Literature Study GuidesAdam BedeBook 4 Chapters 30 32 Summary

Adam Bede | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Adam Bede | Book 4, Chapters 30–32 | Summary



Chapter 30: The Delivery of the Letter

A week after Captain Arthur Donnithorne leaves town, Adam Bede contrives to walk with Hetty Sorrel alone. She knows Adam saw her kissing the captain and fears he will tell her relatives. The thought of his confronting Arthur, however, has never entered her mind. She decides she needs to keep Adam hopeful, thus keeping the Poysers ignorant of the real situation. Arthur left her with some hope of a resolution—though she has some sense of foreboding—and now Adam says the captain has been toying with her. Adam puts the entire blame on Donnithorne for her "misunderstanding" and then gives her the letter. When Adam gets home, Seth shows his brother a letter from Dinah Morris, in which she says the sorrow of others makes her feel as though she were "sharing the Redeemer's cross." Infinite love is suffering, too, Dinah says. Adam encourages Seth, still in love with Dinah, to visit her.

Chapter 31: In Hetty's Bedchamber

Hetty reads Arthur Donnithorne's letter, in which he counsels Hetty to forget about him. Although taking the blame for their affair, he writes he cannot marry her because of their class difference. Their marriage would make her miserable in the long run—as well as violate his duty "in other relations of life." Arthur tells her not to write unless there is something he can realistically do for her, and he claims to be her affectionate friend.

Hetty is shattered by the letter, hating Donnithorne and feeling as if she will never take pleasure in anything again, though as she cries and takes pity on her situation, she watches her reflection in the mirror. The next evening, she asks her uncle, Mr. Poyser, if she can leave home to become a lady's maid. When Mrs. Poyser comes in, she scolds Hetty for forgetting to lock up the fowl pens. Both Poysers refuse to give their consent for her to go into domestic service, saying they can do much better for her and help her make a good marriage. Hetty knows her relatives want her to marry Adam, and now in her room she begins to consider this new possibility.

Chapter 32: Mrs. Poyser "Has Her Say Out"

A few days after a stranger has been seen around town, the old Squire comes to the Hall Farm and tries to strike a deal to alter the current lease. He wants the Poysers to take on more dairy land in exchange for some of their corn land, which he will add to the Chase Farm he is now trying to lease. In exchange for this "opportunity" to make more money, Mrs. Poyser would provide dairy products to the Donnithornes. Mrs. Poyser refuses this bad bargain and gives the old Squire a tongue-lashing, berating him for not keeping up his property and stock and trying to squeeze the tenants for every penny. "We're not dumb creatures to be abused and made money on by them as ha' got the lash i' their hands," she says. The old Squire leaves in a hurry, and though the Poysers are worried about whether old Donnithorne will renew their lease, they are glad someone finally has told him off.


Adam Bede further shows his moral rectitude by first attempting to dissuade Hetty from her hopes with Captain Donnithorne before delivering the letter. At this point he knows she has no feelings for him and has no reason to believe she might develop them. Yet he still wants to help and protect her. He feels duty bound to impress on Hetty the truth about Captain Donnithorne's flirtation, acting in loco parentis (Latin for "in the place of a parent"), for he will not betray her to the Poysers. He tells her point blank Arthur will never marry her, absolving her from responsibility and putting all the blame for raising her hopes on the captain. "I can't help thinking as you've been trusting to his loving you well enough to marry you, for all he's a gentleman," Adam says. When Hetty refuses to believe him, he has no choice but to give her the letter.

Donnithorne is true to his word to Adam, giving Hetty the bald truth about how things stand between them. He signs himself rather hypocritically as her friend, although he does give her his forwarding address and tells her she can write to him if "there is something I can really do for you." This veiled offer of help seems to allude to the possibility in his mind alone that she could be pregnant. Perhaps the captain is thinking that in such an instance he might provide for the child or arrange for her care in some way.

After Arthur rejects her, all doors seem closed. Hetty is not in love with Adam, but now it is too difficult to face the prospect of life continuing as it had been before she became involved with Donnithorne. She wants something more for herself than being a household servant at the Poysers'. Perhaps being a lady's maid away from home would have given her a change of scenery and a taste of daily contact with luxury, but the restrictions and demands would not have suited her. Although the Poysers do have her best interests at heart in thinking she should marry Adam—a man with such fine prospects—they have not done anything to cultivate her emotional trust. It is not surprising Hetty thinks she might raise her station or at least broaden her possibilities by becoming a lady's maid now that she has learned lace mending.

For her part, Mrs. Poyser's bitterness is somewhat misplaced: "I'm fonder of her than she deserves," she says, immediately signaling her ambivalent affection in this contradictory comment. She follows up with a justification for her liking her niece—which is that Hetty has been with her for seven years, and she's taught her everything, so how could she not care about her? Mrs. Poyser notes that she has been stocking up items for her eventual marriage. But considering how little affection she displays in her interactions with Hetty (only one instance, in the context of group congratulations on Hetty's engagement) and how Mrs. Poyser constantly carps at her, the reader cannot help but doubt her declared affection. If Hetty is no better than a cherry with a hard stone inside her, as Mrs. Poyser says, it would seem she had some hand in the cultivation of her nature, since Hetty has been with Mrs. Poyser since the age of 10.

When the Poysers refuse to allow Hetty to go out as a lady's maid, she is left with no choice but to follow the path they have laid for her. "She was ready for one of those convulsive, motionless actions by which wretched men and women leap from a temporary sorrow into a life-long misery," the narrator says of her. When Hetty asks herself "why should she not marry Adam," the narrator judgmentally pronounces her a trivial soul for rushing into such a decision as early as "the second night of her sadness." But he completely discounts the part of her story in which her lover unceremoniously dumps her and where her guardians refuse to allow her to take a nobler, more independent course of action. Of course, at this early stage Hetty does not know she is pregnant, otherwise she could hardly consider marrying anyone ignorant of her state.

As for the Poysers and their lease, Mrs. Poyser's sense of foreboding during Arthur's birthday party is realized in Chapter 32. Not one to avoid dispensing a scolding, she provides some comic relief to the otherwise serious events and emotions around her as she upbraids the old Squire, giving vent to her reaction to his plans to change the lease. Her outburst stuns those listening and makes her husband "a little alarmed and uneasy, but not without some triumphant amusement." Even though she may regret the squire's reactions to her outburst, she will not regret having said what she needed to, for she vividly claims "there's no pleasure i' living if you're to be corked up for ever, and only dribble your mind out by the sly, like a leaky barrel." Her metaphors are as lively and vivid as she is, and they make an effective contrast with the indecisiveness of the other characters.

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