Literature Study GuidesAdam BedeBook 1 Chapters 13 16 Summary

Adam Bede | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Adam Bede | Book 1, Chapters 13–16 | Summary



Chapter 13: Evening in the Wood

When she sets off for home after her lace-mending lesson, Hetty expects to run into Captain Donnithorne in the Grove. When he doesn't appear, she begins to cry, but the captain is waiting farther on and comforts and kisses her. Again stung by his conscience after parting from her, he is determined to ride to the Broxton Rectory in the morning to tell Mr. Irwine about his temptation in the hope it may diminish by this sort of confession.

Chapter 14: The Return Home

After Dinah leaves the Bedes, Lisbeth remarks she would like to have her as a daughter-in-law, although it is not likely she will ever return Seth's feelings. Hetty runs into Dinah and Seth returning to the Poysers, and Seth leaves them and returns home. As they walk, Dinah suggests Adam would make a good husband for Hetty, who agrees distractedly, her mind occupied elsewhere. Mrs. Poyser scolds Hetty for coming in so late and not being there to help with Totty, who might be ill. After Hetty eats her supper, she tries to take the fussing child from Mrs. Poyser, but Totty will go only to Dinah.

Chapter 15: The Two Bedchambers

After Hetty and Dinah retire to bed, the narrator takes readers inside Hetty's bedroom. Hetty dislikes the old, blotched, stationary mirror because she can get only one good view of her head and neck in it. The narrator describes her grooming ritual as "worship," in which she also looks at herself from various angles with a smaller hand-held mirror. She thinks of Captain Arthur Donnithorne, whom she is sure will want to marry her and "make a lady of her." The narrator notes Hetty has no attachment to her "second parents" and dislikes both middle-aged people and children. Speaking of Hetty, Mrs. Poyser once told her husband "her heart's as hard as a pebble."

While Hetty has been primping in earrings and a scarf in front of the mirror, Dinah has been enjoying the night air at the window and inwardly praying. She begins thinking about Hetty's cold nature and, with feelings of pity, knocks on her door. Dinah tells Hetty to remember if she is ever in trouble, she always has a friend in Dinah. In an excited state of mind, Hetty pushes Dinah aside, having no desire to hear what she has to say about future trouble when she is so consumed with thoughts of herself.

Chapter 16: Links

The next morning Arthur Donnithorne meets Adam Bede on his way to see Mr. Irwine. Adam and Arthur are good friends, although Adam is respectful of Arthur's class, calling him "sir." As the discussion drifts toward Adam's decisive nature, Arthur notes Adam is never "shilly-shally" about moral issues. Adam replies, "You can never do what's wrong without breeding sin and trouble more than you can ever see." When Arthur reaches the rectory, he loses the courage to tell Mr. Irwine about his flirtation with Hetty, although he steers the conversation toward a discussion of character. The rector senses Arthur wants to tell him something and asks point blank whether he has a personal dilemma. Arthur immediately backs away from the conversation, saying he is in no moral danger. While the thought of Hetty crosses the rector's mind, he immediately dismisses it.


Hetty, complicit in her romantic downfall, hopes to see Captain Donnithorne again as she crosses the wood, even crying tears of frustration when she doesn't. Her tears inspire his words of dangerously close comfort rather than the original speech he had planned—defining their relationship within the boundaries of "friendly civility." Readers might ask whether his attitude is moral cowardice, misplaced kindness, or self-indulgence—any or all of them.

While the narrator focuses on Hetty's avarice in encouraging Arthur, he also doesn't comment on the continual harsh treatment Hetty receives from Mrs. Poyser, her surrogate mother. When Hetty returns late with Dinah, Mrs. Poyser jumps on her, saying she's sent the other girls—her servants—to bed because, like Hetty, they have to get up at 4:30 in the morning, and "folks as have no mind to be o' use have allays the luck to be out o' the road when there's anything to be done." This seems an unfair assessment of Hetty, who is usually on hand and on whom Mrs. Poyser heavily relies for help with childcare and housework. She may thus seek out the sweet words of Captain Donnithorne when neither Mrs. Poyser nor Totty likes her much, so that her vanity in attracting him can compensate for what she lacks.

The narrator passes these harsh judgments on Hetty, likening her to a plant without roots that can grow anywhere and easily leave her old life behind, having little love for her adopted family. Perhaps it is difficult to love them because she has been torn up by the root from her original family and transplanted into the Poyser household, where her usefulness as a servant is her primary value. She has been forced to be a nursemaid from an early age, so is it any wonder she dislikes children? The eldest Poyser child, Marty, now nine, was a baby when Hetty first came to the farm, which means she would have been about 10 at the time and took care of "all three, one after the other, toddling by her side in the meadow, or playing about her on wet days. ... The boys were out of hand now, but Totty was a day-long plague," the narrator says, nor was there any "end to the making and mending of clothes." Mrs. Poyser calls Hetty hard because she doesn't care for her youngest child, the only daughter, whom everyone spoils. But perhaps if this matriarch had shown some motherly affection to Hetty, she would have been better able to love her cousins. Captain Donnithorne's words are a welcome relief from her aunt's continual fault-finding, and in her bed chamber "his soft voice ... say[s] over and over again those pretty things she heard in the wood."

As the story reveals, Hetty has unrealistic ambitions that lead her far above her station in life during a time when ambitions were realized by marriages rather than one's own accomplishments. Beauty was a huge advantage, and Hetty uses it. But neither beauty nor the prizes it may bring can endure for long, and Dinah's thoughts and fears foreshadow Hetty's future, which, at this point, is not something she wishes to confront.

In Chapter 16 Captain Donnithorne lets slide his chance at saving himself from falling into a moral abyss, all because he is too attached to his image of himself as a good fellow. He is unwilling to see his own bad reflection in the eyes of his tutor and mentor, which is why he cannot confess the danger he is in. Adam's words foreshadow what is in store for Arthur. He does have a conscience, which will eventually awaken to sting him. Doing wrong breeds unforeseeable trouble, Adam says. "It's like a bad bit o' workmanship—you never see the' end o' the mischief it'll do. And it's a poor look-out to come into the world to make your fellow-creatures worse off instead o' better." But Donnithorne does not heed the warning.

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