Adam Bede Study Guide

Adam Bede

Adam Bede by George Eliot

The novel Adam Bede focuses on a love triangle between the title character, Hetty, the town beauty, and Arthur, the grandson of a wealthy landowner. Adam proposes to Hetty, who has been having an affair with Arthur. She accepts, even though she is carrying Arthur's child. Hetty runs off before the wedding, tries to kill herself, and stands trial for killing her baby. To show the contrast between external beauty and inner beauty, Adam ends up marrying Dinah, the Methodist minister who is plain but has a good heart.

  • The Bede family:
    • Adam Bede is described as a tall, stalwart, moral, and unusually competent carpenter. He is 26 years old at the beginning of the novel, and bears an "expression of large-hearted intelligence."
    • Seth Bede is Adam's younger brother, and is also a carpenter, but he is not particularly competent, and "...his glance, instead of being keen, is confiding and benign."
    • Lisbeth Bede is Adam's and Seth's mother. She is "an anxious, spare, yet vigorous old woman, clean as a snowdrop."
    • Thias (Matthias) Bede is Adam's and Seth's father. He has become an alcoholic, and drowns in Chapter IV while returning from a tavern.
    • Gyp is Adam's dog, who follows his every move, and looks "..up in his master's face with patient expectation."
  • The Poyser family:
    • Martin Poyser and his wife Rachel rent Hall Farm from Squire Donnithorne and have turned it into a very successful enterprise.
    • Marty and Tommy Poyser are their sons.
    • Totty Poyser is their somewhat spoiled and frequently petulant toddler.
    • "Old Martin" Poyser is Mr. Poyser's elderly father, who lives in retirement with his son's family.
    • Hetty Sorrel is Mr. Poyser's orphaned niece, who lives and works at the Poyser farm. Her beauty, as described by George Eliot, is the sort "which seems made to turn the heads not only of men, but of all intelligent mammals, even of women."
    • Dinah Morris is another orphaned niece of the Poysers. She is also beautiful– "It was one of those faces that make one think of white flowers with light touches of colour on their pure petals" – but has chosen to become an itinerant Methodist preacher, and dresses very plainly.
  • The Irwine family:
    • Adolphus Irwine is the Rector of Broxton. He is patient and tolerant, and his expression is a "mixture of bonhomie and distinction". He lives with his mother and sisters.
    • Mrs. Irwine, his mother, is "...clearly one of those children of royalty who have never doubted their right divine and never met with any one so absurd as to question it."
    • Pastor Irwine's youngest sister, Miss Anne, is an invalid. His gentleness is illustrated by a passage in which he takes the time to remove his boots before going upstairs to visit her, lest she be disturbed by noise. She and the pastor's other sister Kate are unmarried.
  • The Donnithorne family:
    • Squire Donnithorne owns an estate.
    • Arthur Donnithorne, his grandson, stands to inherit the estate; he is twenty years old at the opening of the novel. He is a handsome and charming sportsman.
    • Miss Lydia Donnithorne, the old squire's daughter, is Arthur's unmarried aunt.
  • Other characters
    • Bartle Massey is the local schoolteacher, a misogynist bachelor who has taught Adam Bede.
    • Mr. Craig is the gardener at the Donnithorne estate.
    • Jonathan Burge is Adam's employer at a carpentry workshop. Some expect his daughter Mary to make a match with Adam Bede.
    • Villagers in the area include Ben Cranage, Chad Cranage, his daughter Chad's Bess, and Joshua Rann.

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