Adam Bede Summary and Analysis
by George Eliot
Hetty is terrified at the beginning of her journey, because the coachman jokes with her about the beau whom she is traveling to find, and she assumes that he actually knows about her affairs. She is alarmed further when she finds out how much the trip will actually cost. She tells everyone that she is looking for her brother. She can no longer afford coaches, so she travels on foot, waiting for a cart to give her a lift. She stops to cry, then gets up and walks on. A round-faced man allows her to ride in his cart to Leicester, and a friendly person writes down the names of the stops on the way to Windsor for her. She goes to Stratford-on-Avon instead of Stratford by mistake. She takes a coach to Windsor.
The landlord of a pub sees how forlorn she looks when she alights, so he takes her to his wife, who gives her some supper. After eating, Hetty asks the landlord where she can find the address that Arthur has given her. He says that the house is shut up and that the soldiers have gone to Ireland. Hetty faints away. The landlord's wife says that it is plain what kind of business this is, since she is a pretty, young country girl.
Hetty is too ill for the rest of the day to realize just how bad her predicament is. The next morning she realizes that she is friendless and that all of her money is gone. She yearns to be back at home, where everything is familiar. She decides to try to sell the jewelry that Arthur has given her. But now that all of her money is gone, she cannot bear the thought of going back to Hayslope in shame. She remembers Dinah's offer to help her in case of an emergency, and she decides to consider this option if her renewed plan to commit suicide fails.
She asks the landlord and his wife for help selling her jewelry, and they worry that a jeweler will give her too little, thinking that she has stolen it. They offer to keep the jewels for Hetty, giving her an advance of three guineas. If she does not write to them in two months to get them back, they will sell them. Hetty accepts this "deal," which is to her decided disadvantage.
Hetty returns the way that she came, hoping to find a nice field to commit suicide in. She feels no religious compunction about contemplating this choice. She eventually finds a dark pool and stays overnight contemplating it, but she cannot bring herself to do the deed. She sleeps overnight in a hovel. A farmer wakens her and gives her directions to the nearest village. She makes up her mind to find Dinah.
The ten days after Hetty leaves pass quietly at the farm, but after two weeks, everyone starts to worry. Adam decides to set out on Sunday to find her and to bring her home on Monday. Seth walks with Adam for the first two miles, saying that he will probably be a bachelor and fuss over Adam's children. Adam is so happy with thinking about Hetty that he feels almost reverent. He reaches Snowfield and finds the cottage where Dinah has lodged with an elderly couple. The old woman tells Adam that Dinah has gone on to Leeds. He is even more alarmed when she tells him that she has not seen Hetty.
He inquires where the coach lets off, but nobody has seen Dinah and nothing has happened to the coach. Adam feels agonized by the thought that Dinah has realized that Hetty cannot love him. He wonders if Arthur has perhaps lured her away to Ireland. Adam tracks down the coachman who joked with Hetty, and the coachman tells him about the joke that did not make her laugh. Adam thinks that he will not betray her secret when he goes back to town in case she returns, but he might even follow Arthur to Ireland to see if he lured her there. It never occurs to him that Hetty would travel unbidden to Windsor, knowing as he does that Arthur is not there anymore.
Adam returns home and lets himself into the workshop. Seth comes down and sees his brother looking terrible. He sobs and tells Seth that Hetty has run away. He keeps Hetty's secret, saying that she has probably run away because she could not reconcile herself to the thought of marriage. He goes to tell the Poysers and is relieved to see Mr. Poyser out for a walk as well. He tells her that he cannot figure out what Hetty did after taking the coach to Stoniton. Mr. Poyser apologizes, saying that she is not good enough to marry Adam. He says that she has probably gone after a place as a lady's maid. Adam asks Seth to explain to everyone that he has had to go on a journey quite suddenly, and he sets off to speak to Mr. Irwine.
As he shows Adam in, the butler says that a strange person, who has just left, came for some unknown reason. When Adam sees Mr. Irwine, he looks distressed and has a letter open in front of him. Adam tells him the news about Hetty. When Adam says that he may have some idea about where and to whom Hetty has gone, Mr. Irwine's face looks almost eager. Adam tells him the whole history, as he understands it, between Hetty and Arthur.
Mr. Irwine feels guilty remembering that Arthur seemed to be trying to confess something to him at that breakfast. He regrets that he will have to inflict more sorrow on Adam, but he tells him that Hetty is at Stoniton and has been arrested for the murder of her child. The stranger who just left is the constable who arrested her. Adam says that any wrongdoing must be Arthur's, because he was the one who taught her to deceive. Adam resolves to find Arthur, drag him back, and make him see Hetty in misery. Mr. Irwine urges him to stay to see what can be done for Hetty. They set off together to see her immediately.
Mr. Irwine returns home from Stoniton that night. His butler tells him that the old Squire is dead. Mrs. Irwine rejoices that Arthur is returning, but the vicar can only groan. Adam has taken a room near the prison, convinced that Hetty is innocent. Mr. Irwine thinks that it is a hard fate that he must tell the town about the misdeeds of a boy whom he loves like a son. He tells the Poysers, who feel that it is an irreversible stain on their honor. Mr. Poyser says that he will give whatever money to lawyers that he must, but he refuses to see her again. He adds that they must move towns because of the shame.
They want to send for Dinah, but nobody knows the address of the woman with whom she is staying in Leeds. The family decides to send for Seth, who will certainly know her name. Lisbeth also is wishing for Dinah's presence. Seth tells the Poysers the address to the best of his ability. By nightfall, the whole town knows the news.
Bartle Massey comes to shake Mr. Poyser's hand for a few minutes, then goes to speak to Mr. Irwine about how Adam is doing. The vicar says that things look bad for Hetty, who denies even having had a child in the face of the strong evidence that she has had one. Bartle says that he does not care whether the woman is hanged or not, but he only cares about Adam. Mr. Irwine worries that he will violently confront Arthur. Bartle offers to go look after Adam in Stoniton and will tell Adam's family that he is doing so. On the way out, he tells his female dog that if she does anything disgraceful, he will disown her.
Adam and Bartle share a room in Stoniton, and Adam looks terrible. Mr. Irwine arrives and says that Hetty is still refusing to see anyone. Arthur has still not returned. Although Mr. Irwine warns him against acting rashly, Adam says that he would prefer to commit a crime that he would be punished for rather than to stand by and let Hetty be punished for something. Mr. Irwine says that the punishment for evil has far-reaching consequences, so any evil he does to Arthur will be felt by the whole community. He should not do anything prompted by a feeling of vengeance.
Adam asks if Dinah has come yet, and it seems that she has not. Adam wishes that she would come and speak to Hetty.
Adam hopes that Hetty will consent to see him on the morning of her trial, so that she will give up this seeming hardness towards her jailors. Bartle comes back from the beginning of the trial with nothing decisive to report. He says that Hetty's lawyer is good, which is fitting because he has been paid a lot. There are many well-dressed women in the courtroom who stare at Hetty and whisper.
Hetty did not speak when asked to plead guilty or not guilty, so her counsel pleaded not guilty for her. Mr. Poyser could barely speak when he was called as a witness, and Mr. Irwine tried to take care of him and accompanied him out of the courthouse. Adam asks if anyone has been there with Hetty, and Bartle says no. Adam decides to come back with the schoolmaster to the courthouse.
Adam comes into the court and takes his place beside Hetty. He looks at her and wonders why people say that she is so changed. She looks hardened, but otherwise she is the same person to him. A middle-aged woman is in the witness box. Her name is Sarah Stone, and she keeps a small shop which Hetty mistook for a public house when she came to ask for lodging. Stone took the young woman in for the night anyway. That night, a baby was born, and the woman dressed it in some baby clothes. When Sarah left the house to fetch a friend to look after Hetty, Hetty left with her baby.
Adam imagines that she must have loved her baby because she had taken it; it must have died naturally. Hetty shows no emotion while she speaks, but then she starts when she hears the voice of the next witness, John Olding, a laborer who lives two miles out of Stoniton. He saw Hetty in a field looking pale. After he walked away he heard a strange cry. When he went back to investigate, he found a little baby's hand sticking out. He found the whole dead baby and went to tell the constable. When they went back to the haystack together, they found Hetty there with a big piece of bread on her lap.
Adam concludes that she is guilty. He barely listens to Mr. Irwine's testimony about her good upbringing, with which he tries to get some mercy for her. Mr. Irwine does not try to prove that she is innocent. The jury finds her guilty, and as the judge sentences her to be hanged, she falls into a fainting fit. Adam does not run to her quickly enough to pick her up, and she is carried out of the room.
Arthur is not very grieved at hearing the news of his grandfather's death. He plans to show his tenants what a fine man he is--and Aunt Lydia would continue to live with him until he got married--but that event seems far in the future. He is not worried about Hetty, having received news that Adam is to marry her, which he is quite happy about. He assumed that she had felt less about him than he had for her, and he is slightly worried about seeing her again. He resolves to do as much for Adam as he can.
When he arrives at home, Arthur is not surprised to see all of the servants looking terribly sad. Aunt Lydia is the only person in the house who does not know of Hetty's fate. Arthur goes to his own room and is surprised to see an urgent letter from Mr. Irwine. The minute he reads the news, Arthur hurries to Stoniton.
An elderly gentleman is standing outside the door to the prison when Dinah asks him if she can get in. The man says that he remembers her, and she asks if he is the man who stayed on horseback throughout her preaching in Hayslope. He says that he is and that he is a magistrate who can gain Dinah's access to Hetty. His name is Colonel Townley. He also tells Dinah where Adam is lodging.
Dinah embraces Hetty and says that she has come to her in her trouble. They sit on the straw pallet together, holding hands. Dinah admits that she cannot save her from the death coming on Monday. Dinah says that she will stay with her to the end, and she mentions the presence of God.
Hetty asks Dinah to help her because she cannot feel anything; she has gone hard. Dinah prays to God that Hetty will feel religion. Hetty finally admits to what she did. She says that she buried the baby, hoping that someone would find it, but she came back to the spot because she still heard it crying. She tried to leave the baby so that she could go back to the farm and never tell anyone why she had run away. She wanted to watch to see if anyone would come and find the baby, but she was scared when the man saw her, so she ran away. She heard it crying all night, and when she went back to the place in the morning she did not know whether to be scared or happy to think that she still heard it crying. Hetty asks if God can take away the sound of the crying in the woods. They pray together,
Dinah comes to visit Adam. He thanks her for coming, and Bartle Massey seems transfixed by her face. She says that Hetty wants to ask Adam's forgiveness. It should be done today, since she will be executed tomorrow. Adam says that there is still time for a pardon, but that he will come tomorrow morning if he can find the strength.
Adam and Bartle stay up the whole night. Adam cries that she is being executed on the very day that they were supposed to be married. Adam goes to the cell for a last goodbye, because there is no pardon. After Hetty asks his forgiveness, he sobs that he forgave her long ago. They kiss goodbye. Hetty asks him to tell Arthur that she has tried to forgive him as well. Adam goes back to his room.
The whole town has heard of Dinah Morris, the Methodist woman who got Hetty to confess. Thus, there is as much eagerness among the multitude to see Dinah as to see the condemned woman.
The crowd shouts in a sudden excitement. The rider who appears is Arthur Donnithorne, who is holding in his hand a hard-won release from death.
The next day at evening, prompted by the same memory, both Adam Bede and Arthur Donnithorne walk toward the grove where they had their previous encounter. The old Squire was buried that morning. Adam decided to wind up work with Mr. Burge and move wherever the Poysers chose to move, bound up as they are in a mutual sorrow.
He pauses at the beech that marked the departure into his adulthood, and he thinks for a moment about the Arthur whom he used to love, but who is dead to him now. Adam starts when he sees Arthur, in full mourning, with visible signs of sorrow. Arthur says that he is glad to see Adam and asks him to listen patiently to what he has to say. He says that he is going away to join the army, partially so that no one else will leave Hayslope on his account. Adam severely tells him that no present sacrifice could make up for bygone errors. The Captain begs him to stay, if only because it will incline the Poysers to stay, and Adam is at last moved, thinking that he sees signs of the old Arthur he used to love. Arthur says that if Adam ever did anything that he bitterly repented of in his life, he would understand how hard it is. Adam slowly forgives him, saying that he was too hard on his father and then repented of it when he died. They shake hands.
Arthur then is compelled to make a full confession, and he says that had he known that Adam loved Hetty, he might never have done what he did; it might have saved them all. He feels terrible that he could not get Hetty a full pardon, and he worries that she might die when she is transported. He says that Dinah will stay with her until she leaves, and that he loves Dinah for doing this. He takes off his chain and watch for Adam to give to Dinah, saying that he knows that she has no use for such things, but that he would like to think of her having it. As soon as Adam leaves, Arthur goes to the trash can in the Hermitage and takes out Hetty's pink silk neckerchief.
Anyone reading the novel at the time that it was published would have understood the delicate position of Hetty in traveling alone. As uncommon as it was for unmarried women to travel long distances alone at that time, it was even more scandalous at the time period in which Eliot sets the novel. Young women who traveled unprotected on the road risked the ruin of their reputations, assault, or even being pressed into service as a prostitute by older women who would gain their confidence by giving them some kind of help.
To make matters worse, in Chapter Thirty-Seven, Hetty's sale of her jewelry shows a pitiful combination of basic worldliness and naÃ¯vetÃ©. She has the minimum savvy to realize that her ornaments are of some value, but as an unprotected young girl, she cannot receive their full value because she does not know how to go about selling them. She is glad just to get the bad deal that the landlord offers, because it means that she can avoid going to a shop where a jeweler might ask her uncomfortable, probing questions. Hetty's main concern at this point seems to be to try to get away from people who know anything about her as fast as possible, and she regrets the fact that she has told the landlord the name of the man whom she was looking for.
This anxiety to cover her tracks illustrates that Hetty knows that she is doing something quite dangerous and wrong. It also suggests that she might realize that someone might try to find her by trailing her. Therefore, she tries to leave behind as few clues as possible.
Chapter Thirty-Eight repeats the pattern of crisis that has been established in the novel. The first small crisis was the relationship between Hetty and Arthur. The prelude to its resolution occurred when Adam found out about it. The crisis of Hetty running away is a greater one, however, and it remains to be seen how Adam's knowledge of this situation will help as it did in the other situation.
Adam's guesses about his fiancÃ©e's whereabouts and her possible thoughts reveal once again how little he knows about her. He assumes that she has also heard that Arthur was sent to Ireland. More importantly, he assumes that Hetty would never travel so far without a specific invitation from Arthur. Angrily, Adam assumes that Arthur inveigled away his bride-to-be, an assumption that the reader knows to be far from the truth.
Hetty's offstage infanticide is the crisis point that serves as the crux of the novel. Up to this point, we might have wondered where Hetty could possibly turn after her various disappointments and humiliations. There are very few references to her possibly being pregnant, so the fact will have escaped most readers' attention by Chapter Thirty-Nine. The sudden accusation of infanticide will surprise many. The one concrete reference to her condition is when the landlady's eyes "presently returned to her figure, which in her hurried dressing on her journey she had taken no pains to conceal; moreover, the stranger's eye detects what the familiar unsuspecting eye leaves unnoticed." Read backwards, this is a clear indication that Hetty is pregnant, but in the regular course of the narrative, it could just as easily have been read as her being careless in showing more of her figure than was advisable on her trip.
In Chapter Forty, despite the fact that Methodists have been reviled in the novel for their religion, Dinah is the first person who the people tend to turn to in times of trouble. Part of this choice has to do with the fact that they find Dinah immensely personally appealing, and they know that to gain part or all of her attention, they need only tell her of their great trouble. She enjoys sacrifice, so she sometimes only attends to her neighbors or family if their need is very great.
Bartle's threat to his female dog foreshadows the harsh judgment that will come upon Hetty. Women who committed misdeeds of a sexual nature in that period were utterly ruined, since sexual chastity was the primary source of a woman's honor. No one thinks to reproach Arthur in this situation, because it has been assumed that sexual activity is something for men to pursue and women to defend against.
In Chapter Forty-One, for the first time at this late stage in the novel, Mr. Irwine acts as a spiritual advisor. His advice is sound: to seek revenge is useless and hurtful to the community. Wrongs tend to multiply; he compares wrongs to the air that men share by breathing in and out. Adam's (at least temporary) agreement to do no bodily harm to Arthur demonstrates that he does hold some religious principles, despite the fact that he is not as devout as the Methodists portrayed in the novel. This activity also relieves a plot tension. Given that Hetty's kiss with Arthur ultimately led to her trial, the reader must have also wondered about the results of Adam's initial knocking down of Arthur.
In Chapter Forty-Two, due to the great stress that has been put upon him, Adam is behaving somewhat erratically. He goes to the trouble and expense of moving to Stoniton for the duration of the trial, but until this point he has not even seen or tried to speak to Hetty. It is strange that he has not attended the first portion of the trial, if not to comfort Hetty, at least to sate his curiosity about the proceedings and the question of her guilt.
The effect that Eliot creates by Bartle telling the story of the beginning of the trial heightens the drama. Adam has to pull the information out of him, wanting him to describe the action in minute detail. Bartle believes that it is Adam's duty to come to the courthouse, and he throws out subtle hints in his description of the scene that this is what Adam should do.
In Chapter Forty-Three, the narrative of Hetty's murder of her child is horrifying. This chapter reads almost like a sensationalist news article telling a gruesome tale. Elements of the gothic, which were also used in the chapter about the night before Thias died, are more fully realized in this chapter. Even the wording of the testimony is inclined to make the event sound more gruesome, if possible, than it is. When John Olding says that the first thing that he found when he went back to investigate was a baby hand, the crowd gasps. They, along with the reader, imagine a chopped off, disembodied hand. This is not the case, however, because when Olding continues, it becomes clear that the hand is still attached to the body of the baby, which is partially buried.
Adam's unsuccessful action at the end of the trial epitomizes his relationship with Hetty. Even after Hetty has committed the worst crime imaginable, Adam is willing to stay at her side, supporting her. Still, he cannot control Hetty's desire to do wayward things, and they cannot change the past. Thus, when she falls, she must fall unsupported by Adam-as painful as that may feel to him.
Arthur's optimistic return home in Chapter Forty-Four is another example of Eliot's use of dramatic irony. The reader knows the news that awaits him, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Arthur, by meandering around his house, seems to prolong this process even more. His servants, knowing more than their master, are in a state similar to that of the reader, following Arthur around his home and reminding him that he has letters to read. Arthur looks shocked when he hears the news, but what he plans to do upon reaching Stoniton remains unclear.
The scene of Hetty's confession in Chapter Forty-Five is perhaps the most Gothic in the entire book. The women are in a hostile environment, a prison so damp and dark that they can barely see one another's face. Hetty's experience, like Adam's impressions on the night that his father died, has a supernatural tinge transmitted through noises. It is impossible that Hetty could have heard her buried infant crying from such a distance when she buried it. It is instead the sound of her guilt that creates the crying sound in her ears, Hetty asks God to take from her the sound of the crying; she seems to be literally haunted by her dead child.
Hetty's confession also contains distinct undertones of the moral novels that some of Eliot's predecessors wrote. The confessions of former sinners, often former prostitutes (their language could pass the censors but still be semi-pornographic), constituted a common genre of fiction in the 18th and 19th centuries. They formed a tragic counterpart to the comedies of manners. Through such tales, women learned how to behave or not to behave.
In Chapter Forty-Six, Adam has refused to visit Hetty until he has seen that no pardon is likely to come. Only then does he make his final goodbyes. Hetty seems to be completely dependent on Dinah now, and Hetty can hardly seem to stand without her help. Bartle's approval of Dinah is surprising in that he is a confirmed misogynist, but it is unsurprising in that Eliot portrays Dinah as separate from, and perhaps above, other women.
A crowd gathering to watch the execution of a criminal was a common occurrence in early England. Especially in such a small, rural area, a hanging was an uncommon event. Even in larger towns and cities, it was quite normal to treat a hanging as a social gathering. Women would bring their knitting and often their children, who would watch and learn their lessons. Charles Dickens ironically describes these scenes in London and Paris in A Tale of Two Cities. Here, in Chapter Forty-Seven, the crowd adds drama to the Hollywood moment when Arthur arrives with his pardon, shouting with surprise as he rides up on horseback.
The meeting between Arthur and Adam in Chapter Forty-Eight shows that their fraternal bond is stronger than the love that either of them had for Hetty. Perhaps it is easier for them to make up and shake hands, but for whatever reason, they decide to drop their enmity for one another. The resolution of their argument has an important effect on the community at large, because Arthur proceeds to convince Adam to stay in Hayslope, which has a ripple effect on the others, who have thought that they should move away because Hetty has shamed them.
Adam Bede Essays and Related Content
- Adam Bede: Major Themes
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- Adam Bede: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- George Eliot: Biography
- Adam Bede Summary
- 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
- Religion in Adam Bede
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