Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Summer Reading Project: Adam Bede (Chapters 27-35)
First, in the serendipity category, today’s “Review-a-Day” from Powell’s is the Atlantic Monthly on George Eliot’s first published fiction, Scenes of Clerical Life:
Fiction represents the character of the age to which it belongs, not merely by actual delineations of its times, like those of Tom Jones and The Newcomes, but also in an indirect, though scarcely less positive manner, by its exhibition of the influence of the times upon its own form and general direction, whatever the scene or period it may have chosen for itself. The story of “Hypatia” is laid in Alexandria almost two thousand years ago, but the book reflects the crudities of modern English thought; and even Mr. Thackeray, the greatest living master of costume, succeeds in making his Esmond only a joint-production of the Addisonian age and our own. Thus the novels of the last few years exhibit very clearly the spirit that characterizes the period of regard for men and women as men and women, without reference to rank, beauty, fortune, or privilege. Novelists recognize that Nature is a better romance-maker than the fancy, and the public is learning that men and women are better than heroes and heroines, not only to live with, but also to read of. Now and then, therefore, we get a novel, like these Scenes of Clerical Life, in which the fictitious element is securely based upon a broad groundwork of actual truth, truth as well in detail as in general.
It is not often, however, even yet, that we find a writer wholly unembarrassed by and in revolt against the old theory of the necessity of perfection in some one at least of the characters of his story. “Neither Luther nor John Bunyan,” says the author of this book, “would have satisfied the modern demand for an ideal hero, who believes nothing but what is true, feels nothing but what is excellent, and does nothing but what is graceful.”
The Atlantic Monthly’s review of Adam Bede was actually featured not that long ago:
We do not know where to look, in the whole range of contemporary fictitious literature, for pictures in which the sober and the brilliant tones of Nature blend with more exquisite harmony than in those which are set in every chapter of Adam Bede. Still life—the harvest-field, the polished kitchens, the dairies with a concentrated cool smell of all that is nourishing and sweet, the green, the porches that have vines about them and are pleasant late in the afternoon, and deep woods thrilling with birds—all these were never more vividly, and yet tenderly depicted. The characters are drawn with a free and impartial hand, and one of them is a creation for immortality. Mrs. Poyser is a woman with an incorrigible tongue, set firmly in opposition to the mandates of a heart the overflows of whose sympathy and love keep the circle of her influence in a state of continual irrigation. Her epigrams are aromatic, and she is strong in simile, but never ventures beyond her own depth into that of her author.
That brings us to today’s installment, which includes the immortal Mrs. Poyser having “her say out”:
“Yis, I know I’ve done it,” said Mrs Poyser, “but I’ve had my say out, and I shall be th’ easier for ‘t all my life. There’s no pleasure i’ living, if you’re to be corked up for iver, and only dribble your mind out by the sly, like a leaky barrel."
To which any one of us who has ever been accused of speaking out of turn (or just speaking too much) can say a hearty “hear, hear!”
Now, too, we’ve reached, not the crisis of the book, but a crisis at least, as Arthur’s guilty secret comes out and he and Adam face off “with the instinctive fierceness of panthers.”
One of the most compelling aspects of this volume for me is Arthur’s growing realization of one of GE’s most stringent moral laws--you cannot escape your deeds:
Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds; and until we know what has been or will be the peculiar combination of outward with inward facts, which constitutes a man’s critical actions, it will be better not to think ourselves wise about his character. There is a terrible coercion in our deeds which may first turn the honest man into a deceiver, and then reconcile him to the change; for this reason--that the second wrong presents itself to him in the guise of the only practicable right. . . . Europe adjusts itself to a fait accompli, and so does an individual character,--until the placid adjustment is disturbed by a convulsive retribution.
She returns to the fatality of action in Romola--
Our deeds are like children that are born to us; they live and act apart from our own will. Nay, children may be strangled, but deeds never: they have an indestructible life both in and out of our consciousness.
and again in Middlemarch--
1st Gent. Our deeds are fetters that we forge ourselves.
2nd Gent. Ay, truly, but I think it is the world
That brings the iron.
How often, in George Eliot’s fiction, do past deeds return to haunt, confound, or indict those who seek to leave their pasts behind?
Your own actions are her version of Nemesis, as many critics have pointed out; when disaster comes, most of the time you have only yourself to blame--or, yourself and the particular “combination of outward with inward facts” that has created the context in which your actions became inevitable. Often, though, she embodies that doom: Baldassare confronts Tito, Raffles returns to Bulstrode--here Hetty and her unborn child represent Arthur’s moral degradation--his deed iss literally a child, but the child, perhaps, is more easily avoided than the deed itself. One explanation that is sometimes given for the length and detail of George Eliot’s novels (in which, as has been pointed out here, there is often a long, largely discursive prelude to any distinct event) is that these outward and inward circumstances need to be established fully enough that we can appreciate the causes of the action, as well as anticipate the consequences. This is all driven by her idea of determinism, summed up by George Levine as an “idea-simple at bottom but leading to enormous complications-that every event has its causal antecedents.” Here’s a bit more of Levine’s explanation of this theory:
George Eliot saw a deterministic universe as a marvelously complex unit in which all parts are intricately related to each other, where nothing is really isolable, and where past and future are both implicit in the present. Nothing in such a universe is explicable without reference to the time and place in which it occurs or exists. This suggested that one can never make a clearcut break with the society in which one has been brought up, with one’s friends and relations, with one’s past. Any such break diminishes a man’s wholeness and is the result of his failure to recognize his ultimate dependence on others, their claims on him, and the consequent need for human solidarity. For George Eliot, every man’s life is at the center of a vast and complex web of causes,” a good many of which exert pressure on him from the outside and come into direct conflict with his own desires and motives.
Of course, as Levine discusses in detail, this view went hand-in-hand for her with a stringent commitment to individual responsibility. Interestingly, Levine uses Adam Bede to illustrate this point:
The point is that although every action is caused, few causes are uncontrollable in the sense that no effort to alter them can succeed. As long as the cause is not a compulsion, that is, as long as it is not physically impossible or excessively dangerous to will differently and as long as one is not so mentally ill that one cannot will differently even if one wants to, one is responsible for his actions. To take an example: in Adam Bede, Arthur Donnithorne was free to avoid the circumstances which drew him into sexual relations with Hetty Sorrel. He was aware that he should have told Mr. Irwine about his feelings, but he chose not to. And even though he was helped in avoiding confession by Irwine’s overly decorous refusal to make him talk, Arthur was under no compulsion to be silent. At one point in the conversation between Arthur and Irwine, Irwine figuratively and implicitly makes the distinction between cause and compulsion. Arthur says to him:
“Well, but one may be betrayed into doing things by a combination of circumstances, which one might never have done otherwise.” “Why, yes [Irwine replies], a man can’t very well steal a bank-note unless the bank-note lies within convenient reach; but he won’t make us think him an honest man because he begins to howl at the banknote for falling in his way.” (Ch. XVI)
The bank-note’s presence, that is to say, is one of the causes of the theft, but there is nothing in its presence serving as a compulsion to make a man steal it. *
This is one line of interpretation we might wish to pursue, but as always, questions and comments on any topic are welcome.
In case anyone needs reminders or is joining in a bit belatedly, the overall schedule is here. Previous discussions have covered Chapters 1-5, Chapters 6-11, Chapters 12-16, Chapters 17-21, and Chapters 22-26.
*These quotations are from Levine’s essay “Determinism and Responsibility in the Works of George Eliot,” PMLA 77:3 (June 1962).
"Still life—the harvest-field, the polished kitchens, the dairies with a concentrated cool smell of all that is nourishing and sweet, the green, the porches that have vines about them and are pleasant late in the afternoon, and deep woods thrilling with birds—all these were never more vividly, and yet tenderly depicted.”
This is a happy turn of phrase by the anonymous reviewer—a concentrated, nostalgic image of one aspect of what he or she received from the work. However, it’s an essentially non-human image—the still life can’t have human beings moving about. And this particular set of chapters in Adam Bede is pretty much the sex and violence section.
(I do agree with the reviewer about Mrs. Poyser, in passing.)
I may have something more intelligent to say about the determinism theme later—but for now, it points up the difference between the attempt to read a 19th century novel as if one were in the 19th century, and the attempt to read it and take from it whatever relates to the contemporary moment. Which, for the moment, is that this determinism is muffled, so to speak, by the silence that had to fall over some central events in this novel. Adam and Arthur have their conflict on the basis that Arthur may have “turned Hetty’s head”, made her fall in love with him and thereby spoiled her love for anyone else (and, of course, brought her shame if she’s found out.) But in fact, as the last chapter in the set makes clear, Arthur and Hetty have had sex. And the consequence of this appears without a real cause—Arthur never gets to think about what really tempted him to go beyond flirtation, neither he nor Hetty get to think about how enjoyable or disagreeable the actual cause of her pregnancy was, and even in their own interiority it’s still all phrased in terms of marriage.
But this silence falls—I’m tempted to say “as usual”—in the form of the hidden emotional energy being redirected into a burst of attachment-through-violence between the male characters. Adam beats Arthur up and then has to take care of him, in bed. This is crying out for parody in the form of what all fanfic descends to, “slash” fanfic. Something like ‘From Chapter 27 of A Beastly Deed: Arthur: “I never meant to injure you! Not you-- “ (his eyes well over) “ you’re too important to me.” Adam: “It’s too late for that. You’re going to sink under me like a steel rod broken by an iron bar!” (Pause.) “Um, or maybe I said that the wrong way.”’ But I’m tired of all the complaints when I write these, so never mind.
As a pendant to Eliot’s concern with deeds, let me offer some more sociology, the distinction between ascribed status and achieved status. Arthur’s position in this world is largely a matter of ascribed status; he was born into the gentry and will take over the estate as a matter of birth. This is a world where class position is largely a matter of ascribed status.
That Adam has been made keeper of the woods, or whatever the title, that is an achieved status. He earned it through his skill and work. The achievement, however, does not itself erase the difference between his social class and Arthur’s.
Now consider this passage in Ch 28, at the Hermitage where Adam is attending to Arthur after their fight:
“I ask you to write a letter--you may trust to my seeing
as she gets it. Tell her the truth, and take blame to yourself for
behaving as you’d no right to do to a young woman as isn’t your equal.
I speak plain, sir, but I can’t speak any other way. There’s nobody can
take care o’ Hetty in this thing but me.”
“I can do what I think needful in the matter,” said Arthur, more and
more irritated by mingled distress and perplexity, “without giving
promises to you. I shall take what measures I think proper.”
“No,” said Adam, in an abrupt decided tone, “that won’t do. I must know
what ground I’m treading on. I must be safe as you’ve put an end to what
ought never to ha’ been begun. I don’t forget what’s owing to you as a
gentleman, but in this thing we’re man and man, and I can’t give up.”
On the one hand, Adam addresses Arthur as “sir” and talks of what’s owed him as a gentleman. He’s obeying the conventions appropriate to the status their society acribes to them. But he also asserts that “in this thing we’re man and man.” That is to say, they’re somehow operating outside the social order. After all, Adam’s just beaten his social better, and a man who has given him a handsome position.
At this point, it seems to me, Eliot has pretty much made hash of the class system that was so neatly arrayed in the celebration of Donnithorne’s birthday.
And what of the Hermitage? It’s Arthur’s special hide-away. It’s where he bedded Hetty (presumably) and now it’s where Adam attends to him and demands that he come clean with Hetty.
I think what we’re encountering is a similar idea to that which Dickens explores in ‘Great Expectations’ (sorry, still can’t get italics functioning) i.e. the notion of what constitutes a ‘gentleman’: is it what we are, what people suppose us to be or what we can become?
Clearly, Arthur is an ‘ascribed gentleman’ but he doesn’t behave like one (or rather, he does but only in the ‘penny dreadful’ pejorative sense!); Adam is one of ‘nature’s gentlemen’, as my bricklayer grandfather used to say, much like Jo Gargery in GE, he has an inherent sense of what is ‘right’ and how ‘men’ should behave.
Part of this is his acknowledgement of status, though I feel his use of ‘sir’ here is almost a rebuke because Arthur has betrayed and debased his ‘ascribed status’ thus devaluing the ‘achieved status’ he has bestowed upon Adam and the esteem in which Adam held him.
As to the Hermitage, one definition is that it is ‘a place where one can live apart from society’; that seems to fit what goes on here very well.
At this point, it seems to me, Eliot has pretty much made hash of the class system that was so neatly arrayed in the celebration of Donnithorne’s birthday.
I gather that this is part of what you were thinking about in this comment on the previous instalment. I like both of your comments on Adam’s use of “sir”: it’s an almost instinctive sign of respect, but also, as Sue points out, its use highlights how far Arthur has fallen from deserving it, especially from Adam, whom we see clearly as the better man (on a new system). And yet, I wonder about the comparison to Joe Gargery, since Joe is kind of a moral sauvant, while Adam’s morality (though still not completely ripe at this point) is achieved through effort--like his kindness to his annoying mother, which we approve because it doesn’t just come naturally.
Yes, Rohan, that’s what I was thinking about.
On “sir,” I think that particular line would give an actor an interesting interpretive opportunity. Sure it’s all but instinctive, but it could be inflected to convey something quite different from respect, such as contempt or disappointment.
As for effort, that may be the answer to the question I posed about the schoolhouse scene: why devote so much time to guys struggling to learn how to read? Perhaps that’s the point, that it takes effort, that it involves instruction. That scene forces us to dwell in the psychological “space” of effortful learning rather than simply note that learning occurs.
Rohan: I agree Joe isn’t the perfect comparison with Adam, I was just using him as an example of a ‘humble gentleman’, if that makes sense. It was more the attempt by both authors to cause us to think about what makes a ‘man’ a ‘gentleman’. (I am now thinking that actually, Pip’s ‘morality’ is ‘achieved through effort’ - and suffering - in a similar way to Adam’s?)
Bill: ‘On “sir,” I think that particular line would give an actor an interesting interpretive opportunity.’
It certainly would, Ollie! Can’t remember how it was handled in the only film I’ve seen of it but will now be compelled to check. (I’d like to see a slight pause, a look straight in the eyes, then a polite but clearly weighted delivery, myself.)
I’ve got a vague contextual question. Stories about sexual-romantic relationships between high-born men and lower-born  women are quite common in 18th and 19th century fiction. The distance between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy is not so great as that between Tess and Arthur; and it also ends better. The story of Tess (of the D’Urbervilles) ends up badly, though it’s not so much her high-born lover as her reformist preacher husband that tips her to the dark side. Pamela ends well.
I’m curious about the place of the Tess-Arthur relationship in the general range of such relationships in 18th and 19th century British novels. Also, are there any cases of high-born women consorting with men lower-down? There’s Lady Chatterly, of course, but that’s a different century.
’Also, are there any cases of high-born women consorting with men lower-down?’
Interesting, Bill. I’ve been trying to think of some examples but it’s not easy. Austen mixes perceptions within classes in her relationships, rather than classes as such, as in the famous example from ‘P & P’ that you cite, but Anne Elliot, in Persuasion, is a more marked example, because though Captain Wentworth is definitely ‘beneath her’ in status, he is accepted - eventually - because he becomes rich (having made a ‘fast buck’ out of the Napoleonic wars; Austen’s brothers also ‘rose’ via the navy, of course).
I think Hardy’s Tess is very different, though, because Alec d’Urberville, who rapes her, is actually a nouveau riche parvenu and Tess is the true aristocrat being descended from the noble line whose name Alec’s family has bought; in a sense, his rape of her is the violation of the older order by the new and Hardy is clear, IMO, whose side he’s on. True, the pious and hypocritical Clare is her emotional ‘undoing’ – and he, too, has been ‘influenced’ by ‘new ideas’ - but it is the initial discovery of her family’s lineage that sets off the train of events.
So, is Hardy asking us to be wary of clinging to a connection with a basically corrupt, disenfranchised aristocracy or is he attacking the newly rich who have ‘bought up’ what was once England’s heritage?
I don’t think it’s at all clear because Alec is not by any means all bad and ideas of sexuality are principally what TH is getting at I think. Tess has to be raped, has to be rejected, cannot allow herself sexual freedom because society won’t permit it; after all, he calls her a ‘pure woman’ and she is literally ‘sacrificed’ for her ‘sins’.
It’s interesting that you mention Pamela ‘end[ing] well’ because Clarissa, it’s ‘parody’, also involves rape and sacrifice and is, I think, closer to Tess: whether it ends ‘well’ depends on whether you think Clarissa is a victim or a victor through her death. (Hope no-one is currently reading these books as I’ve completely ‘spoiled’ them!)
With Hetty and Arthur I think the seduction is far more ‘conventional’, in structure at least, because the story follows the line of the ‘ruined maid’. Its interest, for me, is in how GE contrives to explain why her characters behave as they do and how this fits into what society perceives to be their relative ‘stations’ and how this is changing: Adam is emblematic of much of this.
The main area of ‘common ground’ between Arthur and Alec, for me, would be that both men are shown to have a conscience about their actions but I think the authors’ aims were quite different, even in the centring of consciousness.
I think Hardy’s Tess is very different, though, because Alec d’Urberville, who rapes her, is actually a nouveau riche parvenu and Tess is the true aristocrat being descended from the noble line whose name Alec’s family has bought...
I’d forgotten that, Sue. Thanks for reminding me.
I wonder how many ‘ruined maid’ novels have been written? Not simply in the canon, but in toto. I’d like to see a Moretti-esque tabulation of all 18th and 19th century British novels in which we have some kind of romantic-sexual liaison between a man and woman where the man is of higher social standing either in terms of class or simply wealth. This table would also indicate how the relationship worked out and other pertinent details.
I’m also thinking about Rich’s concern that the needs of preserving decorum on sexual matters force some very important matters out of the 19th century British novel. At the moment I’m writing about three Shakespeare plays that involve deep ambivalence about sexuality and attachment in a male-female relationship: Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, and The Winter’s Tale. Shakespeare is able to be up-front about sexuality in a way that the Victorians could not be. In all cases he’s dealing with couples from the same social class, though Winter’s involves some interesting slight of hand. The thing is, if you can’t be upfront about sexuality, then some very crucial facets of male-female relationships are invisible to you. I’m wondering if that’s what “forces” the British novel to be so heavily committed to relationships between men and women of different social class. Conversely, if you can deal openly with sexuality, that’s more than enough to keep a novel going forward and you don’t need to complicate things with class issues as well.
BTW, Bill, I guess this was a typo:
‘Stories about sexual-romantic relationships between high-born men and lower-born men are quite common in 18th and 19th century fiction.’
Otherwise I’ve been missing out on a whole new slant on this!
Hmmm… Yeah, a typo, which I’ve gone back and fixed. That would be in the category of slash fanfic, which Rich has already mentioned.
’The thing is, if you can’t be upfront about sexuality, then some very crucial facets of male-female relationships are invisible to you.’
Maybe. OTOH sometimes a scene can be more potently sexually charged precisely because of what’s absent or, apparently ‘invisible’ to ‘you’ i.e. the reader or even another character and reveal ‘crucial facets’.
I’m thinking here of, say, the use of the implicit by Henry James, especially in The Golden Bowl where no-one is quite sure how much anyone ‘knows’ yet it is not that James ‘can’t be upfront about sexuality’, it’s just more effective to evoke the subliminal and passions still drive the novel. Being ‘open’ would kill it.
I mentioned James not only because his use of sexual dynamics is so clearly erotic without being explicit but also because he side-steps ‘class issues’ by having so much of his work involved with transatlantic divisions and aspirations and, in The Golden Bowl, the American rich are ‘buying up’ the trappings of the ‘ancien regime’ of Europe - even the aristocrats themselves, like Amerigo, the ‘prince with a price’.
Also, I think James’s style is where GE taking the novel in the increasing involvement with interiorisation, even on class issues. Sexuality is part of this, I think, although clearly Victorian mores did enforce restrictions which had hitherto been less moralistic (and less hypocritical)!
Now that I’ve finished these chapters what strikes me is that Adam continues to misread Hetty’s behavior with-toward him and he continues to misread her character. This is nothing new & it’s quite obvious. At this point, of course, Hetty’s decided that marriage to Adam is her best bet, so she’s playing along with his misreading. Still . . . And Hetty, despite the letter from Arthur, thinks (or only desperately hopes?) he’ll receive her when she shows up on his doorstep. Both of these very different characters misread a significant other.
Do any other characters in the book misread others or another so badly? Seth is in love with Dinah, but he doesn’t misread her. Does Arthur misread Hetty or is he simply oblivious to her intentions? He may not have seen or understood her hopes for their relationship, but he doesn’t seem to have hoped for something that wasn’t there. Their class difference, of course, “allows” him to be oblivious to her intentionality, to her full subjectivity and agency, while it encourages her to hope in vain.
* * * * * *
And then we have Mrs. Poyser having her say. The interesting thing about that scene is the interaction between her and her husband. That’s worth parsing line-by-line, but I’m not going to do it here. What she said threatened their cozy home where they’d lived all their lives, but Mr. Poyser says not a word against what she’s said. They’re a team and this is their proper division of labor in this kind of situation.
This is a different take on class conflict than the Hetty-Arthur liaison.
I don’t see where the misreadings are in either Adam/Hetty or Hetty/Arthur. Adam thinks that Hetty is disappointed, but that she’s mostly gotten over Arthur and is willing to make a go of marrying him. And it’s true—except that she’s pregnant. Arthur thinks that Hetty wanted to marry him, but that he’s successfully gotten rid of her, and it’s true—except that she’s pregnant. When she goes to visit him, she’s not hoping against hope that he’ll marry her. She goes to visit him because he promised to help her if she got in trouble, and she certainly is in trouble.
If she hadn’t gotten pregnant, all of these relationships would have worked out exactly as the characters thought they would (to our best information, anyway). Adam and Hetty would have been married, and between her industry and her vanity, would probably have made a successful couple. Arthur would have come home, and he and Hetty would have avoided each other. What changes everything isn’t a misreading, it’s the biological fact of her pregnancy.
I do think that there’s a thesis waiting for someone (or, probably has already been written many times) on the suppressed homoeroticism of these scenes. The Seducer, a stock 19th century character, can’t really be dealt with by women, because that would involve emotional confrontation and someone might mention sex and so on. So another guy has to get all emotionally involved with him.
The Adam/Arthur fight scene almost matches the Totty’s-pocket scene that Adam Roberts mentioned earlier for “hmm, that can’t be subtext, can it?” tension. First they face off like panthers—Hetty’s insistent animal imagery is suddenly bleeding over. Then Arthur’s steel rod is broken by Adam’s iron bar, which, yes, this was before Freud, so sometimes an iron bar is just an iron bar. But it was when Adam was taking care of Arthur, afterwards, in the same bed where Arthur had been with Hetty, that I really thought there was something going on there.
Not that Adam and Arthur are supposed to be actually attracted to each other, of course. But the emotional energy has to go somewhere, and it can’t be between the sexually involved couple, so… people really should read just enough fanfic to pick up on its central tropes. There’s something about the way that it relentlessly finds the lowest-common-denominator fantasies that works to reveal their traces in other, better work.
’The Seducer, a stock 19th century character, can’t really be dealt with by women, because that would involve emotional confrontation and someone might mention sex and so on. So another guy has to get all emotionally involved with him.’
This really interested me, Rich.
Though I hadn’t thought of it before, after I’d written about Henry James (above) I suddenly thought that maybe the powerful and, there, ‘suppressed’ rather than ‘repressed’ - sexuality might emanate from his personally repressed (or unexpressed)homosexuality.
Then I started thinking about Lawrence and Women in Love where the only really ‘successful’ sexual encounter is the nude wrestling between the two male characters (Gerald is one, I forget the other’s name) - even in Ken Russell’s film it’s the ‘best bit’. The relationships with women just don’t work, despite the title, IMO, and DHL was recorded as acknowledging his own lack of a sense of ‘completion’ in his heterosexual relationships.
Maybe Bill’s ‘typo’ (above) was a ‘Pre-Freudian slip’?!
p.s. Please tell me more about ‘fanfic’ - it’s a new one on me and I need to know more, please.
There’s definitely something going on between the men after the fight. Just what, I don’t know. Recall that they grew up together so they’ve got an early history in which the class difference didn’t have the force it now has. But the age difference would have meant something; Adam is, what?, 6 or 7 years older?
So that fight is more than just a fight between two rivals for the same woman. It also violates the proper relationship between a man of a higher and a man of a lower class, between employer and employee; and it shatters a long-standing friendship. The fight takes them outside the social system, but it’s almost as though it takes them into a pre-lapsarian past for a moment.
It occurs to me that there’s stuff in the primate ethology literature about post-fight peace-making. I vaguely recall that there are times and ways that the victorious male will placate the looser. They may have fought, but they still have to live together in the same band.
Fanfic is one of those subjects that’s so Internet-attached that wiki is actually a good source of information on it. I recommend using wiki on “fanfic”, “slash fiction”, and “Mary Sue”. As far as I can remember, I got the idea of looking at literature through the lens of fanfic through this Making Light post. The little bits that I write in comments—the ones labeled with names like ABD, Abedecadabra, Average Indeed, A Beastly Deed, etc.—could be considered to be Adam Bede fanfic of a sort, although typically fanfic would be much closer to canon.
The earliest form of slash fanfic was Kirk / Spock erotica. (A visceral negative reaction that some readers may have just suffered when first considering this idea has its own term of art, “squick”, by the way.) Slash was originally, and perhaps still is, largely written by women. I don’t think that relationships in fiction that are primary candidates for slash are generally a result of repressed male homosexuality on the part of their writer. Instead, I generally think that it’s a matter of emotional energy that is inherent to the interaction of the characters that gets repressed due to the constraints of what the writer is permitted to show to the audience, and appears in the only place it can appear, in apparently innocuous but strangely fraught relationships. In the case of Adam Bede, the emotional crisis would most naturally be between Arthur and Hetty, not Arthur and Adam. But since it has to be redirected, it appears between Arthur and Adam in a burst of otherwise incongruous sexual imagery.
I first found out about slash fiction when a colleague sent me a copy of this article. Notice that the article does not contain the word “parody” in it at all and that the empirical study they report (somewhere in the middle) does not involve a piece of slash fiction and that the women who read it do not appear to be readers of slash fiction. Nonetheless, those observations are applied to slash.
As of the time that article was written the authors of slash fiction appeared to be female, as did the audience. I do not know whether things have changed since then. I’ve not read any slash myself, though I’ve skimmed through some slash sites on the web; so I don’t have any serious opinion about it. I note further that there’s a genre of manga that’s similar.
That article, Bill—oy. A deeply confused study in service of finding what the authors just knew that they were going to find.
If you’re interested in the (clear) connection between fanfic and manga, you really should read this.
Rich & Bill:
Many thanks for the information and links - I’ll look into it (I love the early ‘Star Trek’, btw, Rich, especially episodes like the one about Apollo and ‘Amok Time’, so I’ll look into that, too).
p.s. Maybe if I’d understood this before, I’d have read your ABD, Abedecadabra, Average Indeed, A Beastly Deed, etc. differently, Rich, and with more reasoned intelligence rather than being so dismissive so please accept my apologies for my ignorance and thanks again.
Yeah, Rich, that article’s a mess. I was embarrassed to read it.
Interesting article, Rich. As you know, there’s lots of fan-written manga, whole conventions devoted to it.
On reconciliation among primates, the locus classicus is Frans de Waal, Peacemaking Among Primates (Harvard 1989). Wasn’t able to find any really good links (only spent 5 or 10 minutes looking), but these should give you some sense of the literature: notice of a talk by de Waals, abstract of an article on chimp reconciliation, segments of a book chapter by de Waal.
No problem, Sue. I apologize for insulting you.
(Parenthetically, you’ve written George Eliot fanfic, haven’t you? You once mentioned having re-written a happy ending for The Mill on the Floss for a student who wanted one. Of course, “real” fanfic would treat the events of the novel as canon and unchangeable, but we’re free to use the term in a broader sense.)
Going back from reconciliation among primates to Adam Bede, how much is Eliot’s biography relevant to these scenes, do you think? By the time she wrote Adam Bede, she was already living in sin with a guy who she considered to be her husband, but who was actually in an open marriage with someone else. She also apparently was self-conscious about her appearance. Is Hetty her negative figure? The sort of pretty, vapid person who she can’t help envying, who then suffers the fate that Eliot herself avoided? (I assume that Eliot’s acceptance in society would have been even more troubled if she’d had a child.) In one sense, this doesn’t matter, the author is dead. In another, it helps to construct a sort of explanatory theory for why the narrator of Adam Bede really seems to want to load Hetty up with negative characterizations.
Thanks, Rich, I’m glad we’ve sorted things out.
Yes, I did write a really silly ‘alternative ending’ for The Mill on the Floss for a student which he pasted into his expensive Folio copy! It was just for a laugh, though, and I didn’t know that it was ‘fanfic’ in even the vaguest sense because I didn’t know the term.
I can now see however, that identifying themes in this way can initiate a fresh perspective; I think in ‘the realms of academe’ everyone gets too bogged down by what are, after all, hackneyed approaches in many ways, so I’m learning a lot, here.
Re GE’s biography and AB, it does influence her writing, I think (IMO this is true of most authors, actually). GE was extraordinarily keen to be seen as the ‘suburban wife’, as far as I recall, wanting to be known as ‘Mrs Lewes’ locally etc. Something of an irony when you think how unusual her domestic set-up was. Of course when she was rich and famous she was more readily accepted ... ‘plus ca changes’!
Hetty might be a kind of ‘negative figure’ for her but I think I’ve always ‘blocked this’ because I like Hetty so much. She’s much easier to take than Hardy’s Tess, for instance, IMO, even though I do like TH very much, he’s just so obviously in love with his character and seems to enjoy making her suffer which irritates me. But maybe GE is also making Hetty suffer as you suggest for different reasons as you’re right, she was self-conscious about her appearance and Spencer, in particular, was very cruel to her about it. OTOH, James (why do I keep coming back to him, I wonder?) admitted that despite her looks he was attracted to her ... but that’s hardly a compliment and his sexuality was ambivalent.
I think that maybe you have begun to make me think that there is some kind of ‘negativity’ in the characterisation of Hetty in that she almost has to ‘punish’ her for being beautiful. Mind you, she has to be made to suffer to fit in with the ‘contemporary morality’ GE was flouting, too, of course. Previously, I had always thought that she adored Hetty, now I’m not sure. Interesting ...
The introduction to my edition of AB, by one Gordon S. Haight, notes that Isaac Evans (Marian’s brother) “told his friends privately that Adam Bede contained things about his father that no one but his sister could have written.”
Q. We know that Arthur’s interest in Hetty was sexual. What about Adam’s interest in her?
’The introduction to my edition of AB, by one Gordon S. Haight, notes that Isaac Evans (Marian’s brother) “told his friends privately that Adam Bede contained things about his father that no one but his sister could have written.”
Really, Bill, wonder exactly what?! Adam is supposedly partly based on GE’s father, isn’t he? An idealized picture, of course, maybe even an apologia as they didn’t get on towards the end, did they? For that matter, as far as I recall, she didn’t get on with her brother, either, as he thought she had disgraced the family by moving in with Lewes.
‘We know that Arthur’s interest in Hetty was sexual. What about Adam’s interest in her?’
That’s always been a problem for me i.e. Adam is just too worthy to be sexy. If you compare descriptions of him with those of, say, Giles in Hardy’s Woodlanders (don’t worry, not about to do it here) there’s a crucial ‘earthiness’ absent from Adam. Hence, I think, the absence of a sexual element to the relationship between Adam and Hetty, he protects her but he’s not passionate about her, there’s a distance in his admiration - in church its even combined with worship.
Arthur is the sexy scoundrel, here, and this is where GE is a bit ‘penny dreadful’ - or ‘fanfic’, as I have learned it should be - because basically sex is punished in the novel, I now understand.
(I wouldn’t have seen much of this a few weeks ago, so re-reading the novel like this has been great, really opened my eyes to other possibilities.)
I agree on the nature of Adam’s attitude toward Hetty. So, you take sexy Arthur and merge him with spiritual Adam and you’ve got one full man. How do you make the merge? Have them fight, and let Adam care for Arthur afterward. Then have Arthur leave the scene and let Adam continue w/ Hetty (& she can think of Arthur whenever Adam’s with her). Except, as Rich has pointed out, that she’s pregnant.
So, this bit of trickery won’t quite work. Except that it doesn’t have to work in the fictional world. It only has to work in the reader, who gets to act all the parts in the story.
Did they have fan fiction in the 19th century? We know that the Bronte sisters wrote stories for one another as children, but that’s not fanfic. Did Austen fans write stories out of the Austen-verse and circulate them? Dickens fans? Twain fans? Without the internet (or, before it, mimeograph and photocopying) reproduce fanfic would have been rather difficult, but it would have been possible to circulate single copies among a small group.
’Did they have fan fiction in the 19th century?’
From my very limited acquaintance with the genre - i.e. 24 hours - Jane Austen was writing a superior version herself in Northanger Abbey, wasn’t she? Maybe that’s closer to pure parody, though. She and her sister, Cassandra, did write similar stories ‘just for the family’, too, and acted out versions of plays they had seen or heard of (like the Bertrams do in Mansfield Park).
Certainly, satirical parodies were circulated, especially about the unpopular Regent but he was so openly criticized anyway that it was hardly worth the trouble of disguising him as the object of ridicule!
Doubtless, Dickens, too, was satirized by his envious rivals; I don’t know of any specific examples, though.
Segueing, briefly, from AB, Bill, as we’ve been talking about homoeroticism and you said you were writing about Othello, what do you make of the relationship between Iago and Othello? The sexuality is not ‘up front’ there but is very potent - doubtless you know that scholars have gone so far to suggest that Iago is jealous of Cassio for reasons other than his promotion ... I’d be interested to know what you think.
Defining the beginning of fanfic is like defining the beginning of science fiction. You can take, as the latest date, the earliest story written by someone who thought of it as fanfic, or who later helped to form the community that thought of itself as making fanfic. You can take as an earlier date the first story that had characteristics of fanfic, even though it wasn’t thought of as such at the time, and had no community or genre around it. You can take an even earlier date, much more dubiously, as the date of the first kind of story that you think is related. (For science fiction, these three dates are probably early 20th century, early 17th century, and the era of classical Greek literature.)
For fanfic, I’d guess that the first of these dates is sometime in the 1960s (after Star Trek). The second is probably around the turn of the 19th century, with fan versions of Alice in Wonderland and Sherlock Holmes stories. The third—well, one third date depends on treating any pirated edition, published to cash in on a book’s popularity, as “fanfic”. I think that this clearly doesn’t work, because the purpose of the pirate edition is to make money. But if you take that as the date, it probably goes back at least to the Avellaneda Don Quixote book in the early 17th. Some people seem to think that people writing e.g. Arthurian tales around the mythic source count, but I don’t see how they can. If you’re going to do that, then I’d think you’d have to go back to all the people who wrote about the Trojan War after Homer, filling in what he didn’t write about from the oral tradition.
So I’d say they had it by the end of the 19th, sort of. And an unsourced line in wiki claims that people were writing fanzines of Austin fanfic in the 1920s and 30s, for whatever that’s worth.
Just wondering where/how/if Fielding’s Shamela fits in, especially the ‘drowning’ echo with both Pamela and AB?
On a sort of ‘lest we forget’ note, I was having another look at the section where Hetty thinks of suicide beside the ‘shrouded pool’ and it really touched me, especially thinking that this still happens frequently to young girls:
‘After the first on-coming of her great dread, some weeks after her betrothal to Adam, she had waited and waited, in the blind vague hope that something would happen to set her free from her terror; but she could wait no longer. All the force of her nature had been concentrated on the one effort of concealment, and she had shrunk with irresistible dread from every course that could tend towards a betrayal of her miserable secret.’
This seemed very real to me, in the denial, the attempted ‘concealment’, the ultimate despair. It all seems so sadly ‘topical’ because despite changing attitudes and the availability of help, this is still how lots of young girls feel in Hetty’s position, isn’t it? Preferring, in fact, to refuse help, as Hetty does.
Just wanted to say that before we move on from these chapters.
I know that I’m splitting hairs tremendously here, but Fielding’s Shamela is satire, and I’d think that fanfic can use parody, but not be satire—or it would simply be satire.
I’m going to write more about this for the next set of chapters—my favorite part of the novel so far, by the way—but I don’t think that Hetty is really refusing help. In fact, later on Hetty thinks about what help is available, and it seems to equate to giving herself up to the charity of the parish house, or something like that, and becoming a social pariah. Since no one she’d turn to in her home town is likely to help her conceal a pregnancy, turning to any of them leads to the same result. Going to get help from Arthur, who has the money to smooth everything over and is in a location where she could be hidden from her neighbors, actually seems to me like the most rational thing to do.
I wonder how many ‘ruined maid’ novels have been written? Not simply in the canon, but in toto.
One of the most important novels in this category that GE would have known, and one to which Adam Bede was frequently compared in its own day, is Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian. Interestingly, one aspect of GE’s treatment that contemporary reviewers remarked was her risky decision (in their view) to make Hetty the focus of so much sympathetic attention. Yes, her moral shallowness is made much of, but in this section (as in the section Sue points too when she contemplates suicide) and later she is certainly the object of pity, and throughout there is much effort to explore her psychological state--to understand her and thus make her a suitable object for empathy and, potentially, forgiveness. Scott, on the other hand, sidelines his fallen woman and lets her virtuous and heroic sister Jeanie rule the novel as its unchallenged protagonist.
Here’s something GE wrote to her publisher early in her work on AB, clearly anticipating the comparison and some of the potential objections:
I entertain what I think is a well-founded objection against telling you in a bare brief manner the course of my story. The soul of art lies in its treatment and not in its subject. . . . [T]he mere skeleton of my story would probably give rise in your mind to objections which would be suggested by the treatment other writers would have given to the same tragic incidents in the human lot—objections which would lie far away from my treatment. The Heart of Midlothian would probably have been thought highly objectionable if a skeleton of the story had been given by a writer whose reputation did not place him above question. And the same story told by a Balzacian French writer would probably have made a book that no young person could read without injury. Yet what girl of twelve was ever injured by the Heart of Midlothian?
And (to console myself for having chosen not to include this review in my Broadview anthology), here’s a bit from J. C. Robertson’s 1860 Quarterly Review essay on GE’s first three books:
Compare ‘Adam Bede’ with that one of Scott’s novels which has something in common with it as to story--the ‘Heart of Midlothian’. . . . In the novel of the last generation we see little of Effie, and our attention is drawn to the simple heroism of her sister Jeanie. In the novel of the present day, everything about Hetty is most elaborately described: her thoughts throughout the whole course of the seduction, her misery on discovering there is evidence of her frailty, her sufferings . . . her despairing hardness . . . [spoilers omitted!]. That all of this is represented with extraordinary force we need not say; and doubtless the partisans of ‘George Eliot’ would tell us that Scott could not have written the chapters in question. We do not think it necessary to discuss that point, but we are sure that in any case he would not have written them, because his healthy judgment would have rejected such matters as unfit for the novelist’s art.
[and a bit later on] Her conduct [that is, Hetty’s] throughout is such as to offend and disgust; and the authoress does not seem to be sufficiently aware that, while the descriptions of the little coquette’s beauty leave that to be imagined, her follies and faults and crimes are set before us as matters of hard, unmistakable fact, so that the reader is in no danger of being blinded by the charms which blinded Adam Bede, and Hetty consequently appears as little else than contemptible when she is not odious. Yet is is on this silly, heartless, and wicked little thing that the interest of the story is made to rest.
Clearly this is one reader not yet seduced himself by GE’s doctrine of sympathy, though he is an admirer in a general way of “reality” in her portrayals. Looking back to our earlier discussion of Dutch painting, I notice that Robertson is not persuaded by that analogy: “If some Dutch painters bestowed their skills on homely old women and boozy boors, there is no evidence that they were capable of better things, and their choice of subjects is no justification for one who certainly can do better.”
Re the issue of having to leave sex out, it’s interesting that Robertson finds GE far too explicit--for instance, he protests ‘the almost indecent details of mere animal passion’ in The Mill on the Floss.
At the risk of being laughed out of this discussion, let me quote from the Cliff Notes commentary on chapters 27 & 28:
Finally, the central character’s journey towards spiritual maturity begins here; from this chapter on he moves away from pride towards humility ...
The fight itself is significant not only because it brings the previously unrealized conflict into the open but also because it forms the most striking illustration of the operation of Adam’s pride. It is a touchstone incident representing that sort of reaction which Adam must learn to avoid; Eliot refers to it again later on when Adam has turned in the direction of a more mature outlook on life.
... He typically seeks the simplest solution to the problem; he subdues Arthur and then demands that he clarify the situation in the most direct way by writing to Hetty immediately. Adam will listen to no excuses and requires rather tyranically that everything be handled his way. He is, as usual, concentrating on controlling events by taking practical steps and by exercising force of will.
Pride, that’s the weakness of our paragon, Adam. Interesting.
Doesn’t it depend on the reader’s point of view, Bill? I mean, one man’s ‘pride’ is another’s ‘strength of character’ or ‘sense of self’. As I recall, Elizabeth and Darcy spar about the definition of ‘pride’ and it actually was defined very differently in the early nineteenth century, much more pejoratively, in fact, closer to the Biblical idea of ‘deadly sin’.
I wouldn’t say Adam was ‘a paragon’ but I’m not sure he’s quite as flawed as the notes suggest ... does GE really want us to view him so, do you think? I’m not convinced, really. I think he just acts on impulse and maybe that is emanating from a ‘pride’ that needs to be humbled but I don’t think it’s ‘cut and dried’.
"Also, are there any cases of high-born women consorting with men lower-down?”
If it’s not too late to answer this - forget English lit; switch to French. The Red and the Black, or Lost Illusions, for instance. It’s a quite common theme in Balzac.
I can’t help posting a link to this, because it’s hilarious. But, you know, Maureen Dowd as writer of slash fanfic is perfect.
Great find, Rich.