on 25 September 2009
This is a lovely, beautifully crafted book. George Eliot may (as the negative reviewer says) have rejected her low church upbringing. But her remaining affection for its principles and for the people of her childhood (Adam is modelled on her father and the Poyser's farm is a place where she lived as a child) shine through and create what I find to be her warmest and most enagaging book. It is not a book to be taken at a rush - its pace is the pace of the Victorian countryside. Adopting that pace, like the stranger who is introduced with us to Dinah at the preaching, one can see the countryside and the people as clearly as if they were in front of us, and the sense of relationship between all the characters then compels our interest throughout. It also offers from the mouth of Mrs Poyser some of the most enjoyable bon mots in fiction - though some of them (for example "folks mmust put up with their kin, as they put up with their own noses") don't necessarily reflect the modern world! Finally it is ultimately a book about kindness and the light which kindness shines around it, and reminds us that "when death, the great reconciler, has come, it is never our tenderness that we repent of, but our severity". I always think when I read this, how much more pleasant a place the world would be if we all carried this saying with us every day.
If you've read Middlemarch and/or Daniel Deronda, this is a very different George Eliot. More akin to The Mill on the Floss, it tells a story of rural tragedy which might have influenced Hardy, particularly in Tess.
Taking in Eliot's concerns about class, gender and education, this is a moving book that both depicts a lost world and yet involves subjects which still concern us today: a girl's choice between the exciting and staid lover, and the consequences of unthinking sex.
This is the story of two brothers Adam and Seth Bede but really more about the former than the latter.
Adam and Seth Bede are both carpenters and Adam is a true master of his trade and can turn his hand to anything. He is loved by all for his honesty, lack of guile and for his hard work.
Adam falls in love with an empty headed but pretty young girl called Hetty who is the niece of a local Farmer. She however has fallen in love with the grandson of the local Squire.
Things take their course and eventually Adam catches them together and forces Arthur the young Squire to give her up, which he does but it is too late for poor Hetty. She eventually accepts Adam's hand in marriage but days before they are to be married she disappears. I won't say too much here because it would be a spoiler.
Also in their lives is a young Methodist preacher by the name of Dinah. Seth is in love with her but his love is not reciprocated so he settles for her just being his friend.
There is a lot of the 'vernacular' used in the book particularly by Seth and Adam's Mother which is a bit difficult to work out but persist dear reader and you will work it out.
This is George Eliot's first book and is every bit as good as 'her' later works if not better in some cases.
Really it is a story of unrequited love, death, dishonour and a young girl who has had her head turned to her ultimate destruction.
A brilliant read and very highly recommended.
on 13 January 2000
Why hasn't anyone written a review for this book? Is it because it's a classic, and therefore one cannot praise it more? I thought it was wonderful. The story of the honest, upright and faithful Adam Bede and his quiet life beautifully unfolds, with deliciously scripted detail. One of the most remarkable things about the book is the that the delightful description does not prevent tension and drama from unfolding, but adds to the suspense of the various situations Adam finds himself in.
on 12 September 2013
Having been a George Eliot fan for many years ('Middlemarch' is my favourite novel of all time) I have been far too long getting round to reading 'Adam Bede'. I'm not sure whether this is a neglected classic or simply neglected by me, though I have noticed there seem to be few TV or film adaptations, perhaps an indication of the book's relative obscurity.
It certainly deserves to be better known and more often read. Though not without faults (it was, after all, Ms Eliot's first novel) it is for the most part rich in its descriptions, absorbing in its plot, and generally strong in its characterisation. It is a slight pity that the 'saints' (Adam Bede and Dinah Morris) are not so imaginatively drawn as the 'sinners' (Arthur Donnithorne and especially Hetty Sorrel) and therefore interest us less, but the same could be said of many undisputed classics - Tess of the D'Urbevilles, for example, featuring the insipid Angel Clare.
In fact there are a number of strong parallels between this novel and 'Tess' which make me wonder if Hardy used George Eliot's work as a model for his own. Hetty, like Tess, is a pretty girl of the country labouring classes, seduced and left pregnant by a member of the local gentry. Both babies die in infancy. Both women are arrested, tried and committed to hang, though in Hetty's case there is a rather contrived 'deus ex machina' reprieve brought by her repentant seducer. Both novels are set in rural England and both present a large supporting cast of colourful countryfolk who provide vernacular comic relief. Both are moralistic works of their time, though Hardy's characteristic pessimism about the human lot runs counter to the early George Eliot's optimistic, overtly Christian outlook.
I am not claiming for 'Adam Bede' superior provenance over 'Tess of the D'Urbevilles', much less as high a place in the unofficial league table of English literature, but I would hope readers will be stimulated by this review among others favourable to the novel and not wait as long as I did to read it.
on 10 February 2011
"Adam Bede", "The Mill on the Floss" and "Silas Marner" in these very cheap PB editions are beautifully produced in clear print: excellent value. I would urge those new to George Eliot to read with patience: these novels take a long time to get going but gradually and steadily increase pace. The introductions are excellent too: but I would advise readers to read the introductions after the novels! DSJP
on 22 March 2010
My review does not concern the narrative or structure of the story (which I will leave to others to review), but rather the physical book itself. If you are looking to build a library that will last a lifetime and not break the bank, then I highly recommend the Everyman's Library series. Each book is nicely bound and printed on high quality paper. The only drawback is that if you are purchasing the book for school or academic study, then bear in mind that the book has very few notes. If you need to refer to notes, then I suggest you buy the Penguin Classics paperback version which has an extensive notes section.
Adam Bede is the third book by George Eliot I have read, and I am big fan of her work. I enjoyed this, but it is her first length novel and it shows. I read Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch previously and absolutely loved them, both are truly great literature. It is really an unfair comparison, but Adam Bede doesn't live up to the highest standard set up in those books.
Saying that, there was much here to enjoy. The plot was admittedly slow to get going, very slow in fact and I came close to putting the book down a couple of times, but I am so glad I didn't. This seems to be a feature of Eliot's work, but the pay off for persisting is great. Once the plot kicked in it was gripping, and a brave direction to take given the time it was written. Then there are the characters. At first I found Adam himself a bit insipid and goody-goody, but by the end he was a much better rounded out character and I found myself more drawn to him. Dinah, Hetty, the Poysers, Mr Irwine, Bartle Massey - the list of interesting and very human characters goes on. The two I found myself most drawn to, though, were Seth and Arthur. I found Seth more appealing than his brother Adam - he just seemed more composed, dignified and charitable, despite being very put upon. Arthur is the scoundrel of the book and yet I really liked him. Eliot described his thoughts and feelings as if she had climbed inside his head, and hence all of his actions seemed so understandable, no matter how regrettable.
The book is a charming depiction of a rural way of life we have now lost forever, a time when life was simpler and slower, yet the nature of human beings means it was no less dramatic. There are beautiful descriptions of farm and parish life. At times this gets a bit repetitive. After all, there are only so many times you can read a description of country scenery without starting to get a little bored. However, the standard of Eliot's prose is so high that this more than makes up for issues of this kind. She writes with such an easy yet intelligent pen, and doesn't treat her readers as simpletons but credits them with an understanding of the world, history, religion and so on which is greatly underrated in literature. It is the story and structure of this novel, rather than the writing, which are weaker than some of her better known work in my opinion.
So what did I not like? Well, as I said before I didn't warm to Adam till much nearer the end of the book, and when a character is so central then it can make a book harder work. The book was also dominated, particularly in the early stages, by an exploration of Methodism, which is really not to modern tastes. I myself am religious, but even given this I found some of this a little dry. Whilst it was beautifully written, I wasn't sure what Dinah's sermon in the first chapters really added to the book. I do feel it is important that we have an understanding of religion, its origins and its importance in society, but at times I felt it was a little naively handled here. It was almost like Eliot had decided she wanted to explore this "theme" and in her desire to do so did it a little too overtly.
As I have said earlier, the book was a slow starter and this does detract from the enjoyment in reading it somewhat. In the early chapters there is a lot of local dialect and "peasant" language used which I personally found quite hard to read. As the book progressed this became less of a problem, almost like Eliot found her style and tonal balance more as she went on, and I also "found the voice" in which such words were spoken and it became easier to read once I got used to it in this way.
However, overall I would still say that Adam Bede is a fine and important book and deserves its classic status. Eliot is always worth reading, though if you are new to her work I would suggest starting with the Mill on the Floss before reading this, as it is a better example of her work and style. Would I read it again? Yes, and I reckon I would get more out of it next time around. That is usually a good testament to a book's quality in my view.
on 2 January 2012
I always imagined this would be hard going, but eventually tried a copy I found in paperback. What a story! So much easier to read than Middlemarch, which I intend to try again now. I loved the description of the early Methodists and women preachers, too. Glad to have a chance to download a kindle version free.
Although this is a wholehearted 5 star review I do caution anyone new to George Eliot that I didn't find it as good as the Mill on the Floss or Middlemarch.
Set in 1799 (60 years before it was published) it is less a story than a detailed portrait of village life. The dialogue of the working people is exquisite (especially in the audible version read by Georgina Sutton). She captures their language so well it becomes apparent that what could be mistaken for windy, ungrammatical, uneducated speech is actually beautifully eloquent. George Eliot does not poke fun at the simple folk yet she reveals their ways with a subtle wit that brings the novel to life.
The novel is built on dialogue and analysis, these two ingredients accounting for perhaps 90-95% of the text, leaving little room for narrative. She explains her characters' motivations in almost scientific detail and does not shrink from offering opinions, even describing someone as a "good man" (which EM Forster in Aspects of the Novel described as a cardinal sin of writing). At one point she ceases the story for several pages and addresses the reader as though in conversation, discussing openly how the reader may react and offering explanations and corrections. The tone often feels preachy. Even allowing for the taste of the day, when author's voices were much more intrusive than they are now, there can be few books in the whole of English literature in which it intrudes so boldly and frequently. Where most writers could not perhaps get away with this, George Eliot has the advantage that her theories are consistently intelligent, her opinions pithy and wise.
She must rank as one of the finest crafters of English prose who ever lived. Her sentences often run to many lines without ever becoming awkward, contrived or difficult to read.