Literature Study GuidesAdam BedeBook 3 Chapters 25 26 Summary

Adam Bede | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Adam Bede | Book 3, Chapters 25–26 | Summary



Chapter 25: The Games

The party for Arthur continues with games and the awarding of prizes, with Mrs. Irwine doing the honors. She remarks to her son on Hetty's beauty, saying it is wasted on the lower classes because they don't have the sense to appreciate it. Mr. Irwine disagrees and adds that the refined Methodist preacher Dinah Morris goes among the rough miners and is treated with respect.

Bessy Cranage wins a sack race but is disappointed in her prize: a length of flannel and a rough gown because Miss Lydia Donnithorne bought presents that would not "encourage a love of finery in young women of that class." Arthur Donnithorne, more generous of spirit, provided more appropriate and appreciated prizes for the men. At the end of the games, Wiry Ben dances while Joshua Rann fiddles. Although the gentry laugh at this performance, Mr. Poyser is much impressed with Ben's skill, while Mrs. Poyser thinks he is making a fool of himself.

Chapter 26: The Dance

A dance in the large, open entrance hall of the Donnithorne estate completes the festivities of the day. When the old Squire is particularly civil to the Poysers, Mrs. Poyser suspects he's "brewin' some nasty turn against us. Old Harry doesna wag his tail so for nothin'." Hetty and Arthur exchange secret glances, both suffering for not being able to show their feelings. When it is Adam's turn to dance with Hetty, she attempts to transfer a sleeping Totty to his arms for a moment, but the child wakes up and catches Hetty's necklace, breaking it so that the attached locket goes flying. Adam retrieves the locket, clearly seeing Hetty's hair is wound with lighter locks. Hetty tries to make light of her initial terror at the thought of losing the locket. At first Adam thinks Hetty may have a secret lover but then dismisses the idea: the light-colored hair might belong to one of her parents who died when she was a child. Arthur finally gets an opportunity to dance with Hetty, and they agree to meet in the woods in the evening two days later.


Class distinctions continue to be highlighted in these chapters. The Irwines are practically gentry, as is evidenced when old Squire Donnithorne leads out Miss Kate Irwine; Mr. Gawaine brings out Miss Lydia, the Squire's daughter; and Mr. Irwine leads out his invalid sister Anne. When Mrs. Irwine notices Hetty for the first time, she comments that the lower classes cannot discern levels of refinement, almost as if they were a secondary species of human. Concerned about keeping the lower classes in their place, Miss Irwine has bought unappealing presents for the women, lest they get "above" themselves and take on airs. In addition, her father is quite stingy, and she has no desire to go against him, as was evident in the incident with the frame Adam made. Further, Mrs. Poyser's class sensibilities are rankled at this gathering. She feels somewhat protective of Wiry Ben and indignant with him for making a spectacle of himself: "He's empty enough i' the upper story, or he'd niver come jigging an' stamping i' that way, like a mad grasshopper, for the gentry to look at him. They're fit to die wi' laughing, I can see," she says. Nor does she trust the old Squire's friendliness toward her, intuiting, correctly, that it is a preface to some kind of mischief that will involve her family.

Both Adam and Arthur Donnithorne want to dance with Hetty, but the captain first must dance with all the matrons. He secretly presses the hand of the young dairymaid while repressing his feelings and thinking he "would have given up three years of his youth for the happiness of abandoning himself without remorse to his passion for Hetty." Adam finally has his turn to dance, which is aborted when Hetty's necklace breaks and her locket goes flying. Always seeing the best in Hetty, he is able to rationalize the existence of the locket and put a positive light on its meaning, which shows the extent to which people will delude themselves in the service of their strong desires—especially when those desires are sexual. Hetty also continues to delude herself about the meaning of her relationship with Captain Donnithorne and agrees to meet him in the woods again. Donnithorne, too, deludes himself. Completely smitten with Hetty, he confuses lust with love, even though he knows in his heart he will never enter into a proper relationship with her, for to do so would be to defy his family, which he has no desire to do. Under the cover of formal and traditional goings on at the party, the characters continue to act almost as if a world of their own, while the author shows clearly how deluded they are and how far-reaching the effects of their actions and thoughts may be.

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