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Literature Study GuidesAdam BedeBook 1 Chapters 7 9 Summary

Adam Bede | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Adam Bede | Book 1, Chapters 7–9 | Summary



Chapter 7: The Dairy

Captain Donnithorne wishes to look at the dairy because he wants to see the dairymaid, Hetty Sorrel, a 17-year-old of exceptional beauty "like that of kittens, or very small downy ducks ... or babies just beginning to toddle ... a beauty with which you can never be angry, but that you feel ready to crush for inability to comprehend the state of mind into which it throws you." Hetty knows the captain is attracted to her, and she flirts with him when he comes in. When Donnithorne asks to greet Totty and Mrs. Poyser goes to fetch her toddler daughter, he gets a moment alone with Hetty. He asks indirectly if she's ever alone out walking and learns the lady's maid at the Donnithorne estate is giving Hetty lace-mending lessons. Hetty will be visiting there the next day.

Chapter 8: A Vocation

While Captain Donnithorne is flirting with Hetty Sorrel, Mr. Irwine is talking to Dinah Morris about how she came to her vocation. The reader learns that Dinah has been preaching for four years and works in a cotton mill in Snowfield to support herself. One day when she visited a town with an aged preacher, the man took ill and could not give the sermon. "I felt a great movement in my soul, and I trembled as if I was shaken by a strong spirit entering into my weak body ... I spoke words that were given to me abundantly," she tells him. Previously she frequently experienced the "thought of God overflowing" in her soul. Impressed with Dinah, Mr. Irwine thinks he is not one to instruct her to stop preaching, for "one might as well go and lecture the trees for growing in their own shape."

When the rector tells her about the death of Thias Bede, she immediately decides to go to the Bedes' home to comfort the widow. Mrs. Poyser tells the same news to Hetty, who barely pays attention.

Chapter 9: Hetty's World

Well aware of the effect she has on men, Hetty Sorrel is thinking of rich, handsome Arthur Donnithorne. She knows her uncle would like her to encourage Adam Bede, whom everyone expects will do well in life, and Hetty knows that Adam, in addition to other young men, is affected by her charm. Orphaned and penniless, Hetty was taken in by her Uncle Poyser and "brought ... up as a domestic help to her aunt." While Hetty gives Adam just enough attention to keep him interested, she has no intention of marrying "a poor man." Instead she has set her sights on Arthur, who has been showing her considerable attention. After Mr. Irwine and Arthur leave the Hall Farm, he tells the rector he wanted to see the "pretty butter-maker." Intuiting what Arthur might have in mind, Mr. Irwine warns him not to "spoil her for a poor man's wife."


Captain Arthur Donnithorne, heir to the local estate and the person of the highest rank in Hayslope along with his family, has no business flirting with Hetty for several reasons. First, he is generally a man of good character, liked and respected by the tenants on the estate. To carry on a flirtation with a person of Hetty's rank can never be interpreted as courting because a marriage between them would be impossible unless Arthur were a true nonconformist willing to break with tradition and bring grief upon his family. His flirting, therefore, indicates an openness to take advantage of a woman far below him in rank. Second, he is obligated to follow a strict moral code because of his close connection with Mr. Irwine, his former tutor, and with Mrs. Irwine, his godmother, who may be related to him by blood. Third, he is on friendly terms with the Poysers, important "large tenants" of his grandfather's, and to take advantage of Hetty is to abuse his power as the heir apparent. Because Mr. Irwine sees a possible danger, he warns Arthur to stay away. But Hetty's lowly status is further underlined by the language the rector uses. His words are condescending, probably unintentionally, and in keeping with women's positions at the time, as they refer to Hetty as an object. He says it is all very well to contemplate Hetty in an "artistic light," likening her to a work of art, or beauty, but Arthur must not "feed her vanity, and fill her little noddle with the notion that she's a great beauty, attractive to fine gentlemen."

Of course, this is exactly what Hetty does think. Hetty's great crime—apart from the subsequent murder of her child in the last part of the novel—may be less about sexual nonconformity and more about her natural desire to rise above her station. While Hetty is consistently portrayed as self-centered, shallow, cold, and unloving, the reality of her situation—as Jones and other critics note—is powerful enough to make her want to get away from the life she is living. In almost every interaction between Hetty and her aunt, Mrs. Poyser scolds and criticizes her. Hetty is not Mrs. Poyser's blood relation, as Dinah is, and the narrator claims the scoldings flow from Mrs. Poyser's anxiety "to do well by her husband's niece—who had no mother of her own, to scold her—poor thing!" If Mrs. Poyser puts a positive spin on her scoldings, they may be rationalizations for her behavior toward Hetty, from whom she expects a great deal of work and whose vanity offends her. Readers may notice there is not one instance in the novel in which Mrs. Poyser directly expresses any love or affection for Hetty—something she would likely have received from a real mother. When her aunt asks Hetty if she has heard about Thias Bede's death and Hetty answers in the negative, Mrs. Poyser immediately turns Hetty's ignorance into an opportunity to criticize, saying she wouldn't care much anyway since she is "feather-headed" and stays upstairs primping "for two hours by the clock." Yet Hetty never gets to primp in her room except at night after all her chores are done, and she works the whole day—making the butter, acting as a serving girl, taking care of Totty, picking fruit, and so forth. The Poysers treat Hetty as a servant, not a daughter. It is always clear she is not their daughter, and she acts with that realization.

Furthermore, they see the match with Adam as advantageous to the "penniless niece" but "might have viewed the subject differently" had Hetty "been a daughter of their own" because in fact the poor carpenter is below them in station. Hetty has not been added to the Poyser family strictly out of Christian charity. "For what could Hetty have been but a servant elsewhere," if her uncle had not taken her in as domestic help for Mrs. Poyser, the narrator says, after her health declined with the birth of Totty. Hetty was about 10 or 11 when she came to the Poysers, and, given her place in the household, it is perhaps no wonder she has grown rather cold and hard—and ambitious—dreaming of dramatically transforming her economic circumstances by bartering with her considerable beauty.

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