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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Summer Reading Project: Adam Bede (Chapters 12-16)

Posted by Rohan Maitzen on 07/01/08 at 06:51 AM

Happy Canada Day!  I hope you’ll all raise a cold one in honour of the occasion--and none of that watery American stuff…

Now, on to our real business: this week’s installment of Adam Bede.  (If you need to review the overall plan and reading schedule, see here; for the previous discussions, which have been varied and interesting, see here and here.  If you haven’t been reading along with us so far, it’s not too late to join in: by 19th-century-novel standards, we’re not that far along (less than 200 pages, in my Oxford edition).  This week’s teasers:

1.  What is “the correlation between eyelashes and morals”?

2.  How is “our mental business” like “the business of the State”?


Remember the bit at the beginning where the sorcerer with the ink-pool mirror had to be specified to be Eygptian but the characters could be assumed to be British?  At the beginning of Chapter XII, I was startled to read about Arthur “seeing his well-looking British person reflected in the old-fashioned mirrors”, and was just wondering why is was specified that he was British this time when the sentence goes on to say that he’s being stared at by Pharaoh’s daughter from a tapestry.  The Egyptian sorcerer that was written as looking into the future is now observing Arthur.

By on 07/01/08 at 08:33 AM | Permanent link to this comment

An astute observation, Rich. I don’t think GE is telling us he’s British because she thinks we don’t know it. She’s not presenting that as new information about his citizenship.

Something else is going on. There’s a bit of irony in the opening paragraphs of the chapter and that particular phrase is one of many that tips us off. It’s a rather peculiar usage: “seeing his well-looking British person reflected in the old-fashioned mirrors...” What’s up with that? Later in the description we learn that he’s “a good fellow,” so his college friends thought, where GE has the scare quotes to tip us off, if we hadn’t gotten the point by then. The “good fellow” is a type.

By the end of the chapter we’ll have learned that this good chap is not in full possession of his well-looking person.

By Bill Benzon on 07/01/08 at 09:25 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m fascinated by the treatment of Arthur’s decisions--or should I call them impulses?--in this section.  Much of the narrator’s effort is expended on describing the conflict between his conscious intentions, according to which he leaves Hetty alone and lives up to his own (and others’) highest estimations of himself and the urges that bring him back into the wood:

It is the favourite strategem of our passions to sham a retreat, and to turn sharp round upon us at the moment we have made up our minds that the day is our own. . . . The desire to see Hetty had rushed back like an ill-stemmed current; he was amazed himself at the force with which this trivial fancy seemed to grasp him....

Is this “current” just, to quote Adam, “sex, sex, sex”?  I’m reminded of a contemporary critic of The Mill on the Floss who was appalled at the apparent primacy GE gave to “physiological” forces, the moral effort and struggle required in her novels to overcome them.

Certainly Arthur has a potentially strong ally in his own super-ego:

He could no more believe that he should so fall in his own esteem than that he should break both his legs and go on crutches all the rest of his life.

And, of course, unlike Hetty, Arthur is fully aware of the impossibility of any kind of serious relationship between them, and of the double-standard that would forgive him but punish her:

But this little thing would be spoken ill of directly, if she happened to be seen walking with him...

I find it interesting that in his case and in Hetty’s confession is held out as a security they both, though for different reasons, fail to take advantage of.  Arthur fails to confide in Mr Irwine; Hetty brushes off Dinah’s invitation to confidence.  They have different reasons, as Arthur can’t bear to put his own worst possibilities into words, while Hetty can’t bear to expose her dream to real scrutiny.  These inhibitions on speech, which are also moral inhibitions or limits, make Dinah’s speeches stand out for their apparent transparency and completeness.  (It’s interesting to note, though, as Rich pointed out last time, just what it is that Dinah cannot articulate.)

Chapter 15, “The Two Bed-Chambers,” is a great set piece.  I admire the way the external circumstances and behaviours of each girl also serve as tangible markers of their personal and, especially, moral differences.  Hetty looks in the mirror (like all of GE’s egoists) while Dinah looks out the window, one preoccupied with self, one with others--each reflecting her own character, as it were.

Here too we get a more careful sorting out of point of view re Hetty and her beguiling beauty, with the paragraphs beginning “How pretty the little puss looks” on to “After all, I believe the wisest of us must be beguiled in this way sometimes.” It’s “our friend Adam Bede” and Arthur who believe they are reading Nature’s syntax accurately in “those exquisite lines of cheek and lip and chin.” But some--our narrator, for one, and Mrs Poyser for another--can detect “the moral deficiencies hidden under the ‘dear deceit’ of beauty.” I found the remark about “the disposition of the fair one’s grandmother” interesting: beauty as an inherited characteristic.

By Rohan Maitzen on 07/01/08 at 06:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I found myself agreeing with Rich when I was reading this time around, especially when the narrator says, “You perceive that Arthur Donnithorne was ‘a good fellow’” (170).  I found the line really unpalatable, and I wonder how necessary it was.  I mean, does Eliot really need to beat us over the head with the disparity between how characters are described to us and what the characters actually do?

By Joel Rodgers on 07/01/08 at 07:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, on that particular remark, “good fellow,” it’s not only that Donnithorne is one, but that his college chums saw him to be one. And that being one meant wanting everyone to be comfortable. It seems to me that the narrative voice acts a bit like the chorus in a Greek drama, giving us a voice of the community. That is, GE is using the narrative-address-to-the reader as a device for getting this communal voice into the text.

At any rate, that’s my reaction to your remark, Joel. Whether or not I believe an hour or now, or in the morning, I don’t know.

By Bill Benzon on 07/01/08 at 08:08 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"Hetty looks in the mirror (like all of GE’s egoists) while Dinah looks out the window, one preoccupied with self, one with others--each reflecting her own character, as it were.”

Would they have had glass in their windows?  One of the things that Dinah admires in that scene is the “silvered sweeping lines” of the grass, and window-glass can act as a mirror.  Soon enough, Dinah turns away from the exterior scene and closes her eyes; is she really outer-directed?

But that brings me to the major question brought to mind for me by this set of chapters:
is Dinah Eliot’s Mary Sue?

It came up in the passage where Dinah says “It’s a strange thing—sometimes when I’m quite alone, sitting in my room with my eyes closed, or walking over the hills, the people I’ve seen and known, if it’s only been for a few days, are brought before me, and I hear their voices and see them look and move almost plainer than I ever did when they were really with me so as I could touch them.” In other words, Dinah has a novelist’s feel for characters.

Dinah as Mary Sue—in other words, as a sort of authorial wish-fulfillment / self-identification character, read the link above for more information—fits.  She has that strange aura of Mary Sues.  Everyone likes her, or everyone except Hetty in a fit of pettishness.  She’s tremendously charismatic; when it comes down to it, no one would really think of interfering with her.  She’s inhumanly saintly, except that that’s not going to stop her from getting the hunk at the end.  Her physical details are just a bit vague; she’s not supposed to be a beauty, but whenever she’s compared to Hetty, all of a sudden it’s “Dinah, covered with her long white dress, her pale face full of subdued emotion, almost like a lovely corpse into which the soul has returned charged with sublimer secrets and a sublimer love.”

What would it mean that Dinah is Eliot’s Mary Sue?  Not that Eliot is a bad writer; this isn’t the tawdry Mary Sue of fanfic.  But it would explain the unearthly aura around Dinah.  The Mary Sue character has everything going for them because, of course, the author controls everything.  If they speak a sermon, well, everyone is impressed.  The reader, too, is assured with all the author’s skill that the crowd had reason to be impressed.  With inner difficulties, too, the character is endowed with “natural”—i.e. “authorly”—resources.  No vacillation and temptations for Dinah as with Arthur.

One potential difficulty with this reading is that Eliot wasn’t religious, and Dinah is.  But religion, as I pointed out before with the scene where Lisbeth is being quieted, operates interpersonally here as dominance.  In this set of characters, Dinah and Hetty almost might be dom and sub; Dinah is always putting her arm around Hetty’s waist, taking her hands, telling her to go to sleep.  It’s not so much that there’s a sexual connotation, but in terms of body language and action, Dinah treats Hetty as a child.

By on 07/01/08 at 08:38 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks for mentioning your agreement, Joel (and, for that matter, joe, in the last thread, before distractions intervened).  I didn’t have as much trouble, this time, with Eliot’s extended explanation that Arthur really was the shallow person that we’d already gotten the hint that he was.  It felt more like sarcasm and less like condescension.

By on 07/01/08 at 08:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich’s comments on Dinah as a ‘Mary-Sue’ really interested me. Eliot certainly does show a desire for ‘dominance’ over her readers’ thoughts and though this produces mixed reactions, in this context it certainly could be channelled via the evident ‘wish-fulfilment’ in Dinah’s preternatural control over crowds when she is preaching. Also, the ‘potential difficulty’ of Dinah being religious and Eliot no longer so might, perhaps, be explained precisely because of that unrecognised ‘absence’ in the author’s life. As for Hetty, everyone treats her like a child – including Eliot. (Apologies if this comes through twice - my internet connection went down mid-flow!)

By on 07/01/08 at 09:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I agree about the ‘sarcasm’ too, Rich, GE is plainly mocking accepted views of a ‘good fellow’, here.

By on 07/01/08 at 09:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Here’s a complete tangent or three, but I’m interested to know what you make of the reading habits of the characters we’ve met?  From the last thread - “We’re reading different books” - as it would seem are many of the characters in the novel, and literacy keeps popping up - I’d noticed this earlier, but it really leapt out in the last few chapters we’ve covered.

Adam reads seriously (Franklin and Bunyan).  Donnithorne sometimes reads about philandering highwaymen and rakish Sicilians, but also includes Arthur Young, who according to my edition, wrote about travel and agriculture.  Mr Irwine’s reading habits are somewhat grander - Theocritus and Sophocles.  But Hetty, with her ‘little silly imagination’ hadn’t ever read a novel, and probably couldn’t anyway.  Meanwhile Dinah sticks to the Bible and to Mr Wesley, it seems.  I wonder if the literacy theme is used as correlation, or rather as a causal mechanism - you are what you read, or you read what you are?

And Dinah’s narrative - especially in her conversation with Mr Irwine in chapter 8 - seems to be entirely in-keeping with a common literary form of the early C19th - the spiritual autobiography, which was common amongst the non-conformists and had as it purpose moral improvement.  According to David Vincent in Bread, Knowledge and Freedom, “the world in all its petty detail had a significance only insofar as it illustrated the changing relationship of the Soul to God”.  It seems to me Dinah’s account of her first preaching experience could quite easily seem at home in one of these autobiographies.

Which also reminds me - doesn’t her Wesleyan methodism, which asserted “the right of every individual to determine his spiritual identity” (Vincent again) conflict with her notion that it “isn’t for men to make channels for God’s spirit”?  The predestination vs human freedom tension seems interesting in a wider sense too, both in terms of GE’s personal upbringing, but also to some extent as a class division (sorry to keep grinding my class axe). 

In Doreen Roberts’ historical note at the start of my edition, she notes that predestination was a doctrine of the Evangelicals which was dominant amongst the middle class, while the Methodists (and their ‘salvation open to all’ doctrine) was more associated with working classes.  She even goes on to note that the spread of such a faith through the ‘proletarian masses’ suited those who wished to defuse ‘potential revolutionary impulses’ - and no doubt the idea that the saved are already chosen was more comforting to those with more to lose?

By on 07/02/08 at 03:43 AM | Permanent link to this comment

A note on imagery, from the bed-chambers chapter, the characterization of Hetty, where we are told that her aunt “bribed” her to attend to the young poultry:

As for the young chickens and turkeys, Hetty would have hated the very word “hatching,” if her aunt had not bribed her to attend to the young poultry by promising her the proceeds of one out of every brood. The round downy chicks peeping out from under their mother’s wing never touched Hetty with any pleasure; that was not the sort of prettiness she cared about, but she did care about the prettiness of the new things she would buy for herself at Treddleston Fair with the money they fetched.

Hetty herself seems unmoved by the sort of “soft downy ducks” beauty she evokes in others.

By Bill Benzon on 07/02/08 at 09:12 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Soon enough, Dinah turns away from the exterior scene and closes her eyes; is she really outer-directed?

What would it mean that Dinah is Eliot’s Mary Sue?... But it would explain the unearthly aura around Dinah.

Some of Rich’s comments have brought together some different aspects of Diana for me. We were talking last week about Diana’s lack of interiority. Perhaps this is a choice by GE about how to depict her because of Diana’s religious nature. Her strange practice of Methodism is something that makes her different and the object of speculation by others. I agree with Rich that she has an “unearthy aura”, but I think this stems from her “sublime” religious feeling. GE describes Seth and Diana as being:

Methodists… of a very old-fashioned kind. They believed in present miracles, in instantaneous conversions, in revelations by dreams and visions..."

So in some sense she is inward-directed, in that that is where she experiences her connection with God. Diana is somehow unknowable in a way that regular folks like Hetty or Mr. Irwine are not.

I also don’t see her as a Mary Sue, partly because she is very unevenly liked. She is not merely seen as “a good fellow” by all. The people of the village gather to hear her sermon because they are curious about her, and her treatment of Bess is quite harsh. Mrs. Poyser loves her as a niece, but is angry with her because she thinks her sermonizing may have negative repercussions for her family. And I think GE presents her both as an admirable figure and someone who is a bit strange, so excessively grave and spriritual.

Interestingly, even in her appearance, she is described as rather otherworldly. She is pale and reminds one of a “lovely corpse”, or of the moon in comparison to Hetty’s sun. (And isn’t Diana the name of the goddess of the moon?) Also, folks might want to check out Chapter 2 for a detailed description of her appearance when she comes to preach (short, light red hair, “a delicate nostril,” etc.)

By on 07/02/08 at 12:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

So in some sense she is inward-directed, in that that is where she experiences her connection with God.

Yes, I agree with this. She also reads and meditates on the Bible. She steers by her own God-inspired compass. This may not be what we think of as interiority, but it is a kind of interiority. 

I rather suspect that David Riesman’s inner-directed American is a descendant of Protestant ancestors.

By Bill Benzon on 07/02/08 at 04:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Julie: “I also don’t see her as a Mary Sue, partly because she is very unevenly liked.”

Well, I think that one has to take into account the difference between a hack writer and a great one.  A poor writer would create a Mary Sue that everyone loves universally, and readers would react with nausea.  But Dinah is disliked only by the right people for the right reasons.  Hetty dislikes her in a fit of pettishness, on her way towards moral failure.  Joshua the church informer speaks against her, but even he says that “I’m not for takin’ any measures against the young woman”, preferring to use her sermon as ammunition against village people he dislikes.  The dislike of those people only serves to build her up in the reader’s mind, which is the point after all.

Even Mrs. Poyser’s anger is oddly tinged with fantasy wish-fulfillment.  Mrs. Poyser tells Dinah not to make trouble.  But this is in every respect fantasy trouble.  Dinah speaks truth to power, so to speak, and power visits and tells her that why, it’s impressed.  Doesn’t every fantasy of that type have a similar person cautioning one beforehand, so that one can fantasize about bravely ignoring caution?  Mrs. Poyser tells Dinah to settle down and get married.  Well, I haven’t read the end of the book yet, but I have a feeling that by the time it comes, Dinah is going to fulfill Mrs. Poyser’s practical advice as well as following her own otherworldly guidance.

The physical description, again, is vague in a different way than would occur with a hack writer.  Yes, Dinah is described specifically as having short, red hair (for example).  But when it counts, when she’s put next to Hetty, there’s no note of red there—she’s like a lovely pale corpse animated by the sublime, in a white dress, with no contrasting shock of red hair to remind you that after all she’s really a living person with her own vanities, her own libido, etc.

By on 07/02/08 at 05:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry to backtrack a bit, I didn’t mean to imply that Eliot wasn’t using sarcasm when she described Donnithorne as a ‘good fellow.’ I was put-off by the “You perceive” half of the sentence.  It seemed heavy-handed, because it’s obvious that Eliot’s presenting the “pretty people get a free ride"-problem.  Others ascribe moral virtue to Hetty because she’s pretty (excepting Dinah and Mrs Poyser, of course), and similarly, everyone sees Donnithorne as a ‘good fellow.’ I just didn’t like how Eliot used the second person there.  But I could very well have misread it, since I was reading somewhat quickly.

On an unrelated note, I’m also interested in characters’ reading habits (or lack thereof) that joe’s pointed out.  Donnithorne not finishing the romance he’s been reading reminds me a lot of Paolo and Francesca in Dante’s Inferno, since they succumb to their passions, rather than finish reading the story of Lancelot and Guinevere.  It seems to be a common trope to have courtly lovers go astray when they don’t finish reading stories, especially ones that resemble their current situation.

Also, did anyone find it interesting that Donnithorne fancies himself a gallant hero while singing a song that’s hardly heroic (as the narrator points out)?

By Joel Rodgers on 07/02/08 at 05:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve been thinking about the description of Dinah as a ‘ghost’ and the references to her ‘long white dress and pale face’ and connecting this with the reference to ‘Goblin Market’ which Rohan made in an earlier thread published, as she pointed out, contemporaneously with AB.
Now that we have reached the ‘two bed-chambers’ and the direct comparison between Hetty’s vain, superficial longings with Dinah’s silent prayerfulness, I am disposed to think that there is more to this comparison, especially in the reading of ‘Goblin Market’ as variously religious, erotic and feminist, as all three could also be applied to AB.
The sisters in the poem are, like Hetty and Dinah, caught up in the seductive pull of desire for ‘forbidden fruits’, if you like, and one is the salvation of the other, there, as Dinah seeks to be to Hetty, here.
All of this made me think even more that Dinah has, indeed, that ‘Mary-Sue’ quality which Rich wrote about and her ‘corpse-like’ beauty, contrasted/combined with her red hair, makes her seem pre-Raphaelite to me in a way I hadn’t thought of before.
Also, there are so many references to coldness - even in the name of Dinah’s village - that the whole image becomes death-haunted and other-worldly.

By on 07/02/08 at 08:55 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve finally read Chapter 16, so I now know where Rohan’s second question comes from. But I’m not going to hazard an answer. I just want to offer a descriptive account of the main action, which is quite interesting.

Arthur is in a quandry about Hetty. So he decides to talk with his good friend Mr. Irwine. Not only that, but he’ll meet him over breakfast, as such conversations always go better over a meal. He arrives just as Irwine is taking his breakfast, joins him, and looses interest in having his heart-to-heart chat. But his conversation takes a serious philosophical turn, about decisions and conflicts and such, and Irwine picks up on this. He creates an opening for Arthur to say what’s on his mind. And Arthur backs off. As he does so, Irwine intuits that his young friend might be thinking about Hetty. But says nothing. He leaves without having had the conversation he set out to.

A most interesting conversation indeed, for what it implies about close relationships. Why should Arthur avoid the very conversation he set out to have? And how could Irwine guess at the topic his friend just backed away from? It won’t do to ask just how GE knew that Irwine had made that particular guess, because she can assert anything she will of him and we have no way to second-guess her knowledge. Still, she’s doing something very interesting in staging this non-conversation that failed to hide what wasn’t said, though Arthur doesn’t know that his friend has found him out.

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

Bill, I agree that “this non-conversation that failed to hide what wasn’t said” is very interesting.  I think part of what makes it convincing is the interplay of internal, psychological motives and inhibitions and external, social factors, such as propriety.  Both men also seem to believe that by not saying certain kinds of things out loud, they can make them somehow less true.

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

I’m not as impressed / interested in that particular scene.  It’s authorially asserted that Arthur has a “right thing to do”; he should confess his misdeed to his clergyman, and therefore be immunized or at least encouraged not to do anything further.  He goes to this conversation with the intent of doing so, and unsurprisingly doesn’t follow through—it’s already been established that he’s weak-willed in certain ways.  Mr. Irwine doesn’t push, because as has already been established, he’s not pushy.

But since the last such conversation, when Mr. Irwine compared Arthur’s showing too much attention to Hetty to Mr. Irwine being tempted to buy a dog he couldn’t afford, I got a bit bored with Hetty’s lack of agency.  Arthur and Mr. Irwine feel that Hetty is a sort of cute animal who can’t resist Arthur if he puts himself in her way.  Authorially, Eliot has already given Hetty her corresponding chance to confess to her minister and be immunized, so it’s not like she’s a complete nullity.  But there is too much supposedly at stake for this to be a comedy of manners, too little in these slight characters for the pathos to support a tragedy.

I can see why people are interested in it as an early example of inner, psychological motives.  But given that none of the characters can even think about sex in the privacy of their own mind, it seems awfully strained.

By on 07/06/08 at 09:29 AM | Permanent link to this comment

“given that none of the characters can even think about sex in the privacy of their own mind"

I’m not quite clear what you mean by this.  Do you mean that they aren’t thinking about sex, or that we aren’t explicitly told about their sexual thoughts?  Because I’m pretty sure Arthur, at least, is thinking about little else as he sings his song from the Beggars Opera (my Broadview edition give these lines in the notes:

Roses and lilies her cheeks disclose
But her ripe lips are more sweet than those.
Press her
Caress her
with Blisses
Her kisses
Dissolve us in pleasure and Soft Repose.)

and reads his novel about an aristocratic seducer. 

The Broadview editor also offers a reading I’m not sure I find convincing of this particular passage:

Arthur too was very uneasy, but his feelings were lit up for him by a more distinct consciousness. He hurried to the Hermitage ... unlocked the door with a hasty wrench, slammed it after him, pitched Zeluco into the most distant corner, and, thrusting his right hand into his pocket, first walked four or five times up and down the scanty length of the little room, and then seated himself on the ottoman in an uncomfortable, stiff way, as we often do when we wish not to abandon ourselves to feeling.

Here’s her annotation, though as I say, I’m not sure I’m convinced, and I’m not sure how we could know if, as she proposes, a Victorian reader would have read it in the way she does:

for some readers [Arthur’s] sudden reaction might be read as merely psychological, for others the vocabulary would suggest an erection. Thus the passage could be read aloud and convey its information in mixed company without causing outrage--a duty imposed on Victorian novelists by their publishers. Even so, Eliot may have had trouble getting this passage past Blackwood.

The “distinct consciousness” is explained away in the next paragraph as his awareness that he “was getting in love with Hetty"--but could it be meant to signal some more, shall we say, tangible evidence of his feelings? They have just “started asunder with beating hearts,” after all.  Hmmm.

In any case, I guess I don’t see the prohibition on more explicit announcements of sexual thoughts or feelings as much of a problem when so much of the novel seems suffused with consciousness of these wayward feelings (Dinah’s blush, again).  If it must be coded, it’s there nonetheless, and in something like the exchange between Arthur and Irwine, the social codes that insist that it not be openly spoken about are clearly made a problem, in a way that could reflect more widely on the problems the novel is unfolding for us (for instance, Hetty’s agency is hampered in part by her sexual naivete, and Dinah’s happiness is postponed by her inattention to herself as a sexual as well as spiritual being).  I would have said that GE’s protagonists tend to have pretty strong and overt sex drives (by Victorian standards).

By Rohan Maitzen on 07/06/08 at 09:55 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve been struck by the ghostliness of Dinah’s appearances as well, stated by Ma Bede not too subtly often by comparing her to the pictures of the spirit/angel in Adam’s (or is it Seth’s?) copy of the Bible.

What strikes me the most are the regular references to nature throughout the book --- we are repeatedly invited to consider the natural beauty or elements of a scene, whether a church, or a farm house, or the rectory. I’ve begun to form the firm opinion that Adam Bede is all about Nature and our human struggle against or with it.

In this context, I agree with the opinion stated here that ‘sex’ is present in people’s minds, at least in those of the “young ‘uns.” Let’s not be too condescending from our post-modern vantage point of easily expressed and advertised sexuality and assume that the Victorian mind was so fundamentally stunted as to not respond to sexual desire. The entire novel is about sexual seduction after all!

The sexual force is definitely there in the women’s blushes, in the way waists are held and arms linked—in fact, Eliot clearly makes a reference in the scene on the Green to Bessy’s behavior being not so far from that of a common prostitute.

Certainly, references to sex are codified (the “duty imposed ... by [Victorian] publishers” that Rohan refers to) but more, I think that sex has a reduced profile because in the larger context of all the ways our nature, and Nature, impel us, sex is only part of the story, only one goad among the other lusts, passions, desires and inspirations that Eliot’s characters, (and we!) are buffeted and tortured by every day.

More on my blog post for the week --- http://clicheniche.wordpress.com/2008/07/06/reactions-to-adam-bede-chapters-11-16/. Enjoy!

By Zachary Epstein on 07/06/08 at 03:13 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Somehow I don’t think that the conversational “blockage” in Chapter 16 can be attributed entirely to taboos surrounding sex talk. There’s something else at work here, a personal reticence and reluctance that’s not specifically or only about sex.

By Bill Benzon on 07/06/08 at 05:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Bill, the blockage is that Arthur is reluctant to admit that he’s done wrong, and that he’s done wrong having resolved not to do so.  If he admitted that, he’d take a hit in his self image.  It can’t really be taboos around sex talk; after all, no sex has occurred at this point, so he could phrase it as he’s falling in love with her etc.

Rohan and Zachary, I didn’t mean to imply that the characters are sexless.  I caught the hand-in-pocket scene too (and thought back to the Freudian bit about what jingling your change in your pocket means).  It’s just that, well… at this point, Arthur has had time to carouse with his fellow cavalry heroes, right?  He’s not supposed to be a virgin, is he?  I understand that he can’t be depicted as thinking about it directly, but it just ups the level of self-repression.  He can never think back, even in his own mind, to his previous sexual experience, and never think explicitly about what he’s risking Hetty’s future for.  Of course, this strategic silence serves the goals of the novel.  But it’s difficult weather to be reading how he’s psychologically tempted, and to have some access to his interiority, and to have the whole thing still be censored.

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

If he admitted that, he’d take a hit in his self image.

Yes. As long as he’s silent, his self-image is OK. What he knows about himself, well, that’s private and of no account. What matters is what others know and think.

By Bill Benzon on 07/06/08 at 07:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, yes.  With someone like Arthur, what other people think about him really is his self-image, in some basic way.  He doesn’t really seem to know anything about himself.  But as long as other people think of him as a good person, he can continue to think of himself as a good person.

By on 07/06/08 at 07:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Eyelashes were apparently the cause of one famous unequal marriage in the 18th century.  Scandalously, the Duke of Cumberland married one Mrs. Horton, “... after having failed in endeavoring to win her on easier terms. The lady is described by Horace Walpole as a a young widow of twenty-four, extremely pretty and well made, and remarkable for the great length of her eyelashes, which veiled a pair of most artful and coquettish eyes.” (Chambers Book of Days)

By on 07/07/08 at 03:56 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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