July 29, 2008

Summer Reading Project: Adam Bede (Chapters 36-48)

This week’s installment of our summer reading project at The Valve brings us to the emotional and moral climax of Adam Bede. This is a section full of pathos, suspense, and melodrama as we follow Hetty on her journeys in hope and despair, as we see the painful process by which Adam and our other friends at Hayslope are brought into knowledge and suffering by “the terrible illumination which the present sheds back upon the past,” and as we go with Dinah into Hetty’s dark cell. How far do the lessons we have been offered about sympathy and forgiveness move us past the horror of this moment:

‘I hadn’t got far out of the road into one of the open places, before I heard a strange cry. I thought it didn’t come from any animal I knew, but I wasn’t for stopping to look about just then. But it went on, and seemed so strange to me in that place, I couldn’t help stopping to look. . . . And I looked about among them, but could find nothing; and at last the cry stopped. So I was for giving it up, and I went on about my business. But when I came back the same way pretty nigh an hour after, I couldn’t help laying down my stakes to have another look. And just as I was stooping and laying down the stakes, I saw something odd and round and whitish lying on the ground under a nut-bush by the side of me. And I stooped down on hands and knees to pick it up. And I saw it was a little baby’s hand.’

How far, also, is the dramatic turn of events at the end of Chapter XLVII a break from the novel’s program of realism? I’m also interested in Bartle Massey’s role in this section as well as Mr. Irwine’s, and in the structural symmetries of many of the scenes here to earlier ones. As always, everyone is welcome to pitch in on these or any other topics as the comments thread unfolds at The Valve.

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