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Review: "Adam Bede" by George Eliot

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First published in 1859, Adam Bede is set in the rural farming community of Hayslope in 1799. The plot centers around four characters and the entangling relationships amongst them. The titular character is a well-respected young carpenter who is in love with the pretty Hetty Sorrel. Hetty in turn is in love with the rich Arthur Donithorne who returns her feelings but has no honorable intentions. Dinah Morris, Hetty’s cousin and a Methodist preacher, is introduced early on and becomes a pivotal character near the end of the novel.

As usual, Eliot's perfect prose is matched with a good (but long) story.  Also as usual, Eliot expands on a multitude of characters in a small English farming community. Adam Bede, being Eliot's first novel, is not as well constructed as Middlemarch, nor as perfectly concise as my personal favorite, Silas Marner. It does have several things going for it though. One is Adam Bede himself. This charmingly flawed character holds the story together well. He is a hard worker who subjects himself and others to too high a standard. His quick temper sometimes has near-disastrous results, but he is aware of this and many times repents his rash behavior.

Now that I have read several Eliot novels, there is definitely a pattern in young, vibrant, minutely flawed but innately good male characters. Bede, Ladislaw from Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda to name a few. Could these characters be based on someone in Eliot's real life? No doubt she used people from the farm community where she grew up as the basis for many of her characters. They are too numerous and colorful to have come purely from imagination. My casting recommendation for Adam Bede is Rufus Sewell. Sewell was the perfect Ladislaw in the1994 adaptation of Middlemarch and would do just as well in the character of Adam Bede (though he is now too old for the part).

Of the other characters, a highlight of the novel is the outspoken Mrs Poyser. The scene where she puts her grouchy curmudgeon landlord in is place will leave you in stitches. The character you are supposed to love but hate is Dinah. Her supposed strong-will comes across as stubbornness and stupidity. And what happened to Seth Bede? Here is a character dying for some more screen time. Things don't go his way, but he's always smiling contentedly, happy with the lot given him. This is not believable.

Adam Bede, though flawed, hints of the masterpieces Eliot went on to create. True to her style it takes her until about halfway through before things get interesting, but if you stick with it, you are well rewarded.

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