Reactions to Adam Bede, Chapters 11-16

Reactions to Chapters 11-16 of Adam Bede

I am running a little behind this week on comments on Adam Bede. I hope I don’t run out of steam altogether. It would be due to no fault of Eliot’s or of the blog where I am participating in a discussion of the novel — both remain as lively and engaging as before.

The last six chapters of Book 1 convince me of the hypothesis that I have formed that the theme woven through the entire fabric of this novel is that of human Individuality struggling against Nature, or perhaps learning to understand the constant dialogue it needs to engage Nature in, in order for Individuality to have any true meaning or standing. This comes out in Arthur’s tremendous dialogue with himself, when he comes up with one scheme after another in attempting to ward off what we, the readers, know is his destiny, but which he remains convinced cannot possibly be an option, not least because he know he won’t let it happen. This is indeed a strong belief in the super ego that Arthur exhibits, as someone noted on the blog discussion. In this masterful depiction of the terrors that our emotional conflicts subject us to, Eliot is having a merry time indeed in implying that even when our id, Nature’s mole hidden deep inside the command centers of our sense of personal security against the most unnaturally natural impulses, seems to be firmly within the censorious sights of the super ego, it nevertheless manages to create unpredictable havoc. If we were ever to personify the id, we should probably choose the hatefully delectable kitten or lamb. Our id, Eliot is telling us, is the Hetty of our lives, and we are the Adams and Arthurs condemned to fall to its depredations, in spite of the most marvellous control we exhibit on our skills, passions and life goals.

The helpful annotations in my copy of the novel regularly inform me of the perverse reading habits of Captain Donnithorne. This, among other such hints that Eliot throws around the novel, keeps reminding me that this was an extremely successful novel when it was first published. Call me an elitist, if you will, but I believe Eliot’s clue-dropping was greatly responsible for Adam Bede‘s popular acclaim. She was making the book and its characters far more accessible to her readership by continually marking them with signs of their true character, so that nothing would come as a too unpleasant surprise, and also so that her readers could have the satisfying experience of solving the puzzle of the characters’ intentions by being more attentive to these signs.

I don’t hold these assistive devices against Eliot — what she lacks for in subtlety, she makes up for in richness and complexity of detail. As in the books that people read, another point that is brought up in the blog discussion, the eternal clues to her characters’ selves and identities are themselves interesting themes for us to ponder. The appearances of individual bed chambers and houses, the oppressiveness of this physical environment versus that, the manner of dress of this class of people versus the other — all these are important aspects of this painting that is unfolding in front of us. By the end of the first book, I find that Eliot has eminently succeeded at her goal of telling us how to write about such characters as live in the world she’s talking about and succeeded also at re-creating this world for a reader like me that lives in a time place far removed from that of Adam Bede’s.


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