Book Club Review: Adam Bede

adam bedeTitle: Adam Bede
Author: George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)
Genre: Classics
Publisher: William Blackwood & Sons
Publication Date: 1859
Pages: 624
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Library Hoopla app
Date finished reading: October 2, 2019

Goodreads Description: Adam Bede, the first novel written by George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Ann Evans), was published in 1859. It was published pseudonymously, even though Evans was a well-published and highly respected scholar of her time.
The story’s plot follows four characters’ rural lives in the fictional community of Hayslope—a rural, pastoral and close-knit community in 1799. The novel revolves around a love triangle between beautiful but self-absorbed Hetty Sorrel, Captain Arthur Donnithorne, the young squire who seduces her, Adam Bede, her unacknowledged suitor, and Dinah Morris, Hetty’s cousin, a fervent, virtuous and beautiful Methodist lay preacher.

My Review: Adam Bede was elected as our October read for the Classics book club that I participate in. This was my first time reading anything by George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans). I did like her writing. However, this story did not grip me at all. While the descriptions were beautiful at the beginning, and I could truly picture what this rural area and life there was like, it was slow moving for the first half of the book. There were some interesting characters, but in my opinion Adam Bede was a supporting character and should not have the honor of the title of this book. I also had a few other issues with this story, which too would be covered in the book club discussion.

Discussion kicked off by talking about the possibilities for why Adam Bede was chosen as the title of this story. There was a belief among some individuals that some of the female characters were stronger characters, like Hetty and Dinah. It was mentioned that maybe the Adam Bede was chosen as the title as it would be more appealing to both male and female readers of that time period. A more popular feeling that there was more depth to Adam Bede than the other characters – that the reader can see a very obvious transformation and growth in this character that you don’t see in the other characters. Adam began as a proud man, suffered from a tragic heartbreak and transitioned into a humble character. While I personally understand this explanation, in my opinion this does not make this character more interesting.

Dinah, however, was a strong character as someone who was radically progressive in her vocation as a Methodist preacher, especially for that time period. She might have represented what the author may have wanted from religion – no judgments just kindness to everyone equally. Hetty may be the most shallow of the characters, but she also created the disruption of this less than exciting story. Those two characters were my favorite.

I cannot help but defend Hetty a little bit, as I am sure that most people (including some members of my book club) think she is a complete drama queen of a character. I feel that while her mother was a very strong and intelligent woman, she and her husband did not necessarily instill those qualities on Hetty but brought her up to always look nice and be in search of a good husband. She was young, naive and seemed to care solely about wealth and nice things, which I think was necessary to show the contrast between Hetty and Dinah. Plus, Hetty’s character sure livened up the story, and I wish the reader could have had more of a glimpse into her thoughts after her life was spared.

There were a couple of unique things to note. The first was that much of Hetty and Arthur’s romance is left up to the imagination of the reader. If you didn’t guess, then you were very surprised by the pregnancy revelation. The second was how Hetty managed to hide her pregnancy from her family and Adam into the eighth month. That part was a bit unbelievable to me, though I have heard stories about that actually happening.

In book club, we only briefly discussed the character of Seth, Adam’s brother. I found this character very disappointing. I disliked how the author made this character so compliant to the wishes of his brother. Yes, I believed Seth loved his brother, but Seth showed no emotion when Adam confessed his love for Dinah, who was the woman that Seth had been in love with. He just accepted that match. The author would have the reader believe he was content being Dinah’s brother-in-law. Adam went crazy with jealously when he found out that Hetty, whom Adam loved, was romantically involved with Arthur. Shouldn’t Seth have had a bit of those same feelings? I guess I find the Biblical Cain and Abel representation much more realistic. Those Biblical characters were referenced in John Steinbeck’s epic East of Eden, which I just recently enjoyed reading. I admit after that Adam Bede was a bit of a drag to me.

Opinions were pretty split in my book club regarding George Eliot’s first novel. While I was one that did not enjoy it very much, I enjoyed the writing enough to still want to try reading something else by her – maybe Middlemarch or Silas Marner.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ½