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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Summer Reading Project: Adam Bede (Book VI & Epilogue)

Posted by Rohan Maitzen on 08/05/08 at 06:05 AM

And so we reach our final installment.  As usual, George Eliot is one step ahead of us: “But no story is the same to us after a lapse of time; or rather, we who read it are no longer the same interpreters.” There are, perhaps, no real surprises in the basic plot: ever since her telling blush in Chapter XI, we’ve known about Dinah’s suppressed passion for Adam, and it seemed only a matter of time before he learned to love a less kittenish model.  His revelation is a bit sudden as a personal matter, I thought, but as a matter of plot and theme, it seems inevitable.  What about Dinah’s initial reluctance to give in to their love?  And what about Lisbeth’s role as go-between?  Also of interest, among other things, are Dinah’s giving up preaching, Hetty’s death, and Arthur’s return from the wars. The final scene mimics very closely the ‘waiting for father to come home’ sequence from the first part of the novel; as has come up a few times in our discussion, the structure of the book seems cyclical or circular, and yet isn’t it also moving forward, towards a new kind of “Victorian” domesticity, for instance?  These and any other points of interest are open for your comments! And congratulations, by the way, to all of us who persevered to the end, with both reading and posting.


Comments

And what about Lisbeth’s role as go-between?

I found this quite interesting, and am wondering how often this sort of thing has cropped up in literature. One example I know quite well is the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. They spend much of the play cracking-wise at one another’s expense, and in such a way that others figure they’re smitten with one another but just can’t figure out how to approach. So one group works a little misdirection on Beatrice and the other on Benedick and, in the end, they’re bound to be wed.

Those two are very different from Adam and Dinah. But, there’s more. They aren’t they only couple in the play; it get’s its dramatic shape from the relationship between Claudio and Hero. The relationship between Claudio and Hero is asymmetrical in a way that’s similar to the asymmetry between Arthur and Hetty. & Claudio & Hero both survive to the end of the play, though there is some elaborate pretense that Hero has died.

The two works are very different, but at the core we have similar configurations of relationships.

By Bill Benzon on 08/05/08 at 08:48 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Lisbeth’s role as go-between works because of her nagging.  Because she’s used to saying what shouldn’t be said, she can go ahead and tell Adam that Dinah loves him.  As such, she becomes a similar figure to Mrs. Poyser.

Dinah’s initial reluctance to give in to their love is based on the quite correct perception that it’s going to take her away from religious work.  What matter that Adam says he’ll permit it?  Raising a family takes time and effort.

I still don’t think that the structure of the book is circular, except in a Burkean “all must return to domesticity” way.  It appears to me to be a classic Freytag’s triangle; it’s not surprising that such ends on the same level with which it begins.

Hetty’s death is merely a convenient way to tie off that part of the story, with the added bit of tiresome pathos that she died while returning from Australia, just like the cop in an action movie who’s about to retire getting shot.  (Would she have been transported for seven years rather than for life, for infanticide?  I doubt it, but I don’t know.) If she ever did show up, there would be the added complications of her children, most likely—she couldn’t have spent those seven years in Australia celibate, after all.

Lastly, the discussion of love is hopelessly Victorian.  It’s not that our own culture has discovered some sort of universal truths for the ages, but that there’s so much that has to go unsaid.  Would what Dinah is feeling be classed as “love” in a contemporary sense?  Probably.  But, for instance, there’s the scene where Dinah hears Adam’s “deep strong voice” unexpectedly, and:

“It was as if Dinah had put her hands unawares on a vibrating chord; she was shaken with an intense thrill, and for the instant felt nothing else; then she knew her cheeks were glowing, and dared not look round, but stood still, distressed because she could not say good-morning in a friendly way.”

A vibrating chord?  An intense thrill?  Glowing cheeks?  That’s a depiction of lust, and I’d guess that it passed the censors in the Victorian age only because women were assumed not to feel anything like that.

By on 08/05/08 at 09:41 AM | Permanent link to this comment

...towards a new kind of “Victorian” domesticity, for instance?

I’d be interested in what you have to say on this, Rohan. It’s something that interests me a great deal, though my own thinking on the matter has mostly been about how Shakespeare’s late romances seem to set-up a family-oriented psychological framework for that. Years ago I read a bit on the history of the family, including Lawrence Stone’s The Family, Sex, and Marriage In England 1500-1800, which gets us to the world of Adam Bede, but not GE as she was writing the novel.

Then there’s Rybczynski’s Home: A Short History of an Idea (from the Wikipedia): “The book is an extended essay on the evolution of domestic living; ... Rybczynski recounts the history of the material and cultural influences (such as intimacy and privacy, domesticity, ease) as well as and ideas about light, air, and efficiency, all of which have helped shape the thoroughly modern idea that we call comfort.”

Comfort, made me think of Adam reading the Bible on Sunday with Lisbeth hovering around him.

By Bill Benzon on 08/05/08 at 12:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Firstly, thanks for doing this, Rohan, I’ve really enjoyed it and appreciate all your time and effort. [Maybe we could do a regular ‘classic’, even if it’s only a poem or short story? I’ll even help, if you think I could!]

Now, I must confess that though my comments have been mainly positive up till now, the ending just doesn’t work for me. Dinah should not have been capable of sacrificing her work if we are to believe what she said earlier about her vocation, the fact that she does so effectively negates, for me, the truth of her earlier words.
As for her union with Adam, how ‘neat’ is that? Pure manipulation and unworthy of Eliot, IMO. Spoils the hook for me every time I read it.

By on 08/05/08 at 10:07 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"Dinah should not have been capable of sacrificing her work if we are to believe what she said earlier about her vocation [...]”

Well, we aren’t to believe that, are we?

Let’s toss out the Victorian baggage for a moment.  This is a story about two couples who decide to have sex no matter what social or personal commitments stand in the way.  Adam is the good guy because he lucks out; social expectation coincides with what he wants to do.  Arthur and Hetty don’t luck out.  Dinah has to go back on some personal religious commitments, but hey, they were socially frowned on anyways.

Sure, one could say that Adam and Dinah are in love, while Arthur and Hetty weren’t.  But maybe Adam and Dinah just express themselves that way because they are deeper personalities.

I mean, re-read the “vibrating chord” sentence I quoted above, and think back to what physical age you were when you felt something like that.  I’m guessing that for most people, it’s going to be somewhere in the teen years.

By on 08/05/08 at 10:47 PM | Permanent link to this comment

’Well, we aren’t to believe that, are we?’

I thought we were, to be honest ... but I actually don’t because of the ending, as I said.

‘I mean, re-read the “vibrating chord” sentence I quoted above, and think back to what physical age you were when you felt something like that.  I’m guessing that for most people, it’s going to be somewhere in the teen years.’

I think we’re at cross-purposes, here, Rich, because I agree with you on this and with your earlier comment. Sorry if I expressed myself clumsily.

By on 08/05/08 at 11:23 PM | Permanent link to this comment

’Let’s toss out the Victorian baggage for a moment.’

Do you mean Hetty or Dinah, Rich? [lol]

By on 08/05/08 at 11:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Hey, Rich, I just realized you might mean that we are not to believe what she says about her vocation with regard to marriage and I agree, no, we aren’t. I meant, in my original comment, that by sacrificing her preaching she undermines, for me anyway, what she says to Mr Irwine about her ‘gift’ early on. Doesn’t her sacrifice of this for what I still think is a rather contrived [and as you say adolescently expressed] love of Adam diminish this a bit?
I really think it makes the issue of Dinah’s vocation fall apart and this may be related to how GE was ‘infatuated’ by religion before passion replaced it, as it does for Dinah. What do you think?
[Sorry about the ‘baggage’ joke, couldn’t resist it!]

By on 08/05/08 at 11:45 PM | Permanent link to this comment

This is a story about two couples who decide to have sex no matter what social or personal commitments stand in the way. 

But is it just about sex? In the classical Freudian world, yes. But that’s not fared well under modern investigation, which focuses on multiple behavioral systems organizing social interaction, with sex being only one of them. The emerging story is a bit more complicated. In particular, a lot of work has been done on attachment, which John Bowlby pioneered in a sersies of books starting in 1969. He was interested in the relationship between infants and parents. Others have extended that work to other relationships, e.g. Parkes, C. M. and J. Stevenson-Hinde (1982). The Place of Attachment in Human Behavior. New York, Basic Books. I’ve drawn on some of this work in discussing Coleridge’s “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison."

A number of thinkers have extended this to romantic love. Here’s one version: Phillip Shaver, Cindy Hazan, and Donna Bradshaw, “Love as Attachment: The Integration of Three Behavioral Systems” in Robjert J. Steinberg and Michael L. Barnes, eds. The Psychology of Love, Yale 1988, pp. 68-99. Phillip Shaver’s lab is on the web here; and there’s a link to a page with more recent PDF’s which you can download.

This work suggests that we can conceptualize the Hetty/Arthur and Adam/Dinah relationships as emphasizing different aspects of romantic relationships.

By Bill Benzon on 08/06/08 at 07:11 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Here’s a relatively brief review of the thinking about adult attachment.

By Bill Benzon on 08/06/08 at 07:46 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Getting back to the book, yeah, the ending is a bit mechanical, necessary for the overall scheme, but not fully convincing.

By Bill Benzon on 08/06/08 at 09:10 AM | Permanent link to this comment

There are really two different things happening to make Dinah give up her call.  The most immediate one of these is the Methodists’ decision to ban women from preaching.  As the family argument is summarized for us, Seth wanted them to become free-thinking Christians of some sort, but Dinah decided to show loyalty and obedience to the Methodists.  I suspect that Eliot was constrained there by historical events.  After all the Methodists did create such a ban, that is what happened to her aunt, etc.  Depicting Dinah as such a rebel that she’d follow the path that Seth suggests would require a whole new section of the book to work through the conflict.  And the last section is falling action; it results from the crisis earlier, but it’s not a good time to introduce essentially unrelated ones.

At the same time, the reader may suspect (at least, I do) that the depiction of character works because Dinah is already reconciled towards devoting her effort towards her marriage and children, and without that, she might have broken from the Methodists.  So the ban only works because of her earlier attachment to Adam.

For that attachment, I didn’t mean that it’s adolescently expressed so much as I meant that it’s adolescently strong.  So these are 20-something virgins instead of teens; it still wouldn’t be the first time that commitments to whatever are cast aside.  That seems to me to be a note of realism in the novel.

By on 08/06/08 at 09:57 AM | Permanent link to this comment

For that attachment, I didn’t mean that it’s adolescently expressed so much as I meant that it’s adolescently strong.

Like Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, both well into middle age (and sexually experienced as well).

By Bill Benzon on 08/06/08 at 10:03 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve cited textual support, Bill.

By on 08/06/08 at 10:39 AM | Permanent link to this comment

And you could cite more passages of a similar nature, Rich. But it’s not at all obvious to me that those passages warrant the sweeping conclusion you draw. The argument I’m suggesting needn’t imply that there is no sexual attraction between Dinah and Adam, only that that’s not all there is and, in particular, that this novel doesn’t focus on that. You suggest that Arthur and Dinah were “deeper personalities.” I’m making a more specific suggestion, that there’s more to their attraction than sex, and I’m citing recent work on adult romantic relationships in support of that suggestion.

By Bill Benzon on 08/06/08 at 11:43 AM | Permanent link to this comment

‘I was called to preach quite suddenly, and since then I have never been left in doubt about the work that was laid upon me. […] 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. And I went to where the little flock of people was gathered together, and stepped on the low wall that was built against the green hillside, and I spoke the words that were given to me abundantly. And they all came round me out of all the cottages, and many wept over their sins, and have since been joined to the Lord. That was the beginning of my preaching, sir, and I’ve preached ever since.’ [Chapter VIII]

I still think that the strength of these words is irrevocably undermined by Dinah’s later decision to give up preaching to marry.
In the conversation with Mr Irwine, from which this is taken, Dinah mentions her feelings about women being banned from preaching but dismisses it saying that it is not for men to say who may preach. Thus, the character’s awareness of the controversy has already been addressed and cannot ‘realistically’ be conveniently be called into play later to support what is a personal choice i.e. to marry.
Dinah is in love and, of course, is free to choose that over preaching but if she does so it has to affect how we view the depth of her vocational sincerity earlier, especially as so much space is given to it.
IMO, GE is, as I said earlier, in many ways, reflecting her own ‘replacement’ of adolescent religious fervour with human passion; there are many instances of this in life, where a person becomes obsessive about religion in early life only to re-channel that fervour later.
Dinah, however, is set-up as a devout, truthful, sincere woman who believes [and the evidence of the text supports this] that her preaching is a God-given gift; believing that, she could not reject it without implying that what she said earlier was somehow false.
There may well be, as Rich suggests, a ‘reality’ about her decision but it fundamentally contradicts GE’s earlier characterization; she is not acting as we have been led to believe she would and this really bothers me.
Also, the marriage is just too ‘convenient’; apart from Dinah abandoning her life-long vocation, it requires extraordinary powers of forgiveness on the part of Seth!

By on 08/06/08 at 12:02 PM | Permanent link to this comment

. . . . it requires extraordinary powers of forgiveness on the part of Seth!

Yes.

By Bill Benzon on 08/06/08 at 12:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Eh, I didn’t find Seth’s forgiveness too surprising.  This is a novel in which male sexual jealousy doesn’t really exist, after all, whether between Seth and Adam or Adam and Arthur. 

As for going back and saying “oh no, it’s not all sex between Adam and Dinah,” why restate the obvious?  Eliot goes on for paragraphs and paragraphs about love, so if that’s the reading you’re interested in, go to it.

By on 08/06/08 at 01:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"There may well be, as Rich suggests, a ‘reality’ about her decision but it fundamentally contradicts GE’s earlier characterization; she is not acting as we have been led to believe she would and this really bothers me. “

Well, from my point of view, she’s acting as I was led to believe that she would act.  She struck me from the first as the kind of person who conceals a strong drive for power behind religiousity, especially since as a relatively poor woman, few other roads to power besides religion were available to her.  Her religious feeling is always expressed as control over people: preaching to them and making them convert (or, at least, throw away their earrings), making them silent, putting herself out as a source of charity and help to them.  It’s all through, e.g., her body language in the mid-book scene with Hetty.  It’s only in character that she would conceal this aspect of her personality from herself as well.

And when she gets interested in something else, well, so much for that.  Actually, since I’m going down this path already, why not envision the Adam/Dinah/Seth household as a sort of unadmitted troilism?  Perhaps what keeps Dinah feeling sufficiently empowered is knowing that meek Seth is sitting in the other room knowing what Adam and Dinah are getting up to.

By on 08/06/08 at 01:55 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Any more thoughts on Dinah’s sacrificing her vocation, Rich, following my more detailed comments on links to GE and textual reference to Dinah’s earlier remarks?

It seems so problematic to me - more so than Seth’s generosity, even though this is rather conveniently offered - and I’d be interested to know what you think about my remarks on this.

By on 08/06/08 at 02:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry, Rich, my earlier remark was sent before I read yours of 1.55pm. I still think that the author sets up a character that doesn’t fulfil what might have been expected. I am not sure, you see, that the perception you put forward is the one GE envisaged in the average reader i.e. the overwhelming desire for power rather than true religious conviction.

I don’t think that troilism chez Bede or Dinah’s possible enjoyment of the prospect of poor Seth’s contemplation of their sex life has ever entered my thinking before but it’s locked there now - unfortunately! More Therese Raquin than Adam Bede, I’d have said, but GE was, of course, familiar with it in her own life, having lived with a man whose household encompassed an incumbent wife and mistress who weren’t keen on adding her to the equation and engineered her eviction asap! So maybe you’re right ... do I sense a whiff of incipient fanfic?

By on 08/06/08 at 02:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Geez, I take one day to tour scenic south shore Nova Scotia (UNESCO World Heritage site Lunenberg is lovely!) and the discussion rushes ahead....

“I’d be interested in what you have to say on this, Rohan.”

I’m afraid I have mostly just a literary take rather than an authoritative historical account to back up this remark, but there are a lot of novels (Scott’s Waverley is one strong example) in which the “right” marital choice is the one who, with the male protagonist, will set up a ‘conventional’ domestic space--fiery, exotic Flora is displaced by Rose, or in David Copperfield childish (maybe also kittenish?) Dora loses out to Agnes, etc.  Just as female protagonists often seem to learn to forego the wild sexy guy (Willoughby, anyone?) for the strong, stable, but less obvious ones (Brandon), it seems the pattern is for men’s taste to mature and appreciate the girls who really make good wives.

I agree with Rich about the historical necessity of Dinah’s giving up preaching: wouldn’t this have been something GE would have felt strongly she had to get “right”? But we can work the reasoning backwards a bit to this being one good reason for GE to set the novel when she did, so that her thematic and social interests can coincide, perhaps, with the movement of history.  Dinah needs to secularize her virtues, might be another way I would think about it: she may think her gift is God-given, but GE does not--she thinks Dinah is giving a supernatural explanation to her human gift for love and sympathy.

Though I often struggle with the pressure GE puts on her characters to renounce or to subordinate their needs to those of morally lesser characters (Lydgate & Rosamond, e.g.) I think it’s striking how important sexual fulfillment is to her idea of a happy relationship.  This is presumably one reason her books were considered by some to be scandalous.

Some of my favourite passages just taken on their own are in the last chapters here, but I’ll have to point to some of them later, as domestic duties call (now that seems thematically appropriate too, somehow, doesn’t it).

By Rohan Maitzen on 08/06/08 at 05:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

But we can work the reasoning backwards a bit to this being one good reason for GE to set the novel when she did, so that her thematic and social interests can coincide, perhaps, with the movement of history.

An interesting bit of analysis.

By Bill Benzon on 08/06/08 at 06:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich: “This is a novel in which male sexual jealousy doesn’t really exist, after all, whether between Seth and Adam or Adam and Arthur.”

It occurs to me that Rich is on to something here.  It’s not just that the novel isn’t interested in male sexual jealousy: the novel isn’t really interested in men full stop, except insofar as they impinge on the lives of women.  Arthur D. is very little more than the vehicle by which Hetty gets in to trouble; Adam is little more than the instrument (hunky and virtuous) by which Dinah understands that serving God means living fully in the world.  And so on.

By Adam Roberts on 08/06/08 at 06:27 PM | Permanent link to this comment

’Dinah needs to secularize her virtues, might be another way I would think about it: she may think her gift is God-given, but GE does not--she thinks Dinah is giving a supernatural explanation to her human gift for love and sympathy.’

Really, Rohan? Why? In the book Dinah states absolutely that her gift is ‘God-given’ and if the author wants to change her later into a ‘secular’ version then she’s compromising the novelist’s duty to follow through with what a created character is otherwise what we believed them to be is threatened.

Of course characters grow and change, as Adam does, most of all they develop, but how is it a real advancement for Dinah basically to turn a deaf ear to ‘the call’ she has, via GE’s pen, made so much of earlier?

Sure, GE may want her heroine to be closer to what GE herself is by this stage but if that’s so, why set her up as a preacher in the first place? I can’t believe she couldn’t have made her a strong woman in any other way and the historical angle won’t work because, as I said above, Dinah has already told Mr Irwine that she won’t be told that she can’t preach.

It’s very odd to create a woman whose life is built on her vocation then have her ‘dwindle into a wife’. I still think it’s the novelist’s way of working out what happened in her own life but it makes her character a hypocrite and, in my opinion, spoils the book.

p.s. Austen’s ending to Sense and Sensibility is a similar cop-out, so it’s interesting that you chose that example, Rohan. Brandon doesn’t cut it as other than a compromise for Willoughby, IMO. Austen, like Eliot, it seems, has boxed herself into a corner and the only way out is to throw the plot up the wall!

By on 08/06/08 at 07:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Interesting point, Adam.  But I wouldn’t really say that the female characters have much more visible interiority than the male ones.  Mostly, I think it’s that specifically sexual jealousy would have to reference sex.  There are scenes in which both Lisbeth and Adam ask Seth for either forgiveness for hurting his feelings or permission to marry Dinah, and he answers with something like he’s given up the idea of getting married to her, but her marrying Adam would be fine because this way he’d always be close to her.  Similarly, Adam and Arthur’s fight is about emotional closeness, basically—Adam says that Arthur has made Hetty fall in love with him, and that will keep her from falling in love with anyone else.  It’s rather like the kind of ideas about marriage that young children have, in which marriage means two people moving into the same house.

So, no, I don’t really think that we’re supposed to think that Dinah and / or Adam and / or Seth are secretly attracted to their troilistic situation, but there’s something about the core of the novel—as Adam wrote before, it’s all built around a central silence around sex.  And that invites the reader to fill that silence.  Hetty’s child emerges from it, and Adam and Dinah are more or less inexplicably pulled into it, so there has to be something there.

And it’s good that Sue reminded us of just what George Eliot’s actual situation was.  It was mildly scandalous, or at least gossip-worthy. even by 21st century U.S. standards.  I hadn’t realized that she’d been sleeping with a guy who was actually living in the same house as his open-marriage wife and his mistress.  So the troilism suggestion was mostly a reaction against the Victorianism of the novel—but really, who knows?

By on 08/06/08 at 07:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

... why set her up as a preacher in the first place?

I think that’s a very interesting question, but I don’t have anything much to say about it. Sure, Dinah’s based on GS’s aunt, who was a preacher. But that just shifts the question: why base a novel on that incident? The most obvious kind of novel that would follow from that incident, the execution of Mary Voce, would be a religious tract, which AB is not. Alternatively, you could tell the story in an unsympathetic way and write a critique of evangelism. That’s not what GE does either. Instead, she assimilates the story of the preacher and the infanticide to that good old staple, boy meets girl, in which the preacher-woman plays the part of the girl. Why does she need for Dinah to be a preacher?

By Bill Benzon on 08/06/08 at 07:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

...it’s all built around a central silence around sex.

I understand the words, but I don’t see how the novel is “built around” that silence. It’s not as though there’s any big mystery about what happened. Not to us nor to GE’s audience.

Now, if, during her confession, Hetty had explained how a big silver saucer came down out the the sky after Arthur’s party and some tall skinny creatures with big eyes and big heads came out, abducted her, probed her and then, months later when she gave birth, the infant was green with little purple horns, that would be a matter of some significance. That would have been a pregnant silence. As it is, the silence is mere convention, a convention that we may find rather quaint and hypocritical, but still, just a convention.

How would the story have been any different if we’d gotten a sex scene with Arthur and Hetty? Well, it would have made it difficult to imagine an alien abduction for Hetty. Beyond that, what’s difference?

By Bill Benzon on 08/06/08 at 07:26 PM | Permanent link to this comment

That “just a convention” shapes the entire society, including Hetty’s fate.  There’s quite literally a central silence that Arthur and Hetty try to preserve, and can’t.  And that Dinah tries to preserve, and can’t.

By on 08/06/08 at 08:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Are they all, then, including GE, complicit in the ‘silence’ by adhering to it? Does ‘silence betoken consent’? I think it’s interesting to think about what part such a ‘silence’ actually played in conventions which harmed everyone, including Eliot herself (who lived an unconventional life but liked to be called ‘Mrs Lewes’).

The novel does seem to be setting up some kind of challenge to the ‘conspiracy of silence’ which caused and covered suffering but then defeats it by ending so ‘conventionally’. This is part of my problem with it.

Is this ‘roar on the other side of silence’ one which, even Eliot was reluctant entirely to break, or is that, had she done so, the novels would just not have been published? If she had lived in France, maybe it would have been different!

By on 08/06/08 at 09:43 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It seems to me that we’re asking the word “silence” to do too much work. It’s one thing to talk about what George Eliot can and cannot put into a novel. It’s another thing to talk about Victorian attitudes toward sexuality and sexual behavior, of which talking and writing is but one aspect. And Hetty’s plight has as much to do with social class as with sexuality. After all, it’s class that made marriage to Arthur both extremely unlikely (from his POV) and that made a sexual affair so very attractive (from her POV, with the hope of marriage).

Also, however sympathetic Eliot is to Hetty’s plight, she doesn’t seem to be urging changes in sexual attitudes or in criminal justice. Maybe she should be, but I don’t see that she is.

By Bill Benzon on 08/06/08 at 10:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

’Also, however sympathetic Eliot is to Hetty’s plight, she doesn’t seem to be urging changes in sexual attitudes or in criminal justice. Maybe she should be, but I don’t see that she is.’

Maybe she hoped the novel would do so just in the telling, or at least contribute to the many other voices urging social change. Many authors, Dickens springs to mind, were doing just that, after all.

I teach someone who gets really angry about authors with ‘agendas’ - the same person who doesn’t like unhappy endings and for whom I wrote the alternate one to The Mill on the Floss - he reckons it’s cheating the audience who just want to be entertained! 
He has a point if it turns into a tract but OTOH, I think that the better Victorian authors were largely concerned with reform and thought if they could make us care for one, we might care for the others. Break the silence, in fact.

(In this way I can see a connection between Dinah the preacher and GE the novelist but GE didn’t have to give up her ‘preaching’ when she ‘married’, in fact Lewes encouraged her, as Elizabeth Gaskell’s husband also encouraged his wife’s writing - especially ‘reforming’ works like Mary Barton and Ruth.)

But you’re right, Bill, we are expecting too much ... not to say straying from the point!

By on 08/07/08 at 12:04 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Really, Rohan? Why? . . . how is it a real advancement for Dinah basically to turn a deaf ear to ‘the call’ she has, via GE’s pen, made so much of earlier? Sure, GE may want her heroine to be closer to what GE herself is by this stage but if that’s so, why set her up as a preacher in the first place?

I guess my thinking here is not that Dinah is turning a deaf ear to that call (I agree this would betray something essential about the way GE has set up her character)--but I don’t think GE ever denies the sincerity of religious belief. But rather than “dwindling into a wife” (a well-known criticism of Elizabeth Bennett, of course), we could see Dinah’s movement away from a formal religious role as indicative of a shift from the need for that overt religiosity (and its underlying supernatural premises) to the expression of human sympathy and understanding in a naturalistic version. We know biographically that GE did not herself believe someone like Dinah (or her Aunt) was in fact responding to a Divine call, after all--but that religion provided the institutional framework for expressing some of the best capacities of human nature.  Dinah’s being a preacher works well for her in this respect, since GE believed historically religion did provide an outlet for all kinds of virtues, but that it was not a necessary condition for virtue.

By Rohan Maitzen on 08/11/08 at 08:14 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I take your point, of course, Rohan but I am not sure that I think it shows artistic integrity suddenly to turn a character into a secularised version of her former self just because that accords with the author’s own views.

I don’t agree that Elizabeth Bennett ‘dwindles into a wife’ at all, btw, I always picture her continuing to spar with Darcy and sacrificing nothing of what she essentially is i.e. a feisty, sexy lady. If she were prepared to ‘dwindle’ she would have done it when he first proposed but she doesn’t.

The comic restoration drama from which the expression comes has a similarly strong woman ‘handling’ a proposal, of course. And, as Bill pointed out, the verbal assaults which pass for love-making between Beatrice and Benedick act in the same way.

But Adam and Dinah aren’t like this, Dinah sacrifices too much in the context of what she says in the early chapters for what is introduced as at best milksop passion later on and GE can’t have it both ways. Either Dinah has a vocation to preach, as she earnestly declares early on, or she doesn’t: if she does, she couldn’t give it up so the ending doesn’t make her act true to the character as drawn; otoh if she doesn’t, then she has feet of clay; QED.

I still hold that GE is trying to work out her own life through Dinah and sacrifices the truth of her character to do it, which is a pity.

By on 08/14/08 at 12:08 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Hello, fellow travelers. I’m sorry to say that “real life” and an article deadline pulled me away from Adam Bede for the last few weeks. However I am back to reading again (I just finished chapter 43 - “Guilty!") and I plan to check out your comments and reactions as I finish the remaining sections.

I just wanted to thank Rohan for organizing this project. This was a wonderful way to read the book. You really stayed on top of the weekly postings, which made it an easy experience for the particpants. I enjoyed the fact that we analyzed it in chunks, that no spoilers were allowed, and that our discussions were allowed to be freewheeling.

Further thanks to Rohan, Sue, Rich, Bill, Adam and any other regular contributors I forgot for your comments. All of you enriched my reading of the novel with your perspectives. Will there be a Summer Reading Project Two next year? If so, count me in.

By on 08/15/08 at 11:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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