Saturday, October 28, 2017

Book Review: Adam Bede

Adam Bede. George Eliot. 1859. 624 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: With a single drop of ink for a mirror, the Egyptian sorcerer undertakes to reveal to any chance comer far-reaching visions of the past.

Premise/plot: Adam and Arthur both "love" Hetty Sorrel. Hetty Sorrel loves Arthur--not Adam. But when Arthur breaks Hetty's heart, Adam is there to mend it. But is his love enough? Dinah is there to remind Hetty that there is SOMEONE there ready and able to mend her brokenness. And his name isn't Arthur or Adam.
Hetty said, in a frightened whisper, "Who?" "Some one who has been with you through all your hours of sin and trouble—who has known every thought you have had—has seen where you went, where you lay down and rose up again, and all the deeds you have tried to hide in darkness. And on Monday, when I can't follow you—when my arms can't reach you—when death has parted us—He who is with us now, and knows all, will be with you then. It makes no difference—whether we live or die, we are in the presence of God."
For a fuller summary of the book, see my review at Becky's Book Reviews.

Adam Bede is the story of a "fallen woman." Hetty Sorrel is young, beautiful, and naive. She is a believer in fairy tales, happy endings, and knights in shining armor riding along and sweeping you up, up, and away. Arthur Donnithorne is heir to the squire; he's the current squire's grandson. He finds Hetty GORGEOUS and IRRESISTIBLE. He throws away whatever wisdom he had, and follows "his heart" into a dangerous love affair. Arthur has a conscience--although it is an admittedly weak conscience. He knows right from wrong. He can reason between the two.  He doesn't struggle and fight temptation. He places himself in opportunities to sin--and surprise, surprise SINS.

Adam catches Arthur and Hetty together--kissing. Adam confronts Arthur. Adam becomes, in a way, the embodiment of Arthur's own conscience. He does not confess ALL to Adam. But he does choose to stop the affair and write a letter to Hetty. He goes away leaving Hetty broken-hearted.

Adam knows that Hetty has loved Arthur. He knows that he will never be Hetty's first love. But he holds hope that he will be her true love. He holds hope that Hetty will be his wife; that Hetty will put aside her childish, naive love for Arthur and come to love and respect him. It never crosses his mind that Hetty and Arthur were more intimate than a few stolen kisses. It never crosses his mind that Hetty is a virgin no longer and that she in fact could be carrying Arthur's baby. Should it have?

Slowly but surely, as the summer turns to fall turns to winter, Adam and Hetty grow closer. By November, she's agreed to marry him that spring. Hetty appears to be happy to be getting married. But there are moments when Adam thinks she looks sad.

Hetty, to give some background, is an orphan being raised by her aunt and uncle. She helps around the farm. She helps with their many, many children. She isn't always cheerful and joyful in her domestic duties. In fact, sometimes she comes across as unhappy with her lot. Arthur--for two or three months--seems to lift her up out of the ordinary. She feels LOVED and CHERISHED. He gives her expensive gifts that are perhaps inappropriate for a man to give a woman not his wife. These are gifts she knows must remain completely secret for fear of what others would say if they knew. Part of her must understand that what she is doing with Arthur is wrong.

What does Hetty know? That's a good question. She believes that it's just a matter of time before she is MARRIED to her one true love. She equates Arthur's time and attention and lavish GIFTS as being as good as a proposal of marriage. She doesn't see the fact that they're from two very different social classes as being a problem--at all. (She's Cinderella; he's the Prince.)

The book is never explicit about the affair. Everything intimate between Arthur and Hetty occurs off the page, or "off screen." There is no open discussion about sex. Therefore it's hard to figure out how aware or unaware Hetty is. Did she think about the risks and dangers? Did it occur to her at all that she might get pregnant?

Arthur's goodbye letter includes a veiled reference to the possibility of her being pregnant. She's to write him if there's a PROBLEM. But either Hetty didn't understand what he meant by problem, or she was in denial about being pregnant.

One of the problems is lack of communication. One of many problems. Who could Hetty have talked to during the affair? after the affair? when she realized she was pregnant? Was there any person that would have proved a safe choice?

If she'd gone to her aunt and uncle--the response would have no doubt been complete rejection. They might have given her a little money and sent her away to have the baby. If she'd gone to Adam? He'd have broken the engagement. Chances are he'd ride fast and furious to find Arthur, confront him, perhaps knock him about. I think he would "urge" Arthur to do SOMETHING for Hetty. Would Adam go too far? Would his temper lead him into danger? Maybe. He would not be man enough to raise another's child as his own child. He would never marry Hetty knowing that she'd been intimate with another man. But he might have done something to lessen Hetty's humiliation. See that she went somewhere far, far away--where she was unknown--to have the baby. If she'd gone to Dinah? I think Dinah would have been her friend, listened to her, supported her, loved her. Dinah might have even found a Christian couple willing to adopt Hetty's child.

But Hetty talked to no one. She lied to her friends and family about where she was going--to visit cousin Dinah!--and disappeared.

Another problem was that society was only getting the Bible half right. Society was getting right the concept of sin. Sex outside of marriage is sin. Plain and straightforward fact from holy scripture. What society was getting wrong was...a lot. Sin can be forgiven. If sin can't be forgiven then it isn't just fallen women that are in danger--it's all of us. All of us are sinners. Some of us "wear" sin on the outside and are open to harsher judgment. Some of us wear sin on the inside and escape public judgment. But that doesn't mean judgment isn't coming--it's merely delayed. The gospel says: either you wear your own sin and receive God's wrath OR Jesus wears YOUR sin and receives God's wrath.  Trust in Jesus, you'll find God to be merciful. Not only does God forgive the sins of those in Christ, those who place their trust in Christ, he calls us to forgive others. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. We are to give forgiveness freely and lavishly. Because that is how we've been forgiven by God. We are not to be stingy and reluctant. Amazing grace has been shown to us, we're to extend that mercy, that grace, to others whether we think they're worthy of it or not.

Today, I fear that society has radically misunderstood the concept of SIN and remains as clueless as ever on the concept of grace.

Adam Bede could not really be updated to contemporary times. Hetty would be more empowered to know about sex, about her body, about pregnancy. She'd be able to talk about it with her family, her friends, a doctor, a counselor. She'd be able to receive an abortion if that is what she wanted. Shame would not be attached to her for having sex, for getting pregnant, for choosing to have an abortion. Whether she felt ashamed or not--society would not be the ones putting that shame on her and forcing her into situations where she felt helpless. If--and it's a big if--her family happened to kick her out of the house, she'd be able to find help in other places.

I fear that whether set in 1799 or 1999, the baby would end up dead. Does it make a difference if Hetty's baby was killed in the womb by an abortion OR if it was killed after it was born? Legally, yes. Morally? It's a question worth wrestling with.

Another thought that keeps running through my mind is Hetty's mental state. Was Hetty sane? Did she know what she was doing? When had she lost touch with reality? When had she lost her grasp on what was right and wrong? I think SOMETHING had to have broken in her mind that allowed Hetty to think it was okay to bury--or half bury--her child ALIVE. In a modern update, would Hetty plead legal insanity? Would doctors be able to explain away her actions? What would "justice" look like today?

Is there a Christ-figure in Adam Bede? If there is, my argument is that it is in the person of Dinah Morris and NOT Adam Bede. Dinah Morris is probably as excellent an example of how a Christian should love God and love others as any I've seen in literature. She does not compromise on sin. She doesn't deny that sin is sin. Yet she points the way to Christ, the one who can reconcile God and sinner. She extends love and grace--unconditionally because she has been the recipient of it herself at God's hand. She offers comfort and not judgment. Her words are wise not because she's puffed up with knowledge, but because she weeps with those that weep and rejoices with those that rejoice. She loves. She doesn't demand perfection. She doesn't give conditions. She doesn't reject when she's disappointed.

Favorite quotes:

  • "Ah, dear friends, we are in sad want of good news about God; and what does other good news signify if we haven't that? For everything else comes to an end, and when we die we leave it all. But God lasts when everything else is gone. What shall we do if he is not our friend?"
  • "But let us see a little more about what Jesus came on earth for. Another time he said, 'I came to seek and to save that which was lost'; and another time, 'I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.' "The LOST!...SINNERS!...Ah, dear friends, does that mean you and me?"
  • God didn't send me to you to make light of your sorrow, but to mourn with you, if you will let me. If you had a table spread for a feast, and was making merry with your friends, you would think it was kind to let me come and sit down and rejoice with you, because you'd think I should like to share those good things; but I should like better to share in your trouble and your labour, and it would seem harder to me if you denied me that. You won't send me away? You're not angry with me for coming?
  • Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult.
  • Examine your words well, and you will find that even when you have no motive to be false, it is a very hard thing to say the exact truth, even about your own immediate feelings—much harder than to say something fine about them which is NOT the exact truth.
  • Without this fellow-feeling, how are we to get enough patience and charity towards our stumbling, falling companions in the long and changeful journey?
  • Surely it is not true blessedness to be free from sorrow, while there is sorrow and sin in the world: sorrow is then a part of love, and love does not seek to throw it off. It is not the spirit only that tells me this—I see it in the whole work and word of the Gospel. Is there not pleading in heaven? Is not the Man of Sorrows there in that crucified body wherewith he ascended? And is He not one with the Infinite Love itself—as our love is one with our sorrow?
  • These thoughts have been much borne in on me of late, and I have seen with new clearness the meaning of those words, 'If any man love me, let him take up my cross.' I have heard this enlarged on as if it meant the troubles and persecutions we bring on ourselves by confessing Jesus. But surely that is a narrow thought. The true cross of the Redeemer was the sin and sorrow of this world—that was what lay heavy on his heart—and that is the cross we shall share with him, that is the cup we must drink of with him, if we would have any part in that Divine Love which is one with his sorrow.
  • You can't isolate yourself and say that the evil which is in you shall not spread. Men's lives are as thoroughly blended with each other as the air they breathe: evil spreads as necessarily as disease.
  • We hand folks over to God's mercy, and show none ourselves. I used to be hard sometimes: I'll never be hard again.
  • God's love and mercy can overcome all things—our ignorance, and weakness, and all the burden of our past wickedness—all things but our wilful sin, sin that we cling to, and will not give up.
  • Let us rather be thankful that our sorrow lives in us as an indestructible force, only changing its form, as forces do, and passing from pain into sympathy—the one poor word which includes all our best insight and our best love.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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