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4.0 out of 5 stars A neglected classic?, 12 Sept. 2013
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This review is from: Adam Bede (Kindle Edition)
SPOILER ALERT!

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.
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