History and Hermeneutics
in Adam Bede
Though Romola appears to be George Eliot's "apocalypse of history," her first attempt to fully appropriate and transform the hermeneutic scheme of history she had encountered in her youth, her earliest fictions bear evidence of her preoccupation with the problem of representing history. Each of the three long short stories or novellas in Scenes of Clerical Life dwells on aspects of "ecclesiastical history," from the changing appearance of Shepperton Church to the more widespread and less easily characterized changes wrought by the Evangelical movement. These tales demonstrate a surprisingly feminist energy in their depiction of "clerical life" as experienced, or endured, by women—a pervasive suggestion that clerical history as seen from a woman's perspective might differ substantially from the ecclesiastical histories written by men. 1 In "Janet's Repentance" also, the division of the narrative into two precise "halves" (between chapter 14 and chapter 15) that mirrors the break in Janet's marriage and the moment of decisive change in her life already predicts the more complex uses to which George Eliot will later put binary apocalyptic structurings, especially the very similar narrative division in Romola. But the three tales in Clerical Life, though they everywhere demonstrate their author's interest in questions of history, seem too short to permit the working-out of any detailed interpretive schemes.
In Adam Bede, however, George Eliot's ambivalence toward history forms a major thematic concern in the narrative, and her carefully plotted chronology provides the nexus for a scheme of hidden hermeneutics that repeatedly undermines and interrogates the assumptions of conventional history. Diane E Sadoff has