that he believes to be beginning in his life. His dream superimposes the image of Hetty onto his everyday affairs, indicating that he would like to marry her. Yet, she always is quickly followed in his dream by the image of his mother, who seems to disapprove of her. This potential conflict is confirmed in his waking life, when his mother does indeed bemoan the idea that he might get married.
Chapter Eleven foreshadows a number of possible avenues that the novel could follow. Dinah takes on the role of helping Lisbeth quite easily, making the porridge and cleaning the house to her satisfaction. This is in contradiction to the statement that Lisbeth has made on a number of occasions that her happiness and usefulness would be over if one of the boys brought another woman into the house by marrying.
Eliot foreshadows the fact that Dinah could make a peaceful and harmonious addition to the Bede family, but this point raises the question of which Bede brother she might marry. Until this point, a reader could have assumed that Seth and Dinah are the right match because of their shared religion. But Adam seems to affect Dinah in a way that Seth cannot, and he expresses his interest in her, although the narrator claims that beholding her is like looking at moonlight after dreaming about sunlight.
Chapter Twelve gives an unusual amount of depth to the usual tale of the squire seducing the milkmaid. Normally, the squire is careless if not evil, and he normally is aware of the power of his position over the milkmaid and is willing to take advantage of it. In this chapter, however, the fundamentally "nice" young man struggles with his conscience, aware of the fact that he could ruin Hetty's reputation or make her miserable.
Still, his choice of reading while he waits for Hetty on the path is a subtle hint that his resolve to remain virtuous may not win out. Zeluco (1786) is a novel by Dr. John Moore about a rich Italian seducer. Despite his aspiration to have sound morals concerning Hetty, it is more than probable that the Captain will give in to temptation.
In Chapter Thirteen, the Captain has a superstition regarding the fault of his actions--that the fault rests on the attractive grove of woods, rather than on himself. His idea is consistent with that of a spoiled aristocrat in that he looks to place responsibility on others before himself. Yet, superstition is a characteristic that Eliot has specifically identified with the peasantry (she notes that it is the peasant-like part of Adam's personality that causes him to be superstitious, rather than the artisan-like part). In any case, the Captain's lack of control over his actions should be cause for serious concern to Hetty, who is too wrapped up in her dreams of luxury to notice that she could be ruining her reputation.
Eliot's main literary device for describing human nature is the extended metaphor. In Chapter Fourteen, she does not merely write that Hetty is much less intelligent than, or has a hard time comprehending her cousin Hetty, but she figuratively compares them to two different types of birds. "Hetty looked at [Dinah] in much the same way as one might imagine a little perching bird that could only flutter from bough to bough, to look at the swoop of the swallow, or the mounting of the lark." The purpose of this extended metaphor is not only to clarify the difference between the two women, but also to attach their relationship to the descriptions of the British countryside that often serve as preludes to the action in Adam Bede.
The detail at the end of the chapter about Totty's preference for Dinah over Hetty once again shows the superiority of the slightly less traditionally attractive niece. The fact that Hetty does not feel offended by this preference shows her insensitivity. It also shows the extent to which she is preoccupied with her memories of the Captain.
In Chapter Fifteen, Eliot ironically describes Hetty's discomfort in using her old looking glass, writing that "devout worshippers never allow inconveniences to prevent them from performing their religious rites, and Hetty this evening was more bent on her peculiar form of worship than usual." The idea of the female toilette as a pagan, pseudo-religious rite is not unique to Eliot. She perhaps borrowed it from Alexander Pope's mock-epic poem "The Rape of the Lock." Pope's poem describes the assault on a woman's lock of hair as tantamount to a rape, and the poem criticizes as almost irreligious the heroine Belinda's self-absorption.
The dichotomy separating Dinah and Hetty into two opposite poles is reinforced in this chapter. When Dinah enters into Hetty's room, the two are compared as opposites: Hetty has a rosy face, while Dinah's is pale; Hetty wears showy glass earrings and green stays, while Dinah wears a simple white nightdress. The difference between the two girls, however, is heightened to a misunderstanding at the end of this chapter.
In Chapter Sixteen, the Captain has two strong male role models that could keep him on the straight and narrow path in life, but he is impeded from telling either man about Hetty. Adam, on the one hand, is much beloved by the Captain, but the Captain rightly judges that he has iron resolution, so it would be useless for him to seek advice about how to control his own resolution. In addition he knows that, as a young man, Adam may be a rival in the case of Hetty.
Nevertheless, there should be no impediment to his telling the vicar about his predicament. Their relationship is balanced by the fact that the vicar behaves paternally towards him, while acknowledging that he is at the mercy of the younger man because he is richer. The Captain is impeded from telling the vicar about Hetty because, since he has mentioned her on a previous occasion, he is worried that the vicar will think that he is more in love with Hetty than he actually is. Also, he wants the vicar to think well of him, and he seems worried that the vicar might think less of him if he knows about the attraction to the rather silly Hetty.
Adam Bede Essays and Related Content
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- About Adam Bede
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Book First, Chapters 1-8
- Summary and Analysis of Book First, Chapters 9-16
- Summary and Analysis of Book Second
- Summary and Analysis of Book Third
- Summary and Analysis of Book Fourth
- Summary and Analysis of Book Fifth
- Summary and Analysis of Book Sixth
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