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Literature Study GuidesAdam BedeBook 5 Chapters 42 44 Summary

Adam Bede | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Adam Bede | Book 5, Chapters 42–44 | Summary



Chapter 42: The Morning of the Trial

Bartle Massey attends the trial in the morning, reporting to Adam that medical evidence is against Hetty. Mr. Poyser, Hetty's uncle, could hardly hold himself together in court and had to leave with Mr. Irwine's support. Hetty's denial of the personal and the medical evidence will go against her for any mercy with the jury. No one is in the courtroom to support Hetty, and Adam resolves to attend the trial the next day.

Chapter 43: The Verdict

The next day Adam comes into court and takes his place beside Hetty, but she does not notice him. Adam thinks Hetty is a likeness of her former self, but he still remembers his vision of the woman he loved in "this pale hard-looking culprit."

The first to testify is Sarah Stone, a widow and storekeeper in Stoniton, who took Hetty in out of pity. Hetty gave birth that day, perhaps prematurely, when the woman was out and by morning the next day disappeared with the baby. The second witness is a laborer who remembers seeing Hetty sitting under a haystack and shortly thereafter heard a baby crying. He looked around but was in a hurry and went on. On his way back several hours later, he looked again and found a dead baby under a nut bush, under a pile of turf and wood chips. The next day the laborer returned to the scene with the constable, where they found Hetty sitting against the bush. Soon after this testimony, the jury pronounces a guilty verdict with no recommendation of mercy. When the judge then declares the prisoner will hang, Hetty faints.

Chapter 44: Arthur's Return

Before reaching Hayslope, Arthur Donnithorne receives a letter from his aunt informing him about his grandfather's death. Mr. Irwine has been writing to him over the months, so he knows about Adam and Hetty's impending marriage. He hopes to rekindle his friendship with Adam, and he ruefully thinks Hetty never cared for him as much as he cared for her. He has hardly looked at a woman since. Arthur feels sad for his grandfather's passing but also looks forward to the changes he will bring to the estate now that he is in charge.

Upon arriving home, he opens a letter from Mr. Irwine informing him Hetty is in prison and on trial for child murder. He immediately saddles a horse and sets off at a gallop to Stoniton.


The evidence against Hetty is overwhelming. The narrator refers twice to the "medical evidence," or the fact that Hetty would have been subjected to a medical examination to determine whether she had recently given birth. In addition, the testimonies of the woman who took her in and the man who found the baby are clear. How much responsibility one human being has for another is a question the reader may well ask. For example, the workman heard a baby crying, but he was in a hurry when he came through the first time, and even though he saw a young woman and heard a baby crying, he gave only a cursory look. What he heard was compelling enough for him to check again on his way back home, and this is when he found the dead baby. If he had paid more attention the first time, he probably could have saved the baby.

Mr. Poyser is so upset that he must be taken out of court; Mr. Irwine testifies on Hetty's behalf and stands by her. Bartle Massey says he is a man of "good metal" who doesn't say more than is needful, unlike chatterers who "stand by and look on," thinking they know more about a person's troubles than the sufferer. When Adam hears how alone Hetty is, he attends the trial and sits by her, never thinking about what people may say.

Because Hetty shows no remorse and refuses to admit guilt, she receives the harshest sentence. The death penalty is unusual because such a verdict would have to be brought in under the 1624 statute to prevent infanticide, in which a woman hides the fact of giving birth. Hetty did not hide giving birth but did hide the baby, and the evidence can be construed to show she had premeditation in killing her child.

Generally, in cases of infanticide, the accused would be tried under common law, which would have allowed a verdict of manslaughter with extenuating circumstances, rather than murder with the possibility of the death penalty. But the judge and jury turn against Hetty because she shows no emotion. However, Arthur Donnithorne's success in obtaining a stay of execution in exchange for a sentence of transportation out of the country would be entirely possible, given the state of the law at the end of the 18th century and the state's reluctance to execute women accused of killing their babies.

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