Adam Bede

Adam Bede

Adam Bede

Adam Bede


In Adam Bede (1859) George Eliot took the well-worn tale of a lovely dairy-maid seduced by a careless squire, and out if it created a wonderfully innovative and sympathetic portrait of the lives of ordinary Midlands working people--their labors and loves, their beliefs, their talk. This edition reprints the original broadsheet reports of the murder case that was a starting point for the book, and detailed notes illuminate Eliot's many literary and Biblical allusions.


Readers who do not wish to learn details of the plot will prefer to treat the Introduction as an Epilogue.

The distinction of Adam Bede is to tell a story, and also to tell about telling the story. This is a novel about obscure lives, and also about how to be a novel about obscure lives.

Adam Bede speaks up clamantly for ordinary people, as it does for writing about ordinary people--country folk, farmers, peasants, carpenters, and their like, the obscure ones of England who lived far from centres of worldly greatness, power, and influence. Such people were disenfranchised in Victorian times as to political power and, until George Eliot came along, were more or less disenfranchised as citizens of the English Novel.

The English Novel had, of course, from its beginning in the early eighteenth century, known peasants and servants and workers, but as clowns and buffoons and criminal types, in other words as rogues and jokes in the old traditions of stage comedy. These people were allowed on to the fictional page as on to the stage, but as adjuncts, local colour, a rich background only for the more seriously taken doings of their betters, the better off, social grandees, employers, masters. in early Victorian times Charles Dickens and other writers such as Mrs Gaskell and Charles Kingsley had started taking seriously the lives of the urban poor. But the denizens of Dickens's underclass London, as of his northern Coketown (in Hard Times, 1854), never shed the grotesquerie and gothicity that Dickens had learned to admire as a young reader in Shakespeare's comedies, in the novels of Fielding and Smollett, and in the later eighteenth-century horror stories and chillers such as Matthew Lewis The Monk (1796). As for the London slum-dwellers of Kingsley Alton Locke (1850), the workers of Benjamin Disraeli Sybil (1845), and the Manchester cellar-dwelling cotton weavers of Mrs Gaskell Mary Barton (1848), though they were made to live with an intensity that the urban working class had never before enjoyed in the English Novel, they remained the products of . . .

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